The Internet can be both a cruel and beautiful place, like anything else in this world.
Perhaps you might resonate with those who adore the Olympics, or maybe you find the rage rising up inside yourself over Chick-fil-A stories. What a bizarre combination for the summer of 2012. It’s like it’s too hot outside so people are just wound up and ready to stab each other with words.
What I find beautiful are stories that reveal something about human nature, something that explains why we feel a certain way and how they impact us emotionally and help us understand how we relate to each other. Few reporters seem to know how to write in a way that touches people’s emotions in a way that isn’t obvious. The jokes I hear from reporters about the Olympics brings out the cancer-to-riches stories, the cliche ones that we expect to get us all teary eyed.
I don’t know about you, but Gabby Douglas’ win got me all teary eyed, but I’m trying to understand why, probably the grace, the sass, the smile, the poise, the sweetness of it all. Much will be written about related to her race, her smile, her hair, her style, her physical abilities, her future. I have not been able to read everything on the Internet, but it appears that there is also a faith angle in her story. Really, go read Christine Scheller’s piece at Urban Faith. And then come back and tell us if the mainstream media is picking up on the important details. How crucial is faith to her story, do you think?
In other news, another female gymnast piece I have been wanting to write about is about a TV story worth watching, an unusual story that could resonate with many people on different levels. ABC’s 20/20 produced a feature on Dominique Moceanu, the youngest female gymnast to win a gold medal, and, as far as I can tell, was one of the most iconic Olympians for women in my age demographic.
Moceanu, who accomplished incredible physical feats, also faced deep emotional hurdles. She tells how all the time while she was training for the Olympics, she didn’t know her own father had given up her disabled sister for adoption. Her sister has no legs but she is also a gymnast/acrobat (no really, watch it).
This intense story was made for TV. It doesn’t focus on Moceanu’s facts or figures but recognizes something deeper. Unfortunately, as is the case of many general stories, it doesn’t recognize an additional faith factor. As Laura Leonard fleshed out in her interview for Christianity Today, Moceanu also has a faith story to tell. For many people, forgiveness and the idea of moving forward is only possible with some higher power.
For Moceanu, it was her Christian faith that carried her through. Ignoring that reality is like ignoring the surgery she might have had to repair a knee. Ignoring such a glaring point of her life does a disservice to everyone, the audience, the reader, other journalists and to Moceanu. The story might be true and accurate but it certainly isn’t thorough.
It’s the stories we don’t expect that surprise and delight us, and the challenge for sports and religion reporters is to do that in a way that doesn’t make religion cliche. I eat up Olympic stories like Samuel L. Jackson does, tweeting with little filter. I don’t care if other sports junkies already know the back stories and just want to know the stats, the performance numbers or the number of medals. I want to know about their families, how they grew up, what they had to overcome whether physical or emotional, whether they are like me (faith, skin color, sex, body) or if I can learn from them. You know, the stuff Bob Costas feeds us like candy.
The beauty of the internet is that if you want more info, you can dig more deeply either through Twitter, niche blogs or other formats. The challenge for general audience outlets like NBC is to figure out how to tell both the general and the deep, the religion when it’s relevant or even when it’s just simply interesting.
During the 1996 Olympics, I read everything I could get my hands on related to the female gymnasts, so watching women’s gymnastics now makes me feel like a little kid again. It’s fascinating how little girls like her Moceanu’s sister (and me) idolized Moceanu and wanted so badly to be a gymnast, but her family and faith made all the difference in the world, both in her upbringing and how she handles it now.
Journalists: don’t make the same mistake with Gabby Douglas. She’s worth more than a surface-level, faith-free story.