National Football League

Praying during NFL chaos: Ray Lewis pleads with journalists to pay closer attention

Praying during NFL chaos: Ray Lewis pleads with journalists to pay closer attention

Who knew that journalists would ever need instant-replay technology in order to cover what is, and what is not, taking place during pre-game performances of the national anthem?

I don't watch much National Football League action these days, not because I've cut the cable TV cord or because I am involved in some kind of boycott. No, I'm an ex-Baltimore guy who no longer gets to watch his team (no way I'm buying an NFL cable package). I do watch the Tennessee Titans, and that's pretty much that.

However, I have been tuning in some of the games long enough to follow the protests. I have noticed something that I think is interesting, something that might be of interest to sports journalists (and even religion-beat reporters). There might be a news angle here.

What? Some of the players' lips are moving. Yes, some are singing along to the national anthem. But others are clearly saying things and not to each other. Some of these players are kneeling. Some of them are standing.

Trigger warning to paranoid NFL officials: These players may be praying.

For example, take a close look at the video at the top of this post. Please watch the whole thing.

What do you see? Well, there are Ravens players with their hands lifted. In some religious traditions, especially among charismatic or Pentecostal Christians, this is a symbol of prayer. But let's play special attention to retired linebacker Ray Lewis, who is -- to say the least -- an outspoken Christian and social activist.

Early in the video, Lewis is shown kneeling -- on one knee -- with other Ravens players. However, pay close attention a minute and a half (1:25) into the video. Lewis is now on both knees and, read his lips, it is pretty clear that he is praying.

So, has Lewis joined the Black Lives Matter protest against police violence or not? This is a crucial, and newsworthy, issue. You can see this in the Sports Illustrated report that ran with this headline: "Added Security Posted Near Ray Lewis Statue After Lewis Kneels for Anthem." The key: It is stated as fact that Lewis took part in the protest by players.

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Baltimore Sun plugs God-shaped hole in its earlier feature on Justin Forsett of the Ravens

Baltimore Sun plugs God-shaped hole in its earlier feature on Justin Forsett of the Ravens

I realize that the Baltimore Ravens lost to Tom Brady last night in the National Football League playoffs. Nevertheless, I want to salute The Baltimore Sun for its A1 pregame profile of Justin Forsett, the who-is-that-guy tailback whose Pro Bowl-level season was one of the best feel-good stories in football this year. Period.

Salute? Yes, because there is some history to the praise in this post.

Back in October, I jumped on the Sun team when it cranked out a generic feature on Forsett, a 5-foot-8, 195-pound (maybe) journeyman running back who had never really been a starter in pro football, let alone a star. Then he turned around this year and ran for 1,266 yards -- twice his career best -- and became a leader for the Ravens in the painful weeks in which the Ray Rice domestic-abuse soap opera unfolded.

That earlier Forsett feature included all kinds of hints that Christian faith is a key element of this man's life and work. There were hints, but no real reporting. You had to read between the lines in the quotes from coaches and friends on the squad. As I wrote at that time:

So we have "great faith" and "tremendous character," resulting in the team being "very blessed" to have him around. The Raven's head coach -- a Super Bowl winner year before last -- is a frequent user of God talk, which has never been explored to any meaningful degree by the local newspaper.

So what happened this time around?

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Pod people: Sports and religion, Tim Tebow and ESPN, Michael Sam and the locker room

Pod people: Sports and religion, Tim Tebow and ESPN, Michael Sam and the locker room

It was a quiet little National Football League story, tucked away in the back headlines of the sports pages. Former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk -- yes, the guy from Harvard -- had been named to one of the quietest, but most influential, slots in pro sports.

The short ESPN report was typical, including the following summary statements:

Matt Birk was named the NFL's director of football development, the league announced Thursday. ...
In his new role, Birk will assist in developing the game at all levels, from players to coaches to front-office personnel. He will guide the evolution of the NFL scouting combine and regional combines as well as the all-star games for prospects, such as the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. Birk will also over see the career development symposium and the Bill Walsh minority coaching fellowship program. ...
Birk, 37, played his first 11 seasons in the league with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Ravens for the final four seasons of his career. He retired after he won his first Super Bowl following the 2012 season. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his excellence on and off the field.

Now, in light of the media tsunami surrounding gay defensive lineman Michael Sam, it showed remarkable restraint that ESPN leaders did not mention that this Matt Birk was also THAT OTHER Matt Birk, the husband of a crisis pregnancy center volunteer, the father of six children, the articulate Catholic whose beliefs on marriage had inspired so many headlines. 

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Concerning that strange, lost Sports Illustrated Tebow epic

We are running out of football Sundays in this National Football League season, so I had better dig deep into my tmatt file of GetReligion guilt and write as short a post as possible about that amazing Tim Tebow feature that Sports Illustrated ran back before Christmas. Are there any GetReligion readers out there who subscribe to Sports Illustrated these days?

If so, then you surely saw that massive piece entitled “The Book of Tebow.” I mean, this was a long-reader deluxe — a full 12,600-plus words with tons of photos and graphics.

And the thesis statement — focusing on Tebow’s future after being cut by the New England Patriots — was oh, so, newsworthy and screamed out for attention:

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A ghost in Rolando McClain's stunning flight from the NFL

There is no way to read ESPN’s disturbing magazine feature about linebacker Rolando McClain without asking whether — to choose a snarky metaphor — his mental and emotional elevator is capable of stopping at all the right floors in the building.

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Cutting 'the Rev.' out of a key Ravens executive's work

If you number yourself among the millions and millions of Americans who follow the National Football League, then you know that this coming week is one of the most interesting, important and traumatic times of the year. It’s the time when “The Turk” walks the hallways at NFL camps, delivering the horrible news to players that they have been cut from the final rosters that teams take into the new season.

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