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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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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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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One F-word appears (repeatedly) in ESPN's profile of Golden State star Stephen Curry, but another doesn't

One F-word appears (repeatedly) in ESPN's profile of Golden State star Stephen Curry, but another doesn't

With the NBA Finals starting tonight, ESPN has published an in-depth feature on "Joy and secret rage: How Steph Curry ignites the Warriors."

The story explores the role of fun and joy in the success of the Golden State Warriors star and his team.

Those familiar with Curry's Christian background might be curious if the F-word makes an appearance in this thought-provoking piece.

Nope, it doesn't — if you were thinking of the word "faith."

But interestingly enough, another F-word is used — even out of the mouth of Curry — in this story. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's consider a key section of the feature that sets the scene early:

As Steve Kerr is to Stephen Curry, so is Curry to Kerr. It was a revelation that came early in Kerr's first season as Warriors coach. And so mere months into his tenure in Oakland, Kerr decided the dream culture he desired would embody the star player at the very center of it. They would strive to make one of Curry's defining traits their cornerstone. It would be a constant, felt in the practice facility (where music thumps) and film sessions (where jokes fly) and far beyond. It would be one of the few qualities that, in the age of analytics, remained difficult to tally: happiness.

Happiness, huh?

Might Curry's faith have something to do with that?

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ESPN tells an NBA veteran's emotional story extremely well — and with a strong faith angle

ESPN tells an NBA veteran's emotional story extremely well — and with a strong faith angle

The boss man sent me a link to this story.

"This has positive Bobby written all over it," tmatt said in his email.

In other words, knowing my love for "faith in sports" angles, he thought I'd appreciate ESPN's emotional feature on Kyle Korver, whose brother died unexpectedly a few months ago.

For those who, like me, don't follow the NBA all that closely, Korver is a veteran sharpshooter for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, by the way, are down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals and face elimination Friday night. 

The boss man was right: ESPN writer Brian Windhorst told this story extremely well. And he didn't allow it to be haunted by a holy ghost.

LIke Korver does so often, Windhorst nailed the 3-point shot. Let's stand at the free-throw line and consider the first two paragraphs:

PELLA, IOWA -- ON a mid-March day in Central Iowa, Kyle Korver and his three brothers were watching the NCAA tournament together in the same room. Despite his alma mater, Creighton, losing, it was a good day and a good memory.

Korver has hung on to that moment and others like it over the past two months as he has struggled with sorrow. At times he has cried himself to sleep in the afternoons before games and woken feeling something he can only describe as his insides trembling. He has relied on prayer to give him the strength to get up and go to work.

Relied on prayer.

As far as hints to readers — and reporters — that there's a strong religion angle that needs to be addressed, that's an easy layup.

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Nothing but net: Boston Globe nails story of faith and prayer guiding a Celtics rookie

Nothing but net: Boston Globe nails story of faith and prayer guiding a Celtics rookie

Here at GetReligion, we talk a lot about holy ghosts in sports stories.

These are just a handful of cases (here, here, here, here and here) where we have pointed out God-sized holes in mainstream press coverage of athletes.

But here's a nice change: a major newspaper feature about an NBA rookie that nails the crucial faith angle.

Boston Globe sports editor Matt Pepin tweeted that "No one brings you more insight about Celtics players than @AdamHimmelsbach." If this piece is any indication, I'd have to agree with him.

The headline gets right to the point:

Faith and prayers help guide Celtics’ Semi Ojeleye

And the opening narrative sets the scene:

As Gordon Hayward lay on the court Oct. 17, his left ankle snapped sideways, his season over essentially before it even began, Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry knew he had to do something about the rest of the team.

Head coach Brad Stevens was with Hayward, touching his shoulder and letting his former Butler University pupil know he was there. The other Celtics were scattered around the court, several with their hands on their heads, lost in a daze. It was just five minutes into a season that held such promise, and now it was already dissolving in front of them.

Shrewsberry called to rookie forward Semi Ojeleye, a second-round pick from Southern Methodist who didn’t expect to have much of a role on this night. Shrewsberry had gotten to know Ojeleye over the previous few months and knew how much he was guided by his faith. And in this crushing moment, that’s what the Celtics needed.

Ojeleye was initially startled, because he thought Shrewsberry was telling him that he would be going into the game. Instead, the request was about something more comfortable.

“Semi,” Shrewsberry said, “can you just bring everybody together, and can you help us pray for Gordon?”

This is not a long profile — it's a concise, 800-word feature for a daily paper. 

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Theology, ESPN, then a terrible headline: 'The thing that Jesus does best is second chances'

Theology, ESPN, then a terrible headline: 'The thing that Jesus does best is second chances'

Over the years, I have read many news stories about men finding their way into the priesthood.

As you would expect, I hear about many of these features because of emails from GetReligion readers. It is extremely common for these emails to include a comment that sounds something like this: Ah, come on! How can journalists write about men becoming priests (or women becoming nuns) without including a single mention of Jesus?

That's a good question. This is one kind of story in which a person's religious experience is a crucial part of the news equation. I think it's safe to assume that having some kind of mystical relationship with Jesus -- also known as "The Lord" -- does play a role in these career choices. The word "God" often shows up in these news reports, but rarely, well, the "J-word."

That brings me to a recent "Acts of Faith" piece at The Washington Post that ran with this headline: "Fired by ESPN for a racist headline, he’s finding his second chance as a Catholic priest."

To cut to the chase: This is a very fine story and, yes, Jesus does get a shout out. My only complaint about this story is that it was not accompanied by some kind of longer Q&A feature. This is a man with a unique story to tell and, with his journalism background, an interesting skill set to bring to the priesthood.

To set the stage, Anthony Federico's life in journalism changed because he accidentally wrote a racist headline about Jeremy Lin, whose meteoric rise at the New York Knicks was one of the hottest sports stories of 2012. Federico's job in the editorial process included writing headlines and he didn't have a safety net. He clicked "save" and the flawed headline went live.

That set up this amazing sequence of life changes.

Then the barrage of social media outrage started, and he saw what he had done.
“I went to the bathroom and vomited,” he said at the time, describing the sickening realization that he had inadvertently made a racist pun that was now circling the world. What came next was predictable: As angry emails poured in from readers all over the world, Federico was fired from his dream job in sports media.

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Ties that bind in Warriors locker room: Might those game-day Bible studies be important?

Ties that bind in Warriors locker room: Might those game-day Bible studies be important?

Hello, all of you sports fanatics out there in GetReligion reader land!

Yeah, right.

I realize there may only be a dozen or so of you, based on the digital silence that has followed most GetReligion posts about sports-news topics. However, I (along with Bobby Ross, Jr., the Texas Rangers acolyte) have bravely soldiered on and written quite a few posts about the God-shaped holes found in the coverage at most mainstream sports-news outlets (hello, ESPN).

So here I go again, with a follow-up post to the recent NBA championship run by the Golden State Warriors. I want readers to answer a simple question about news coverage (one that will take us into territory linked to the never-ending saga of Steph Curry and his sneakers).

The question: Which of the following two news topics do you think will receive the most post-championship coverage?

(a) Debates about whether these Warriors from the deep-blue Bay Area will visit Donald Trump's White House.

(b) New evidence of faith ties -- a Bible study group to be precise -- that bind among some of the key players at the heart of this pro-hoops juggernaut.

If you are not following the White House story, here is a sample of the verbiage there, care of Rolling Stone:

Fresh off winning their second NBA Championship in the last three seasons, the talk about the Golden State Warriors quickly turned to whether or not the team would visit President Donald Trump at the White House. Within hours of defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5, CNBC's Josh Brown tweeted, "NBA champion Warriors skipping the White House visit, as a unanimous team decision per reports." Brown later said on Twitter, "I have no idea if its true, hence 'per reports.'" The tweets were later deleted, but the news spread and the team issued a statement clarifying their current position. ...
Several Warriors including Stephen Curry, David West, Shaun Livingston and coach Steve Kerr, have been outspoken regarding President Trump and his rhetoric.

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How religion figures in the story of Turkey invalidating NBA center Enes Kanter's passport

How religion figures in the story of Turkey invalidating NBA center Enes Kanter's passport

Not long ago, my son Keaton — one of the world's most devoted Oklahoma City Thunder fans — met center Enes Kanter at a local Arby's. Keaton took a selfie with Kanter and was quoted in an feature about Thunder players serving up "acts of kindness":

“There’s something unique about the team and how the guys are committed to the community by getting out there and doing work,” said Keaton Ross, a student at Oklahoma Christian.

I'm only a casual Thunder fan — baseball is my sport — but I'm fascinated with the 25-year-old Kanter, who must boast one of the NBA's top senses of humor. For example, Kanter tweeted this last year after a Thunder beat writer from The Oklahoman left to cover the Golden State Warriors — Kevin Durant's new team — for the San Jose Mercury News.

More recently, though, the "Turkish-born big man" has been making serious national headlines. And even though it may not be clear from news reports, there is a strong religion angle. More on that in a moment.

But first, the crucial background: As a helpful, big-picture Wall Street Journal report notes today, Turkey invalidated the NBA player's passport earlier this month as part of a global arrest strategy:

ISTANBUL — Turkey is expanding efforts abroad to capture opponents by canceling their passports to force foreign governments to send them back, Turkish officials said, describing a strategy that nearly netted an NBA player this month.
The efforts accelerated this spring in what one of the officials said is part of a counterterrorism campaign focused on Turkish followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose network Turkey classifies as a terrorist group.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter told The Wall Street Journal he narrowly escaped a government attempt to force him back to Turkey after his passport was abruptly invalidated during a multination charity tour that included stops at schools affiliated with Mr. Gulen’s movement.
The NBA player, a 25-year-old legal U.S. resident, has been outspoken in his support for Mr. Gulen and criticism of Mr. Erdogan. Mr. Kanter was allowed to return following the intervention of U.S. and NBA officials.

What is Turkey's problem with Gulen? More from the WSJ:

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