God-shaped hole in big WPost take on RG3

So I was driving through this astonishing Appalachian thunderstorm last night, punching the radio over and over trying to get weather information, when the tuner hit a strong signal and I heard something really bizarre coming out of the car speakers.

It was a National Football League preseason game — the Hall of Fame game, to be precise.

Oh my gosh, is football season almost here? You know, that magical time of year when the sports pages of major news organizations are invaded, time after time, with stories about muscular Christians and other believers whose faith makes them stand out in our crowded media marketplace? These are the stories that drive people on ESPN wild, but when we write about them here at GetReligion the comments pages are usually as quiet as a graveyard.

Sorry folks, but we can’t help it that Tim Tebow is in New York City. We also can’t help it that Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III has taken his right arm, and his study Bible, to the Nation’s Capital.

I predict news coverage.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a lengthy feature about RG3 that ran the other day in The Washington Post, the first of what will almost certainly be dozens of feature-length reports about the new face of the franchise in the hours, days, weeks and months ahead. (Imagine, if you will, the wave of coverage linked to the upcoming Griffin nuptials, church rites which will almost certainly include all kinds of offensive religious language.)

The focus, in this story, was Griffin’s complex journey from his Texas home to Washington, D.C., and, in particular, this sharp young man’s impressive command of the offensive schemes contained in the legendary, thick, intimidating playbook assembled by Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and his sports-wonk son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. It is in that context that the following passage caught my eye:

As he flew between Washington and Texas, perhaps a half-dozen times in all, Griffin usually checked a suitcase, but the playbook — along with an iPad the Redskins gave him, with all the plays in video form — boarded the plane with him, safely tucked in a carry-on bag.

“It’s with me all the time,” he said. “It’s not my bible, but it’s what we live by.”

What we have here is a fascinating mistake linked to a familiar — at least for religion-beat reporters — passage in the Associated Press Stylebook.

You see, what Griffin actually said was that the Redskins playbook may be his “bible,” but it is not his “Bible.” What he said is the opposite of what the Post team reported him as saying.

Thus saith the AP bible. Let us attend.

Bible – Capitalize, without quotation marks, when referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament. …

Lowercase biblical in all uses.

Lowercase bible as a nonreligious term: My dictionary is my bible.

The lower-case illustration above fits the Shanahan playbook — perfectly. That is exactly what the quarterback is saying. Right?

But at the same time, Griffin made sure that people knew that this was not The Book in his life — The Holy Bible. What RG3 said, rendered accurately, was this: “It’s with me all the time,” he said. “It’s not my Bible, but it’s what we live by.”

So heads up, sports reporters: What we have here is another potential NFL star who will require you to take seriously his style, speech and beliefs. You will need to learn to tune in the religious elements of what he has to say (try listening to Bill Moyers) in order to cover him accurately. So get out the journalism bible, with some yellow sticky notes, and start marking the relevant passages.

Meanwhile, this lengthy Post report did include some material from a highly symbolic event in this young man’s life — his farewell service at the evangelical church in which he grew up. Read carefully this lengthy chunk of the report:

At 7 p.m. on May 9, nearly a thousand congregants packed the Christian House of Prayer Ministries in Copperas Cove, Tex., to hear the church’s most famous member speak, and to bid the young man farewell and Godspeed as he prepared to head east to start a new chapter in his life.

“RGIII!” the pastor, Apostle Nate Holcomb said, using Griffin’s ubiquitous nickname, as the congregation roared and an organ churned out major chords. “Speak to us for a moment!” …

For the church service, Robert Griffin III had brought along the Heisman Trophy, which normally resides in a wooden cabinet, typically hidden from view behind closed doors, in the living room of the modest rancher just outside Copperas Cove where Robert and Jacqueline Griffin had raised their three children.

“When I was young, you always told me [to] never forget where I came from,” Griffin said to Holcomb when he took the microphone, according to an audio recording of the service provided by the church. …

He spoke of his faith, and of the obstacles he had overcome — chiefly a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during his sophomore year at Baylor. When Griffin was done, Holcomb placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder, bowed his head and prayed: “We thank you for this mighty oak in the forest of God … and [ask] that wherever you take Robert, others will see the love of God, and they will come out of darkness and into the marvelous light because of this young man.”

OK, raise your cyber-hands if you would have been interested in hearing some of the material on this worship-service tape that the Post team simply summarized as, “He spoke of his faith.” Why omit that part of the event, that part of the news story, if the goal here is to help readers understand what makes RG3 tick?

I think that this is a rather interesting hole in a news story about a very interesting young man (and I don’t just say that as a Baylor University alum). One might even say that the story contains a God-shaped hole, or even one of those all-to-common religion ghosts.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I’m just pleased to see them given the pastor what I don’t doubt is his proper title: Apostle.

    Through my work I meet a lot of black Christians who use a number of titles: Minister, Prophet/Prophetess, bishop, Elder, and so on. It’s nice to see that style reflected in print.

  • dgosse

    I shall fill the emptiness of your comments page with the observation that these overtly Christian athletes face their greatest challenges from those who wish to drag them down into the muck. It’s tough enough to succeed in professional sports and many of the big names end up in some sort of trouble so I wish him the blessing and strength of the Lord to hold fast to the truth.


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