This particular sports-and-faith feature is a bit different, however, for several reasons.
First of all, Baltimore Ravens executive O.J. Brigance is not the kind of guy who is given to brash religious statements about heroic victories. His confidence is quieter and more humble. It also helps to know that, a decade after leaving the National Football League, his opponent is a disease that remains undefeated.
Brigance is fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), most commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The charity that he helps lead — called the “Brigance Brigade” — has raised more than $500,000 for research seeking a cure, with the help of leaders at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The second unique factor in this lengthy question-and-answer feature is that Brigance, at this point, can no longer move or talk. Thus, the Baltimore Sun notes that he “converses via a high-tech device called a DynaVox, which allows him to ‘talk’ by focusing on a computer screen, and blinking, to form words and sentences.”
Keep that image in mind as you read this former NFL Linebacker’s detailed and nuanced responses to a solid and well-thought-out set of questions from reporter Mike Klingaman.
By the way, the Sun editors ran this entire interview in the dead-tree-pulp edition, not just online. I say, “bravo.”
Your GetReligionistas tend to praise verbatim interviews for the simple reason that they allow people to address complicated and very personal issues in their own words. This is a form of interview that, on the religion beat, works just as well for unapologetic, articulate atheists as it does for traditional believers, like Brigance. All you need is a reporter willing to ask solid, even pushy, questions and a public figure who is willing to give frank, honest answers.
In this case, what does that sound like?
Do people who’ve been diagnosed with ALS come to you for support and, if so, what advice do you give them?
I have had the opportunity to speak with other ALS patients. My encouragement to them is: Don’t stop living in spite of people and circumstances telling you to accept your condition and go peacefully. I find when I speak to others that I am encouraged. Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Our trials come to mold us, and encourage those going through similar trials. …
What is still on your bucket list to do, both personally and professionally?
I have not written my bucket list, but as I think about it, I would like to go to Africa on safari, see Mount Rushmore, and write a book. …
Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh calls you “the strongest man in the building.” Is he right?
Coach Harbaugh may claim that, and I appreciate the compliment, but I would have to defer to the men and women I see at the facility who, despite their apprehensions about seeing me fight this battle before their eyes, still treat me the same. Many people struggle with how to approach or deal with a person with a disability. I had the same uneasiness before I was diagnosed.
OK, you need to read it all. Just one more slice of this interview.
How would you describe to the rest of us what it has been like to live these last few years?
I would describe living the last few years as challenging, yet insightful. My wife and I have seen great acts of kindness and disappointments. However. I am most proud that we haven’t given up on God, or each other. We have used our trials to try and encourage others.
Do you ever compare life as it is now, to how it might have been?
I do believe that God will help me win this battle, and that I will be made whole. I am winning every day my feet touch the ground. We all need to appreciate the small victories in life, starting with the ability to open our eyes in the morning. It isn’t a matter of who is right, but who will I believe. In Proverbs, it says, “So as a man thinks, so is he.” In the end, whatever opinion we accept as truth for our lives will become our reality.
Read it all. This is NOT your normal God-and-sports chat.
Instead, it’s a solid, journalistic example of what a verbatim question-and-answer interview can do.
IMAGE: A publicity still from the Baltimore Ravens organization.