Holy ghosts in sports stories? It turns out somebody besides GetReligion has noticed them

Holy ghostbusters!

This certainly is an interesting development.

I just came across a piece recently published by The Ringer, the website founded by sportswriter Bill Simmons. The headline: "NFL Scoops From Heaven." (Thanks to Arthur Freyre for the tip!)

Basic gist of the article: Why a Christianity-focused website got the exclusive when running back Matt Forte decided to retire:

This February, when Matt Forte decided to retire, he could have leaked the news to any NFL insider he wanted. Adam Schefter has the biggest reach. Handing the scoop to a reporter in Chicago, where Forte spent most of his career, would’ve counted as a goodwill gesture. But the reporter Forte settled on had one distinct advantage over the rest: He and Forte had talked about their faith in Christ.
On February 27, Forte called Jason Romano, who writes for a Christian website calledSports Spectrum. “I am a Christian athlete,” Forte told me. “Actually, I’m more Christian than athlete, and I wanted people to realize that first. I felt if I used one of the regular publications that are strictly sports-oriented that they’d leave Jesus’s name out of it.”
Romano prepared the scoop in just the way Forte wanted: with a brief statement and a podcast interview. Then Romano went to bed and hoped the news held. “My honest to God thought was, I hope this doesn’t get leaked to Adam Schefter or any of the guys on the NFL Network,” he said. The next morning, Sports Spectrum published its exclusive. In a competitive season of NFL scoopage, the site was credited by everyone from ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini to the Associated Press.

For years, we at GetReligion have been pointing out the God-sized holes in sports stories (examples here, here, here, here and here). For those new to this journalism-focused website, we refer to such holes as "holy ghosts."

In a 2010 piece for the Wall Street Journal, former GetReligion contributor Sarah Pulliam Bailey — now a national religion writer for the Washington Post — delved into why "God" talk tends to get sidelined in sports media:

Peter King, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, admits his own skepticism when players bring up their faith after a game. "I've seen enough examples of players who claim to be very religious and then they get divorced three times or get in trouble with the law," Mr. King said earlier this week. "I'm not sure that the public is crying out for us to discover the religious beliefs of the athletes we're writing about."
Faith is the belief in things unseen. Sportswriters are trained to write about the observable. "One of the problems that we have is determining the veracity of a person's claim that he has just won this game for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," Mr. King said.
In the Baltimore Sun before last year's Super Bowl, Washington Post reporter Rick Maese characterized his fellow journalists as "notebook-toting cynics who worship at the altar of the free media buffet." But he softened his language and cut his colleagues some slack when I spoke to him recently. A sports reporter might write one story with a strong religion angle and feel like the idea is no longer fresh for the next athlete he covers, Mr. Maese told me. "It's not like the reporter's going to bring an athlete's beliefs or religious affiliation up out of the blue," he said. But "if that's something the player cites as a motivating factor, I don't think you're telling the full story if you don't explore that angle a little bit."

So, what to make of a player — Forte — taking his news directly to an outlet that he's confident will mention his faith?

Thought No. 1: That's certainly his prerogative.

Thought No. 2: I'm curious to see if AP and ESPN — in quoting what Forte told Sports Spectrum — reflected any of the faith angle? 

Let's start with AP: In its seventh paragraph, the wire service allows that Forte made his decision "after much prayer and reflection."

Several paragraphs later, there's this:

Forte thanked his parents, wife, agent, the Bears, the Jets and the fans in his statement. He called his career “a miracle” and said playing in Chicago allowed him “to live out my childhood dream in playing for the Bears.”

That miracle that Forte cited? Here is the full quote, which AP truncated to remove most of the religious talk:

My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. 

What about ESPN? 

Well, the "prayer and reflection" quote made it into the story. But God, Jesus and faith? Not so much.

Remember what Forte told The Ringer?:

"I felt if I used one of the regular publications that are strictly sports-oriented that they’d leave Jesus’s name out of it.”

Yep. Pretty much.

The question for those interested in fair, accurate sports journalism is this: Did AP and ESPN offer — in their limited space for such a story — a full-enough picture of Forte? Or is any article that fails to mention his faith incomplete?

By all means, please leave a comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion with your thoughts.

Please respect our Commenting Policy