Sports and games

Try telling this NBA player's story without mentioning his faith? Actually, The Ringer did

Try telling this NBA player's story without mentioning his faith? Actually, The Ringer did

God talk silenced on the sports page?

No, it’s nothing new.

But still, it can be jarring. Especially when a journalist attempts to profile an athlete for whom faith is a crucial part of his story — without ever, you know, mentioning his faith.

Such is the case with The Ringer’s recent feature on Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans.

For those familiar with Holiday, the story’s compelling opening seems to hint at the holy ghosts that become clear by the end:

If you ever need to borrow $25,000, Jrue Holiday is your man. It’s a running joke between his wife, Lauren, a retired midfielder for the United States women’s national team, and her former teammates: If they were in a pinch—say, a quarter-of-a-hundred-grand kind of pinch—they’d just ask her husband. Holiday wants to help, always. Help you, help me, help his teammates on the Pelicans. He’d say yes in a heartbeat, the joke goes. Holiday is the mom of his friend group, the hype man for his family. “The supportive one,” Lauren said. A $25,000 loan is a bit hyperbolic, sure. At least, I’m assuming it is. That’s the joke. This is the point: Jrue, I’m told, will always come through. It’s his campaign slogan, should he ever run for office. But that’s the other thing about Holiday, the thing that assures me he’d never want to run for any office of any kind: Jrue Holiday does not want this—does not want anything—to be about Jrue Holiday.

“I like to assist people,” he told me in his backyard by the pool. It was August and 87 degrees in Santa Rosa Valley, California, where the Holidays spend the offseason. He leaned back into the patio chair, squinted at the sun, and smirked. “That was a pun. But no, I like to assist people.” Holiday is a starting combo guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. His game is often described in terms of what he does for others. Lobs and dimes, help defense and spacing, deflections and blocks. Assistance is where Holiday earns a living. And for the past six years, superstar Anthony Davis was his main beneficiary.

The Ringer touts Holiday as “the NBA’s Best-Kept Secret.”

The reader who shared the link with GetReligion wondered, though, how The Ringer managed to keep Holiday’s Christian faith a secret.

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Hail Mary passes and Lombardi in daily Mass: Catholicism ignored in NFL 100 coverage

Hail Mary passes and Lombardi in daily Mass: Catholicism ignored in NFL 100 coverage

The NFL turns 100 this season. You may have noticed the “100” anniversary logo on footballs, jerseys and in TV commercials. You may have noticed all of those Peyton Manning mini-documentaries.

This anniversary has also given newspapers, sports sites and TV stations a chance to look back at the players and coaches who made NFL history.

Exactly what is included in those histories matters. Mentioning statistics, great plays, Super Bowl performances and impact on the sport are all a given. What about what players and coaches believed? What about their motivations? es, how about religion and the impact it left on the game? These are very important questions that have not been answered fully (or some cases even explored) in many of the retrospectives that have been rolled out this season.

Football and religion are not such strange bedfellows. The league has been — and currently is — loaded with outspoken Christians. Evangelicals have included Tim Tebow, Kurt Warner, Reggie White, Tony Dungy, Nick Foles and Carson Wentz. There have also been some prominent men who also happen to be devout Roman Catholics to make gridiron history. Harrison Butker, Matt Birk, Philip Rivers, Don Shula, Roger Staubach and Vince Lombardi are a few notable ones.

Before players took a knee to protest the national anthem, it wasn’t so unusual to see them praying before the opening kickoff. And, of course, some of those kneeling protesters have been praying.

It’s the faith of some of these men that has been overlooked — whether intentionally or not — in the “NFL 100” celebrations. Let’s look specifically at Lombardi, the great Green Bay Packers coach.

Under Lombardi, the team won five NFL championships in a span of just seven years during the 1960s (including three in a row). Those victories also included winning the first two Super Bowls. After all, Super Bowl champions are presented with the Lombardi trophy.

Lombardi isn’t only arguably the best coach in NFL history, but he was a devout Catholic who wasn’t shy about his faith. Major mainstream newspapers and TV networks have largely ignored the Lombardi faith angle.

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Mr. NBA Referee goes to Catholic seminary: what's great (and not so great) about WSJ's story

Mr. NBA Referee goes to Catholic seminary: what's great (and not so great) about WSJ's story

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting feature over the weekend on a veteran National Basketball Association referee who went to seminary and became a Catholic deacon.

Overall, I enjoyed the piece. I’d encourage you to read it.

But it’s one of those features where I finished reading it and wasn’t totally satisfied. I still had unanswered questions. And yes, they related to the religious nitty-gritty. I’ll explain more in a moment.

First, though, let’s set the scene with the lede:

Near the end of his long career as an NBA referee, Steve Javie took a summer vacation with his wife. They decided to burn his unholy amount of frequent-flier miles and Marriott points on a trip to Saint Thomas. He was thinking about retirement, and this seemed like an ideal place to settle down. Javie could play golf, hit the beach and live in a tropical paradise.

It did not quite work out that way. Instead he would spend the next seven years committing himself to Catholicism.

"The calling comes and you go, 'Uh oh, I gotta listen,' " he said.

Javie officiated his last NBA game in 2011. He soon began studying at his local seminary. He was recently ordained as a deacon by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. And this unexpected turn of events is how he found himself in church one Sunday morning wearing elaborate vestments to deliver a homily. He began with a confession.

"I'm a sports guy," he said.

Keep reading, and the Journal offers more background on Javie’s referee career as well as his high-profile ongoing gig as ESPN’s rules analyst.

Then the story returns to some crucial religion details:

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Sports Illustrated reports on Freedom From Religion Foundation's complaints about Clemson football

Sports Illustrated reports on Freedom From Religion Foundation's complaints about Clemson football

Hey, guess what? It really is possible for a journalist to report on the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a fair, insightful way.

In a post earlier this month, I made the case that “regurgitating the anti-religion group’s talking points as if they’re the gospel truth is not great journalism.”

Leave it to a sports writer, of all people, to show a better way of handling a story involving the FFRF.

I missed the following Sports Illustrated piece when it came out a few weeks ago, but it’s a terrific read — both for college football fans and those who follow religion news. I’m talking about Tim Rohan’s deep dive into “Faith, Football and the Fervent Religious Culture at Dabo Swinney's Clemson.”

GetReligion readers may recall that we noted in January, “Yes, there's a Jesus angle — and a Chick-fil-A one — in Clemson's football national title.”

In his SI feature, Rohan sets the scene this way:

On a hot, muggy day in August 2012, as Clemson football practice came to an end, coach Dabo Swinney gathered everyone for his closing remarks. Some players noticed a few Rubbermaid troughs stationed about and figured they were heading for the cold tubs. Instead, Swinney announced that one of their teammates, star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, would be getting baptized on the field. Everyone was invited to stay and watch.

Few players or coaches left, if any. They gathered around one of the tubs, which was filled with water, and Hopkins climbed in, still dressed in his jersey and pads. Jesus is the most important thing in my life, Hopkins said, and I want you guys to know I’m living for him. A pastor from NewSpring, a local Baptist church, baptized him, and the crowd cheered.

One assistant coach was so moved by the scene, he snapped a photo of Hopkins in the tub and tweeted it out. The photo caught the media’s attention and made national headlines. After that, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit organization that promotes the separation of church and state, received at least three complaints about the Clemson football program. The following year, in the fall of 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a story examining Clemson’s religious culture, highlighting Hopkins’s baptism again, and the FFRF received two more complaints. They were coming from alumni and people in the Clemson community.

At that point, Patrick Elliott, an FFRF attorney, opened an investigation and, in April 2014, sent Clemson a letter noting that the First Amendment prohibited the school, as a public institution, from supporting, promoting or endorsing religion. The letter asked Clemson to stop its team prayers, Bible studies and organized church trips.

Charles Haynes, the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, a nonpartisan organization that educates the public on First Amendment issues, recently reviewed the FFRF’s claims against Clemson. “I don’t think this is a close case,” he says. “Clemson University is clearly violating the First Amendment.”

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That John Harbaugh! The Ravens coach sure loves to read the Bible for some strange reason

That John Harbaugh! The Ravens coach sure loves to read the Bible for some strange reason

Are you ready for some real NFL football? It’s that time of year again. Which only raises another question, are you ready for some more haunted ESPN features about mysterious behaviors in the lives of religious people who happen to be coaches and athletes in the National Football League?

If you read GetReligion — and a handful or two of you care about sports — you know that there are almost too many of these stories for GetReligion to handle them, year after year. I tend to notice stories about the Baltimore Ravens containing God-shaped holes (click here for a sample) because that team commanded my loyalties during my D.C.-Baltimore years (and they still do, to be honest about it).

So ESPN recently served up a new story about the head coach of the Ravens with this headline: “John Harbaugh's T-shirt game is strong and motivating the Ravens.” Fans will recognize that this is the latest episode in the ongoing tale of journalists trying to grasp Harbaugh’s love of “mighty men” images. Here’s the overture:

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh loves a good T-shirt. So much so that he's got a guy on staff making custom designs for him.

At training camp last year, Harbaugh showed up with three words printed on a T-shirt.

Trying to set the tone after the 2017 season ended with a last-minute loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Harbaugh wanted to move past one of the most gut-wrenching moments in team history and put his players in the right mindset.

At a team meeting, Harbaugh told the story of the biblical figure Benaiah chasing a lion into a snowy pit and killing it.

"If you want to do great things, you have to have courage,” said Harbaugh. "You got to know your moment.” And boom ... not long after that, Harbaugh later appeared at practice wearing a shirt reading, “Chase the Lion.”

ESPN noted that Harbaugh is the NFL’s fourth-longest-tenured coach at that he has a unique ability to find symbolic ways to motivate his troops. The coach explains that this is part of “culture-building” and establishing a “world view” for his team. The t-shirts — and the words on them — are part of all that.

Now, with the word “biblical” included in that overture, I thought that we were about to read an ESPN story that finally dug into the details of Harbaugh’s unique blend of Catholic faith and a muscular-Christianity style that is popular with modern evangelicals.

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Touchdown! Oklahoman scores with smart feature on Sunday Sooners game combining two faiths

Touchdown! Oklahoman scores with smart feature on Sunday Sooners game combining two faiths

If you follow college football, you probably know that Oklahoma opened with an impressive win Sunday night, highlighted by 508 yards of total offense by Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts.

One game into the season (a small sample size, no doubt), it even seems possible that a different Sooners QB could claim the Heisman Trophy for the third straight year.

To which I say: Boomer Sooner!

Here in Oklahoma, The Oklahoman offered readers a special treat on the front page Sunday: a smart news-feature by longtime sports columnist Jenni Carlson on the Sooners playing on what many consider the Lord’s Day. (FYI: Carlson recently celebrated 20 years with the newspaper, which sparked a tribute column by colleague Berry Tramel.)

I loved the headline, which captures the storyline perfectly:

Why the Sooners playing on Sunday combines two religions — football and faith

Carlson sets the scene this way:

NORMAN — Joe Castiglione knew playing a home football game on a Sunday might cause a crimson and cream kerfuffle.

He understands, after all, where he is.

The Bible Belt.

Before deciding to move the season opener against Houston to Sunday, the Oklahoma athletic director talked to faith leaders, devout Christians and Sooner fans about a home game on a holy day. Would it be OK? Or would it be sacrilege?

During his conversations and his research earlier this year, Castiglione came across one tidbit that helped ease his mind — three years ago, Notre Dame played on Sunday.

“OK, now,” he remembers thinking, “this throws me off.”

The most predominant Catholic university in America played football on a Sunday, and it didn’t cause wailing and gnashing of teeth. Castiglione would know; he’s Catholic.

“I probably made some assumptions on what I had always heard, always thought … were the concerns of the day,” he said. “And then found they really weren’t.”

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Is there a holy ghost in Andrew Luck's shocking decision to retire? His comments made us wonder

Is there a holy ghost in Andrew Luck's shocking decision to retire? His comments made us wonder

I don’t follow the National Football League closely.

I’m an extremely casual Dallas Cowboys fan. That means I pay attention at playoff time — a sporadic period that, for Jerry Jones’ Cowboys, hasn’t lasted long the past two-plus decades.

However, even a wayward NFL follower couldn’t help but catch the shocking news of Andrew Luck’s retirement.

As always, the holy ghost antennas of GetReligion’s resident sports observers (that would be Terry Mattingly and me) went up when we read some of the reports about the Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s decision.

Religion has, of course, played a role in past surprising exits of professional athletes. You remember Adam LaRoche, right? In 2016, he walked away from a Chicago White Sox contract worth $13 million rather than yield to demands by management that he cut the amount of time his 14-year-old son Drake spent with him and his team.

“Sports fans, you have to be blind as a bat not to see the religion ghost in this one,” tmatt wrote when LaRoche retired.

So what about Luck? Any ghost haunting this bombshell sports moment?

I wondered that as I read Gregg Doyel’s front-page Indianapolis Star column on the QB who gave up million (how many millions?

Doyel wrote:

Luck, the most private of public superstars, was opening up in a way he never has, telling us just how hard these last four years have been.

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Josh Hamilton returns to Texas Rangers for induction into team's Hall of Fame, and faith is key

Josh Hamilton returns to Texas Rangers for induction into team's Hall of Fame, and faith is key

A decade ago, “The Unbelievable Josh Hamilton” was one of the biggest stars in baseball — with one of the most amazing, complex stories.

The real-life tale of Hamilton was full of major-league demons linked to his battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

For the first time in years, Hamilton — once the subject of so many posts here at GetReligion — returned to the baseball spotlight over the weekend.

In advance of his induction Saturday night into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame, Hamilton wrote a mostly sugarcoated first-person account of his time in Texas for The Players’ Tribune.

The most intriguing part of Hamilton’s account is that before trading for the troubled player, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels sent scouts to listen to Hamilton tell his redemption story at churches:

I had no clue at the time that this was going on. So unbeknownst to me, when I was up there talking about my struggles with drugs and alcohol, and my faith, and just sharing my story … I was actually, in a way, auditioning for what turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life.

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This feature about fired ESPN staffer who became Catholic priest gets religion — half of it anyway

This feature about fired ESPN staffer who became Catholic priest gets religion — half of it anyway

A reader drew our attention to a Sports Business Journal feature on the former ESPN staffer fired in 2012 for his “Chink in the Armor” headline about Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese-American point guard who recently won an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors.

“One bad headline cost him his job at ESPN,” the story’s headline notes. “The priesthood brought healing.”

It’s a compelling profile that traces Anthony Federico’s journey “from the worst night of his life to the priesthood.”

The Sports Business Journal opens by revisiting the 2012 controversy:

You probably remember the story. A young ESPN employee, he wrote a headline for the company’s mobile app that many viewed as a racial slur directed at NBA player Jeremy Lin.

Federico’s life has taken an abrupt turn in the ensuing seven years. In June, he was ordained as a Catholic priest and assigned to a parish in Cheshire, Conn., just 15 miles from Bristol.

Seven years removed from the incident, Federico said memories from that night still hurt on occasion.

“But I’m free now,” he said. “I feel great healing and closure. I don’t have any ill will toward anyone in that time of my life.”

The writer does a really nice job of letting Federico explain — in his own words — his road from sports media to the clergy.

It all started over lunch at his new job:

During his lunch hour, he strolled around downtown Stamford, a walk that would take him by St. John the Evangelist Basilica, which had a daily noon Mass. Federico described his upbringing as more of a cultural Catholic than a practicing one — so much so that he didn’t realize that Catholic Mass is celebrated every day.

“On the first day, I walked past it and thought it looked cool,” Federico said. “On the second day, I walked past it again. Then — how biblical — on the third day, I decided to go in and see for myself what’s going on.”

Federico felt so moved by the experience that attending the noon Mass became part of his daily routine. He started bringing curious co-workers with him — most of whom were not Catholic — and they went out afterward to talk about the Mass and Catholicism. He would go home to learn about Catholic teachings so that he could explain some of the Mass’ rituals to his co-workers.

After a year and a half, he felt an intense calling to become a priest. 

“I started to realize that I was hungry for something more in life — something different than sports media, something that would have a more lasting impact on the world,” he said.

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