God in a Sooner’s huddle

Did I mention that I’m an Oklahoma Sooners football fan? Did I mention that my team is ranked No. 1 in both major preseason polls?

So repeat after me: Boomer Sooner!

Now, on to business: The Tulsa World recently featured a 1,700-word profile on the faith of Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, one of the early frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.

The top of the story:

When Landry Jones led eight University of Oklahoma teammates on a mission trip to Haiti last spring, he thought he would be the one who was helping others.

Instead, it was Jones who was lifted up.

Jones, a junior from Artesia, N.M., the Sooners’ preseason All-Big 12 quarterback and among a handful of early frontrunners for the 2011 Heisman Trophy, was, again, humbled by the events unfolding around him, humbled by the twists and turns his own life had taken.

“I was kind of embarrassed,” Jones said, “because I thought I was going to go down there and help these people out, but at the end of the day, you come back and realize they helped you more than you helped them. They gave you more than what you gave them.”

Now, what do you think of that lede?

Up high in a feature such as this, you’re wanting to grab readers’ attention and — if you can — strike some kind of emotional response, maybe surprise them, make them want to read more. Did that lede do that for you?

If so, terrific. In my case, I gave it more of a ho-hum response. I’ve been on a number of mission trips to Third World countries — Mexico, Ghana, Guatemala — and inevitably, those who go say the same thing that Jones did. It’s certainly true, but I wonder if there’s a fresher picture a reporter could paint up high. Of course, I could be absolutely wrong on this point and would invite you tell me so if that’s the case. (Not that you’ve ever needed an invitation to do in the past. Ha.)

Overall, it’s a pretty good story, and I enjoyed reading it. Two frequent complaints here at GetReligion are that (1) reporters don’t let people simply express their faith in their own words and (2) reporters make light of people’s faith or write about it in a cynical way. Neither is the case with the World story, which actually quotes Jones referring to a specific book of the Bible.

In fact, this is one of those cases where I wonder if the story suffered from too much of a cheerleading tone, at the expense of allowing typical journalistic skepticism to force answers to basic questions.

We read about the downward spiral of Jones’ life and how he believed Satan’s lies his freshman year, leading to this:

Jones said he went through such a dark depression that year he simply became lost.

“I started really getting into drinking, trying to get all the girls, I was sick all the time, my stomach was in knots,” he says. “So I get done with that first year of college not knowing if I wanted to continue at OU, or if I wanted to quit. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and be left there by myself. How could I go through another miserable year like that?

“I just wanted to die.”

Jones eventually found peace. In “one of the greatest moments of my life,” he says God came to him in his room and said He didn’t care whether Jones was the starting quarterback.

“Instead of Landry Jones the athlete, I was Landry Jones the son of God,” Jones says. “And that’s what my identity was now.”

(An aside: The Associated Press Stylebook calls for uppercasing God but not personal pronouns of God such as “he.” Not sure if the World has a different style, but the uppercased “He” surprised me in a secular newspaper story.)

Now, after hearing about Jones’ encounter with God, what do you do as a reporter? I’d ask some follow-up questions. I’d want to know some more specific details on this life-changing encounter. I’d also want some more facts about how Jones began expressing his faith. Did he start going to church? If so, what kind of church? Does he go every Sunday? But unfortunately, the story stays pretty vague and generic as far as Jones’ Christianity.

I also was curious about one of the fellow missionaries quoted:

“That’s one of the biggest things that’s influenced me, the way he follows the Lord Jesus Christ,” said senior wide receiver Ryan Broyles, one of OU’s Haiti missionaries. “I’m so happy to say my quarterback is a believer. I think that trickles down in the way he produces on the field. He’s a great role model. He never says anything negative. But at the same time, he’ll shoot you straight. He’ll let you know if you’re walking off that path.”

While I’m a Sooner fan, I don’t follow the team religiously (pardon the pun). It surprised me to hear Broyles talking about Jesus because I had read about off-the-field troubles early in his Oklahoma career. Did Broyles have a come-to-Jesus experience of his own? The story provides no clue. But thanks to the magic of Google, I did find this statement from a sports broadcaster here in Oklahoma:

What many don’t know is that Landry Jones who is a solid Christian went to Broyles before last season and shared Christ with the guy, and God used that to change Broyles’ life. Here is the new Broyles just last weekend (link includes a photo) at the Antioch Community Church Block party sharing his testimony of how God changed him. I know this is the sports section, but I think it is pretty cool that Landry had the guts to go to Broyles and that God used that to change Broyles’ life!

Hmmmmm. That might have been a relevant bit of context to include in the World story, huh?

What am I missing? Am I being too harsh on this story? By all means, read the whole thing and weigh in.

And don’t forget: Boomer Sooner!

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://syrophoenicianwoman.blogspot.com/ Bethanie Ryan

    I was grabbed by the lede. I have never been to a third world country before, although I have been places in the US where I have done service and felt like I got so much more in return. I could see how someone who has been there would have a ho-hum response. It is kind of cliche, even for me.

    I do agree that the reporter should have asked more questions. However the main topic of the story was his trip to Haiti and how it effected him. Any questions about his conversion or his conversation with Broyles would have been tangential for such a brief profile.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Thanks, Bethanie.

    I thought it was actually quite a bit of space for a newspaper profile. I thought there were a bit too many football statistics that could have been allocated instead for the religion angle. But maybe that’s my GR bias. :-)

  • Doonuts

    Roll Boom, roll boom.

  • http://tarheeltalker,wordpress.com Charlie

    Have just a slightly different take on the article. First,I am always quite pleased to read about a prominent athlete whose faith is publicized. My other thought regards your statement and that of one comment about having a ho-hum response about mission trips. I am glad that you have had the opportunity to go on a number of foreign mission trips since my experience is limited to only one such trip in the states. And, yes that is the response that I also gave, what you describe as routine. By no means do I want to sound critical and if I sound that way, please forgive me.Perhaps we should celebrate that feeling or response that folks give upon their return since that ought to be the rule. ( North Carolina fan but we are usually quieter during football season.)Didn’t mean to ramble so.Do appreciate the site.

  • http://www.oruoracle.com W. Kevin Armstrong

    Bobby: What a treat to find another “triune being” — someone who loves Jesus, journalism and Oklahoma Sooners football. I, too, share your faith in all three of those areas, and in that order(although my wife often points out that I allow the priorities to shift inappropriately!)

    I teach journalism at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and saw this story in the Tulsa World. I’m not sure of your background or experience in journalism, but I can tell you that sports writers around the country who cover high school and college football are working ’round the clock these days to find competitive angles on teams and players on their beats. I do not personally know John Hoover (the author of this article), but I can tell you firsthand as a Tulsa World subscriber that he’s quite prolific with his prose, if not polished. He’s a workhorse when it comes to coverage, I assure you.

    The sports department at the Tulsa World is among the largest of all the News/Editorial sections of the paper in terms of the number of writers. Staffing cuts in recent years have hit hard the editing ranks throughout the Tulsa World, so writers often don’t get more than the basic fact-checking and grammar/style brush-ups. In fact, after the last staff cuts they returned to a universal copy desk approach in which non-sports people are often editing sports stories. Such is life in this era of daily newspapering and a poor economy.

    All of that aside, you’re correct to call out a “missionary cliche” in the lede of this story. I have experienced firsthand this phenom of seeking to serve others only to feel as if you’re the one being served in the end. I think, however, you have to give the writer credit because this story did NOT appear on the Saturday Religion page. It’s a sports story, and so it appeals to a broader audience with this “toned-down religious” approach. Furthermore, the writer uses the lede to effectively set the stage for using the Haiti mission trip as a metaphor for Landry Jones’ athletic career to date at OU.

    What I really think the story suffers from is a reliance by the author on the “I am Second” video for so much of the quotes from Jones. I read the story when it was published, then read your post a week later, then watched the attached video (thanks for posting it), then immediately went back and re-read the story. The author obviously didn’t probe Jones’ faith much in a face-to-face interview, which would have allowed him to write a much better story — and a more compelling lede.

    For me, as an OU football fan-atic, I was most interested in the interviews with Jones’ teammate — Broyles (who you mention), Tress Way (the punter) and Ben Habern (the center, who is Jones’ roommate). The story, in this respect, provides great insights into the impact Jones’ faith is having within the team. As you say, elaborating on Broyles’ testimony would greatly reinforce this point.

    To conclude, this goes back to Newswriting I — the story you “construct” is only as good as the information you “collect” (credit textbook author Carole Rich for the alliteration). I think Hoover milked this story for all he had, and I am thankful he did.

    I hope Hoover will have time Jan. 10 to interview Landry Jones more in-depth the morning after the crimson-and-cream QB leads the Sooners to their eighth national championship in New Orleans. Jones will most certainly give all the glory to God — just as QB Josh Heupel did after the Orange Bowl in 2000 — and the press (at least in Tulsa) will be happy to share the “Good News” without watering it down or editing it out… Boomer!!!

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Charlie and Kevin,

    Appreciate your excellent insight and perspective.

    Kevin, I am aware of the gigantic workloads on sports writers and other journalists, but thanks for reminding me.

    I agree that the story suffers from a reliance on the “I Am Second” video.

    Hope you’re right about the eighth national title! :-)

  • Michael C.Brockman

    GR needs to do a piece (if not already done) on the group, I Am Second. Who are they? Who founded them? Who funds them?
    So Jones has a private revelation in his room. Private R., that’s almost par for the course today in many media figures’ religious lives. There’s another story–maybe a book!!
    Oh, as far as capitalizing the pronoun for God, did you also notice that the story didn’t do the same on the pronoun for Christ? HMMMMM?
    As far as the Haitians being so friendly to a group of Americans on the streets, NOT SURPRISING! How did the group dress? How did the group travel? Did you guys not figure out WHY the Haitians were friendly?
    Mr. Jones: go live there for three or four years; go without football buddies. You will be “just another Americano.” You will see that these people are like people any where in the world and will treat you like anyone in the world.
    I am so glad Mr. Jones had a chance to do some out-of-the-states travel. I hope he will have much more in his young Christian life. It will help him to grow and produce better quotes than the ones he had in the Tulsa news story.
    I too pay attention to OU football. Their head man is a former Iowa Hawkeye! They have a DE on the team who went to HS with my kids here in Hutchinson, KS. And, (another story??!!), they have a freshman QB who is a Roman Catholic, from Wichita KS. I know I would have a ball covering them!