Josh Hamilton’s Christian rehab

The demons are back. Not that they ever left.

Baseball star Josh Hamilton’s ongoing battle with alcohol and drug addiction made headlines again this week when the Texas Rangers slugger acknowledged drinking at a Dallas bar.

Anyone familiar with Hamilton’s riches-to-rags story knows that the former No. 1 pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft hit rock bottom before a return to the sport’s Promised Land. He credits his recovery to his Christian faith.

A contrite Hamilton appeared before the Dallas-Fort Worth-area sports media Friday and — speaking without notes — delivered a 12-minute statement about his relapse. He opened by mentioning his “relationship with the Lord.” In all, he referenced “the Lord” twice and “Christ” once.

That prompted this Twitter post from Randy, a minister friend of mine:

In presser, Hamilton talked plainly about “Christ being his rehab.” Are you surprised that in quotes on ESPN scroll, no mention of Christ?

I tweeted back:

@OK_Rope12 I’m not surprised. Then again, I write for @getreligion :-)

At that point, I had seen the transcript of Hamilton’s remarks but not any of the actual news coverage.

This morning, I took time to explore some of the coverage. Actually, I was pleased (and surprised) with how nicely many of the reports handled the religion angle.

For example, here’s a big chunk of the main story on ESPN’s Major League Baseball page:

“I cannot take a break from my recovery,” Hamilton said. “My recovery is Christ. My recovery is an everyday process. When I take that one day off, it leaves me open for a moment of weakness and it’s always been that way.

“For everybody that I’ve hurt, for fans, kids, people that have addictions that look up to me, I apologize to you. When you’re doing this, you don’t mean to hurt anybody, but you’re only thinking it hurts yourself, but I know it hurt a lot of people.”

After his public apology earlier in the day, Hamilton appeared as scheduled Friday night at a Christian men’s rally in Katy, Texas, near Houston. He again didn’t take any questions, and spoke only to the congregation.

“I could hide in shame and not show up tonight and be withdrawn, but I didn’t want to do that,” Hamilton told the group while reiterating his Christian faith. “I’m doing what I had to do today. I am fessing up. I am going to be a man about it, I am fessing up. People are going to call me a hypocrite, but I am a sinful man.”

Hamilton’s wife Katie posted a couple of messages on her Twitter account earlier in the day.

“Truly appreciate all the encouraging & supportive tweets we’ve been getting,” one tweet said. “God is Faithful and forgives — so thankful that you all are.”

Another tweet read: “Showing us such love and encouragement during this time.”

No religion ghost there. Please forgive me, ESPN, for ever doubting you. (And please forgive Randy, too.) The Associated Press provided similar coverage.

The Houston Chronicle noted that St. Louis Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman, Hamilton’s foe in the 2011 World Series, showed up at the men’s rally Friday night to support his fellow evangelical Christian.

Alas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s main story managed to report on Hamilton’s statement without one use of the terms “Lord,” “Christ” or even “Christian.” There was this vague note:

His focus has returned to his plan to stay sober, which starts with his faith and is aided by reaching out to his support network during times when he isn’t as strong as he needs to be.

His faith in what?

Maybe the Star-Telegram (which featured a column Friday that alluded to Hamilton’s “religious faith”) assumes that everybody in its reading audience already knows all about the slugger’s Christianity.

Then again, how difficult would it be to add that one simple word (“Christian”) between his and faith?

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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.

  • Passing By

    I watched reports of Hamilton’s press conference on two different station here in Fort Worth. Neither had any religious content.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Interesting. Did they try to explain his addiction without the faith angle or ignore the addiction in favor of what this means on the baseball field? Just curious.

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    This piece by Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports is an opinion piece, not hard news, but it illustrates a point.

    It’s wonderfully written and it expresses many truths. But as I read it after listening to Mr. Hamilton’s statement (and reading this blog post), it reads empty because it does not keep the reader where Hamilton is – trying to stay close to Christ.

    Mr. Passan mentions God only once, at the closing, listing Mr. Hamilton’s Lord and Savior as just one of many equivalent solutions to his additions:

    Whatever it takes for Hamilton to stay at that point, may this latest try at sobriety come replete with it. It may be God. It may be his wife. It may be his four daughters. It may be something Hamilton hasn’t yet found.

    Mr. Passan’s words (and those of others) could have soared by not just acknowledging the Christ component of the story, but also the other religion ghost: sin. For Hamilton, and his Christian worldview, sin and addiction are really the same thing. This is why his “recovery is Christ.” And it is why Hamilton’s story is the story for all of us, in one form or another. To write of alcoholics or other addicts as if they are a separate class of people than the rest of us is not truly consistent with a Christian (i.e., Mr. Hamilton’s) worldview. We can all have that bad day and make bad choices that knock us down, from which we need help to get back up and begin anew. (I certainly do not mean to minimize addictions. Rather, I mean to call attention to the reality of sin in this story.)

    Indeed, Mr. Hamilton’s statement is true for everyone: “My recovery is an everyday process. When I take that one day off, it leaves me open for a moment of weakness and it’s always been that way.”

    I don’t know if journalists should make such theological leaps – a theology professor of mine would often lament about why we expect journalists to be theologians – but telling the story of Mr. Hamilton outside of the Christian context of sin and redemption is to not tell the story in full, if at all.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Excellent analysis, Bill P. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Bobby – I had surgery Wednesday night, so I may not be the best to tell it, but I clearly remember the absence of any religious reference on the NBC (5) and CBS (11) affiliates here (that struck me) and I can say that the newscasters other comments were on how this would affect the pending contract negotiations. Those were the 5pm and 6pm reports. I was happily zoned out by 10pm. :-)

    For the rest of it: what Bill P said. Reporters shouldn’t be doing theology. They should, however, be reporting theology accurately.

    And it’s fundamentally wrong to see Josh Hamilton’s struggles as being unique or special. It’s the human condition with which we all struggle on this issue or that.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    For the rest of it: what Bill P said. Reporters shouldn’t be doing theology. They should, however, be reporting theology accurately.

    Absolutely agree.

    I want reporters asking Josh tough questions. I want reporters skeptical of the claims that Josh’s only two relapses were the ones that made news. But I also want reporters accurately reflecting why this week’s events are not seen as the end of the world for the legion of evangelical Christians who support Josh.

  • Chris

    In other breaking journeyman double A shortstop and former alcoholic Jim Richman also thanked Christ for his continued sobriety.

    You mean you didn’t see that on the news?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Chris,

    Don’t understand your comment.

  • Herb

    Did anyone ask about that other spiritually based recovery program – AA? If Josh is not an AA member, it would be interesting to know why. Some object to the “God as we understand him” phrase in step 3, yet it has helped many who are otherwise resentful towards religion.

  • Passing By

    I’ve been wondering about the AA connection as well. Now, one can be a Christian or an atheist in AA. ”God” denotes a ”higher power” which need not be a supernatural entity. It can, rather, be one’s sponsor, the group itself, or whatever. While it’s true, I’m told, that “God” originally had a theistic bent, the focus of the group was so much on sobriety that alternate understandings became acceptable, if they led to sobriety. The key is to get away from the ”self-will run rampant” that lies at the heart of addiction.

    I think Chris’ #7 may have been a comment on the fact that it’s Hamilton’s celebrity status, not his addiction, that’s newsworthy. Most alcoholics do this in their families, or their group, or their church.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Found this note in a 2005 St. Petersburg Times story about Hamilton:

    He attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and private counseling sessions on a regular basis.

    I agree that it would be interesting to know if AA is still a part of his “support group” (a description that in most recent stories has referred to family, his church, his accountability partner, etc., but not meetings).

  • Passing By

    Another celebrity arrest around here, Randy Travis this time. Initial reports included an apology, but no religious content, although Travis has done some religious songs and acting. It was a public intoxication ticket, and the guy was lucky they found him parked.

    Travis is not as hot a property as Josh Hamilton, and doesn’t have the addiction background (as far as I know) but it will be interesting to see if the story develops or dies.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Interesting. I saw Travis perform at a church a few years ago. There was a lot of talk about his faith. “Three Wooden Crosses” was a big hit in country music as well as gospel. “Baptism” is a song that he sang with Kenny Chesney.


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