Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Yes, there's a Jesus angle — and a Chick-fil-A one — in Clemson's football national title

Yes, there's a Jesus angle — and a Chick-fil-A one — in Clemson's football national title

Regardless of which team prevailed in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night, Jesus was going to get some credit.

Both Alabama’s Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, and his Clemson counterpart, Trevor Lawrence, are known for giving the glory to their Lord.

As it turned out, Clemson cruised to a 44-16 win, putting the focus on the team’s coach, Dabo Swinney, as well as its heralded freshman QB, Lawrence, neither of whom is shy about emphasizing his strong Christian faith.

Coverage of Clemson’s national title run that ignored that fact missed an important angle.

But I was pleased to see a number of reports that caught the relevance of Swinney’s mention of God, including this one from the Sporting News:

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Dabo Swinney insists no Hollywood movie producer — not even Steven Spielberg — could write the script for what the Clemson football program accomplished in the last 11 seasons.

No. 2 Clemson had just won its second College Football Playoff championship in three years with a stunning 44-16 blowout against No. 1 Alabama at Levi’s Stadium on Monday. The Tigers became the first team since 1897 to finish 15-0. Swinney, wearing an oversized black shirt that said "Ring Season" wore a smile and stared at a half-full Diet Coke bottle while riffing into his best explanation for how this could be possible again. 

"It's just the grace of God to have the opportunity to experience something like this once in a lifetime," Swinney said. “To have a chance now to do it two times in the past three years is just amazing.”

By the way, if you’re not familiar with Swinney’s back story, check out this 2016 column by the National Review’s David French.

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Think pieces for a finals weekend: The extended Curry family talks hoops and faith

Think pieces for a finals weekend: The extended Curry family talks hoops and faith

Everyone is still trying to figure out Steph Curry and, you know, What. It. All. Means.

In this case the word "All" refers to Curry's life off the court as well as his often transcendent powers on it.

Of course, there's the basketball player that journalists need to deal with. But then there's Curry the man, Curry the black man and Curry the maybe not-black-enough man. This leads to Curry the husband, Curry the father, Curry the family man and, in a few cases, Curry the son of disciplined Christian parents who taught him right and wrong, as well as that lightning flash jumper (care of an NBA sharpshooter faith).

This week I ran into two very different stories that set out to deal with the mystery of Steph Curry and company.

Here is your challenge. Look at the two excerpts. Which of the following is an ESPN essay and which is from the magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes?

First, here are two samples from a piece called "The Revolution," that starts with a focus on Steph's parents, Dell and Sonya Curry.

... Watching their highlight-reel child lead a once-woebegone franchise to great heights can be exhausting. Dell, a TV analyst for the Charlotte Hornets and a longtime NBA veteran, and Sonya, the owner and headmaster of a Christian Montessori school, live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both their sons play for West Coast NBA teams (25-year-old Seth just completed his first full season with the Sacramento Kings). So whenever at least one of the boys is playing a West Coast night game and Dell isn’t traveling with the Hornets, he and Sonya stay up late to watch the games live, often toggling between TVs in separate rooms. A late tip in the Pacific time zone can mean Dell and Sonya aren’t falling asleep until 1:30 or 2 a.m.

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Telling you what to think: Tampa Bay Times cranks up crusade on Christian clubs in schools

Telling you what to think: Tampa Bay Times cranks up crusade on Christian clubs in schools

It's an increasingly common habit -- a bad one -- to mix news with commentary. But the Tampa Bay Times yesterday was especially blatant, starting with the headline: "What about the coaches?"

The article is the third in less than a week on Christian clubs like Young Life, First Priority and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and their activities in public schools. The Times pretty agrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation's complaint to Hillsborough County Public Schools: Adults were evangelizing on campus through the clubs, thus breaching the constitutional separation of church and state; and school officials, including coaches, were letting them. Also, a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes had two misdemeanor convictions on his record.

All of that is more than fair game for a newspaper to check out. And in fairness, it talked to David Gaskill of FCA, in a story on Thursday. That’s an improvement over January, when the Times talked to the accusers but none of the defenders.  

But it's hard to read yesterday's story as anything more than a j'accuse, when it starts with:

A complaint alleging illegal activities on the part of a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes did not just point the finger at self-styled campus minister David Gaskill.
It also named -- sometimes with photographic evidence -- coaches who either invited Gaskill to lead the students in prayer or participated with them. Those named in the complaint include Freedom High School football coaches Todd Donahoe and Cedric Smith; Tampa Bay Technical High School wrestling coach Edward Bayonet, Freedom girls basketball coach Laura Pacholke, Wharton High School wrestling coach David Mitchell and Middleton High School baseball coach Jim Macaluso.
Will the district investigate these coaches too?

The article gives the answer immediately: "They will not." Instead, they and other school employees who work with volunteers will get training on adherence to the First Amendment. A school board member adds that FFRF is "very happy with the district's response."  So why were the coaches the focus of the lede? Is this something like gospel shaming? (And why didn’t the Times ask FFRF if they really are satisfied?)

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Proof that it's hard to cover an equal access story without mentioning Equal Access laws

Proof that it's hard to cover an equal access story without mentioning Equal Access laws

A long-time reader of GetReligion recently sent me a pack of URLs pointing to coverage of debates -- public and in social media -- about the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance organization at Franklin County High School in rural Tennessee The coverage in The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro has, in the past, featured quotes from a wide range of voices in this tense and at times nasty debate.

So what's the journalistic problem? Ironically, the best place to start is with an advocacy piece at the website of The New Civil Rights Movement. This piece is, as you would expect, packed with loaded language -- but look for the actual news development in this story.

School board members in Franklin County, Tennessee, may consider eliminating all extracurricular clubs in an effort to get rid of a newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance.
The GSA at Franklin County High School in Winchester has been under attack since it first met in January, with parents comparing it to ISIS, and students vandalizing the club's posters and wearing "Straight Pride" signs in protest. ...
In response to the controversy over the GSA, the Franklin County School Board has decided to draft new guidelines for student organizations. Under the federal Equal Access Act, officials must allow the GSA unless they eliminate all extracurricular clubs, from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to the Student Council.

What we have here is the flip side of debates led by secularists about the creation of Bible studies and prayer circles at public schools (think military academies, for example). The bottom line: People on both sides of these debates have First Amendment rights that must be protected. This truly liberal task is not easy in modern public schools.

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ESPN: Baylor's fallen QB, tears in his eyes, delivers faith-free challenge to team

ESPN: Baylor's fallen QB, tears in his eyes, delivers faith-free challenge to team

Fellow sports fans, how do you feel when you are watching the post-game show of a major sporting event -- let's say college football -- and Jesus shows up in the commentary on the sideline?

I am not referring to the tradition that many players have of kneeling together -- a circle involving players from both teams who want to take part -- to offer prayers of thanksgiving for their safety and to pray for anyone who was injured in the contest. That isn't a situation in which television cameras are automatically part of the scene (especially in the National Football League, in which the powers on high never show these images).

I'm talking about the moment when the sideline reporter asks a player a basic question and he opens his remarks with a few phrases of personal testimony about his faith. Let me be clear: The players have free will (and the First Amendment) and can say what they want. I am also not saying that these moments are all shallow or fake. No way. I am saying that I understand that many viewers may shake their heads and doubt the sincerity of some of these mini-sermons.

This is even true, for me, when watching Baylor University football games. What can I say? Decades ago I covered the team for the Baylor student newspaper and, well, I knew some of those players and knew that some were much more faithful and sincere about those testimonies than others.

This brings me to a recent ESPN piece about Baylor's star quarterback Seth Russell, who is out for the year after breaking a bone in his neck. Apparently, Russell was part of a remarkable scene the other day in which, with a brace around his neck, he confronted the team and urged them to get behind his replacement and to carry on. Here is how that story opens:

WACO, Texas -- When Baylor’s lifting session ended ... strength coach Kaz Kazadi and his staff stepped out of the weight room. Art Briles wasn’t there, nor were his assistants.
Just Baylor’s players. On most days, they’d gather around Kazadi as he stood over them atop a plyo box and delivered a parting message. Instead, their quarterback was front and center.

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Religion ghost haunts Dodgers' $215 million ace

In an Associated Press story about his new, $215 million contract, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw certainly comes across as a good guy: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even Clayton Kershaw has trouble contemplating the enormity of a $215 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that makes him baseball’s richest pitcher.

The team finalized the deal Friday, when Kershaw stayed home in Dallas. The 25-year-old ace said by phone that talking money is “a little bit uncomfortable for me.”

Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, have been discussing how to spend the money, and most of their ideas revolve around charitable interests. The couple supports an orphanage in Africa and two groups that fund afterschool programs for children in Los Angeles and Dallas. They have no children of their own.

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