Yo, Gray Lady! Where is Tua Tagovailoa going after leading Alabama to national title? To church ...

If you are a sports fan and live in the United States of America (or you live overseas and care about American-style football), then you have probably heard this name during the past few days -- Tua Tagovailoa.

It's an unusual name, but this freshman quarterback at the University of Alabama came off the bench the other night to throw several touchdown passes, including a go-for-broke bomb that won his team a national championship.

What else do we need to know about him? Well, his post-game comments made it very, very clear what Tua wants people to know about his life and, yes, his faith. One of his comments even raises this interesting question: Is it possible for a Pentecostal Christian to shout "Roll Tide!" in an unknown, celestial tongue?

Hold that thought, because it's interesting to note how elite media -- think The New York Times, of course -- handled this young man's story, as opposed to how he described things when offered a chance to do so. Let's start with the Times profile of Tagovailoa, which ran with this headline: "How Tua Tagovailoa Stepped Up, Dropped Back, and Saved Alabama."

ATLANTA -- While some of the Alabama players were gasping for oxygen on the sideline, others were committing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and at least a couple were trying to prevent a teammate from punching an assistant coach, a teenager was saving the Crimson Tide from the brink of a public collapse.
The freshman, Tua Tagovailoa, a 19-year-old backup quarterback from Honolulu, had stepped into a dire situation Monday night. Alabama trailed by 13 points at halftime of the national title game when Tagovailoa took over the offense and calmly engineered one of the more improbable comebacks in college football championship history.

So let's move down in the story, were readers are offered this information about this remarkably calm young player:

While Tua’s parents came to Alabama with him to ease his transition to college, he said early Tuesday that he still feels homesick at times.
“The biggest difference from Hawaii and Alabama would probably be there’s no beaches,” he said, presumably referring only to the Tuscaloosa campus. “But other than that, the people are very nice.”
Religion, Tagovailoa said, is an important aspect of his life, and he added that faith contributes to the remarkably calm demeanor he displayed in the hectic final moments of Monday’s game. He prays before every drive begins, asking for inner peace.

Let's see, that's some kind of generic "religion"? That's how Tagovailoa told his own story?

Not really.

Over at Yahoo Sports, columnist Pat Forde listened a bit more carefully and let some of the quarterback's own words -- imagine that -- slip into the story.

How, in the name of Bear Bryant, did a freshman bench jockey rise to this ridiculously pressurized occasion and become an instant hero?
“I was praying,” Tagovailoa said. “I was speaking in tongues. It kept me calm.”
He prayed before possessions. He prayed after possessions. He prayed and passed and scrambled his way into Alabama lore.
“I would say my poise comes from my faith,” Tagovailoa said. “I just pray for peace.”

Now, once readers have learned this detail about Tua's life, it's possible to run more detailed searches in order to learn more information about what he thinks makes him tick (and probably his parents, as well).

Hint: It is not some kind of generic "religion" thing. In fact, it appears that one of the main things Tagovailoa did when he first visited Roll Tide country was check out a local church. It was the region's strong evangelical culture that made him feel at home.

As you would expect, local media was more open to covering the faith angle in this national sports story. Check out these headlines at AL.com:

* "Tua credits his 'Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ' in post-game interviews."

* Flashing back a year, there was: "The Tim Tebow of Hawaii has big plans for Alabama." That story included this relevant background material:

A natural-born leader who takes after his parents -- father Galu is the oldest of nine siblings and mother Diane is the oldest of 10 -- Tua grew up the oldest of four brothers and sisters amid an enormous and deeply religious family. God, family and football are the three pillars of life for Alabama's new quarterback, and it was those values that have made it so easy for Tagovailoa to feel at home in Alabama. ....
A devout evangelical Christian, Tagovailoa toured Church of the Highlands in Tuscaloosa during his official visit to Alabama, and fell in love with the atmosphere. He is now a member of the ever-growing Alabama-based megachurch.

Let me stress, as always, that there is no need for the leaders of mainstream, secular newspapers to turn their products into evangelistic broadsheets, when it comes to writing about religious believers of this kind. However, if the goal is to profile a particular player -- in a report that explains issues at the heart of his or her life -- then how can reporters justify ignoring what the player actually says when asked to tell his own story?

Just asking. Again.

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