Major league demons

hamiltonbookYou might remember the unbelievable story of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. He’s the guy who had the unbelievable performance at last year’s Home Run Derby. It wasn’t just that he had a first-round record — crushing 28 home runs in the first round and at one point hitting 13 home runs in 13 swings. But what was particularly noteworthy about the whole thing is that he’s a recovering addict. And what puts this into GetReligion territory is his incessant discussion of his faith and how God saved him from a rather miserable life.

So cut to a couple of weeks ago when Deadspins’ A.J. Daulerio rather snarkily highlighted some pictures of Hamilton falling off the wagon:

Josh Hamilton claims he’s been sober since October 2005. Since then he’s rejuvenated his career, saved his marriage, devoted himself to Jesus, and become America’s flawed, homer-derby hero. Last winter, while he was alone in Tempe, Arizona, Hambone kinda slipped.

But that’s where the story gets interesting. I wanted to highlight two mainstream pieces that handled the situation well. Here’s ESPN on the day the news broke:

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton acknowledged a January bar incident Saturday in which he became drunk and was photographed with several women, not including his wife, in lurid poses in Tempe, Ariz.

“I’m embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I’m embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids,” Hamilton said in Anaheim, Calif., before the Rangers played the Los Angeles Angels. “It’s one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol.

“Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I’m out there getting ready for a season and taking my focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it’s amazing how those things creep back in.”

I like how it’s a just-the-facts lede followed by some powerful quotes. The piece continues with important information about how the organization is handling the incident interspersed with quotes from Hamilton. One important piece of information is that the folks closest to Hamilton weren’t surprised by the news. That’s because he told his wife, his team and MLB higher-ups the next day. Here’s an interesting quote from near the end of the article:

“I don’t feel like I’m a hypocrite. I feel like I’m human,” he said Saturday. “I got away from the one thing that keeps me straightened out and going in the right direction.”

I also liked this piece from Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News. Hodges advances the story by asking the leaders of an evangelical ad campaign called “I Am Second” if Hamilton will still be featured in the campaign. He will. Hodges gets some good quotes from the leaders of the campaign and Hamilton:

Leaders of I Am Second were impressed by how he owned up, and made a “pretty easy” decision to stick with him, said Nathan Sheets.

“We had him in the lineup before. We’re not going to take him down,” said Sheets, vice president of Plano-based e3 Partners Ministry, the group behind the campaign. “This isn’t about a bunch of perfect people.”

Hamilton said through a team spokesman that he’s not surprised that I Am Second leaders are standing by him.

“As a Christian, other Christians realize you are still going to make mistakes,” Hamilton said. “But as a Christian, you learn from and get encouragement from other believers. They don’t give up on you.”

I’ve sort of had a revelation this week — and yes, I know it’s really obvious to most readers of this site — that the mainstream media doesn’t really get the Christian doctrines of sin and forgiveness. I knew that some people sort of caricatured Christians as people who think they’re perfect, but I didn’t realize how little is understood about what the church generally teaches about sin and forgiveness. Anyway, these were some good examples of stories that let sources discuss how these doctrines play out in real life.

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  • Mike Hickerson

    I was impressed that this “revelation” of Hamilton’s night of partying was not news to his wife or his employers. It’s hard to avoid comparing this to the sad Pitino situation, all of which happened 6 years ago, but was apparently covered up the whole time. A major part of the Christian idea of repentance – which even many Christians don’t understand – is that’s it not just about feeling sorry or guilt, but how you will change your life as a result. There’s also a world of difference between a spur-of-the-moment slip like Hamilton’s and an ongoing, intentional series of sins in which hiding the truth has become your most important priority.

  • Nicholas

    Actually, the American public and the MSM are quite forgiving in cases like Hamilton’s, where someone who professes their faith backslides into sin, only to acknowledge it and repent again. See any article on Daniel Baldwin for examples.

    But Hamilton is correct to not feel like a hypocrite. He wasn’t trying to impose his faith or its precepts on anyone other than himself.

    There’s the rub with the MSM. They – and Americans in general – are intolerant of those who preach about “conservative Christian values” while having their hands in the till or taking bribes. Likewise, “Christian” arguments about “the sanctity of marriage” sound odd coming from politicians, pastors, and public figures who cheat on their wives, are oft-divorced, or are busily tooting meth with male massueses.

    A big distinction can be made between such people and Hamilton.

    PS – Daulerio’s site is “Deadspin”, not Deadsin. Paging Dr. Freud!

  • T Stanton

    Nice post. Thought your comment was really interesting:

    “…the mainstream media doesn’t really get the Christian doctrine of sin and forgiveness.”

    In fact – I think many folks reject it entirely. Consider this snippet from the “gay-friendly” comment war: “You are what you do and you do what you are.” Clearly this is not quite so cut and dry within Christian doctrine.

    It is – I’m convinced – what leads to a misunderstanding of hypocrisy in common culture. The Hamilton quotation is PERFECT!

    “I don’t feel like I’m a hypocrite. I feel like I’m human…”


  • Jeff

    When I read “…the mainstream media doesn’t really get the Christian doctrine of sin and forgiveness,” I was instantly reminded of an advertisement currently running on XM Radio wherein a talk show host (don’t even know who it is) is excerpted saying (roughly but accurately here) of quarterback Michael Vick’s return: “There are some things that can never be forgiven. I, for one, will never forgive Michael Vick for what he has done.” It doesn’t take much of a leap to suggest that this host would also fall into the huge heap of folks who say it is Christians who are staunch and morally confining. You just can’t have it both ways. Of course, we Christians may need to be reminded of that too!

  • Mollie

    Nicholas — thank you so much for noting the typo. The truth — Freud aside! — is that a few keys on my keyboard stopped working a few weeks ago. I’m getting a new one and in the meantime, I’ve been trying to cut and paste the appropriate letters and symbols in as I write. Sometimes I forget. I think the Deadsin typo is one of my best yet.

    As a huge sports fan, I’m a daily reader of the site . . . I feel as if Daulerio would appreciate the error . . .

  • chris g

    I like the punch of the last quote ““As a Christian, other Christians realize you are still going to make mistakes,” Hamilton said. “But as a Christian, you learn from and get encouragement from other believers. They don’t give up on you.”

    I wish more of that type of balance were in other stories. How do you go about revealing the tension between judgement and forgiveness? Obviously many see forgiveness as something trite – on par with stereotypical views of indulgence sales. The stick of supernatural damnation is, how I believe, many interpret motivations for righteous living. I suspect many would also see the peer support in cult like colors.

    I think part of what we have lost is an understanding of how communities that aren’t balkanized, transient and narcissistic work.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Part of balance that chris g mentions might come from the regular contact that sportswriters have with local athletes. Sometimes, this leads them to roll their eyes at professions of faith, especially with athletes that they think are phony or shallow. With Hamilton, sportswriters seem to legitimately like him. For whatever reason, his personality “clicks” with them. He made his initial comeback here in Cincinnati where I live, and both fans and sportswriters were sorry to see him go. That good relationship between reporter and subject allows a deeper story to be told. (And many in the sports media have observed how the distance between writers and athletes has grown greater and greater in the past few decades.)

  • Bobby Ross

    Evan Grant, former baseball writer at The Dallas Morning News and now a blogger with D Magazine’s Inside Corner, also did some fair, excellent reporting that put the facts out there but in proper context. I know GetReligion doesn’t usually deal in opinion, but Gil LeBreton with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram also wrote a great column that referenced Hamilton becoming a “target with a coat of many colors” but made the case that this shouldn’t shake fans’ faith in him.

    I am a longtime Rangers’ fan as well as someone who has spent 10 years writing about religion for the secular and religious press. All three of my children met Hamilton at spring training earlier this year and had their pictures taken with him. So I was particularly interested in the story of his lapse. While the journalistic skeptic in me finds it a bit difficult to believe that the ONLY time he slipped (as he claims) he got caught, I certainly would like to believe he’s telling the truth.

  • BJohnD

    The name of the “I am Second” group caught my eye. IIRC, Gale Sayers titled his autobiography “I am Third,” meaning God first, family second, himself third.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Thanks for highlighting some pieces written by folks who get religion.

  • Jay

    I think what the others (and some Christians) find confusing is a stance that says “you’re wrong, but you are forgiven.” The post-60s attitude is “nothing’s wrong, so there’s nothing to forgive.”

    “Go and sin no more” is a part of the NT that others don’t seem to get.

  • Jay

    Here is an example of someone in the Christian press who seems to Get Religion (ok, no surprise) when it comes to forgiveness:

    The fact that you have been outspoken about your faith drew the ire of the snark-slinging fraternity.… In their mind you’re hopelessly hypocritical and I’m an even worse monster—a conservative, church-loving fundamentalist Christian; I’m Ned Flanders with a press pass. They’re seeing blood in the water (you) and doing what they’re paid to do, which is rip you to shreds.

    Back to Partying While Christian. What the Deadspin crowd fails to appreciate about your situation is that in its aftermath, you demonstrated Christian virtues of humility and repentance. Your willingness to atone publicly for your sins, acknowledging what you did wrong and a desire to change, sets a great example for sports fans everywhere—Christian or not. In an era when PR-department-generated “sports apologies” usually range from lying, at worst, to just sort of evasive and weak, at best, your apology is a bright light. …

    A word to the evangelicals who feel somehow let down or ripped off by your mistake: Don’t. To put it simply, there is a speck in your eye and a plank in mine.