Washington Post attempts near-impossible: Profiling Virginia's Tony Bennett without mentioning faith

Tony Bennett — the coach, not the singer — is quirky. Mysterious. Someone who believes "it's okay to be different."

That's the basic storyline for an in-depth Washington Post profile of Bennett, whose Virginia Cavaliers men's basketball team enters March Madness as the No. 1 overall seed.

Strangely enough (ghosts, anyone?), the Post manages to write 1,850 words about Bennett without any reference to terms such as "faith," "Christian" and "prayer." 

Those familiar with Bennett will understand why that's so remarkable. More on that in a moment.

But first, the Post's haunted opening paragraphs:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Most everyone had taken shelter by now, but Tony Bennett was walking in the rain. In his mind, some things are worse than a downpour.
Bennett was making his way to work 87 minutes before tip-off against Virginia Tech, a late arrival for most college basketball coaches but early for the Virginia coach, a man who detests idle time. And though a cozy security tent sat a few dozen yards away, a crowd was beneath it on this February afternoon, so Bennett made his way between a wall and a television truck.
Even Bennett’s staff used to find some of his quirks odd, but when you’re the coach of the nation’s No. 1 team and the architect of an ACC powerhouse, it’s all part of the plan.
“Certain things are sacred to me,” Bennett would say a bit later, and among those are efficiency, maximizing potential and — perhaps most precious in a profession filled with self-promoters — his privacy.

Hmmmm. Are those really the only things sacred to Bennett?

Let's keep reading:

Bennett is perhaps college basketball’s most public mystery. He actively avoids the spotlight for himself and his program, believes pregame theatrics and between-game hype are pointless, and doesn’t see how interviews and television appearances can benefit his team. And with the Cavaliers having captured their third ACC regular season title in five seasons, maybe he has a point.

Is there any chance that Matthew 6:1 comes into play in Bennett's approach? Just curious.

Bennett is, of course, a coach with a well-known Christian faith (except, it seems, to this particular Post writer). For a little background, see the 2010 Daily Progress feature "Man of faith: How Tony Bennett's religion has shaped his UVa tenure." More recently, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association published this 2017 article on Bennett headlined "Faith On and Off the Court."

The Post story, meanwhile, hints at the coach's faith but refuses to take the easy layup. Consider this section about Bennett's time in the NBA:

Players were built, as he saw it, not born — and though he enjoyed competition at the highest level, the NBA lifestyle made him feel out of place. While the Hornets’ superstars hit the town, Bennett — who had decided his future was either as a pastor or a coach — watched movies, ordered takeout and went to bed early.
“There’s a lot of things, just like in sports and our society today, that weren’t as interesting to me,” Bennett would say much later. “I felt comfortable, but I also knew who I was.”

Who was he exactly? The reference to "pastor" gives some clue that perhaps his faith plays into it (right?), but the Post moves on, failing to engage the obvious question. Once again, we have a case where a sportswriter seems afraid of religion.

What makes this even weirder is that in 2015, the Post itself — in a profile produced by a different writer — noted that "Bennett builds Virginia basketball on pillars of faith": 

Bennett put the program’s biblically-derived five pillars — humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness — on the wall of the locker room. The pillars were a creation of (the coach's father) Dick Bennett, who once told McKay, a longtime friend, that he would “recruit to the pillars, hire from the pillars, make decisions and try to model his life after the pillars,” McKay said. Virginia players said the pillars are discussed and applied for basketball every day.

Believe it or not, that earlier piece even references three Scriptures: Luke 16:10, Mark 3:25 and 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Please don't misunderstand my point: It's not that every Post profile of Bennett has to quote the Bible.

But every writer sincere about informing readers about what makes this coach tick would do well to highlight, not hide, the role of his Christian faith.

P.S. Thanks to GetReligion reader Herb Ely for the tip on the Post's haunted profile! We always appreciate suggestions from readers.

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