Faith and that grieving Ravens wide receiver

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The Baltimore Ravens won a grudge match with the New England Patriots the other night because star wide receiver Torrey Smith made the decision to take the field hours after he learned about the death of his 19-year-old younger brother. The two were especially close, since Torrey had served as a father figure after his father abandoned the family.

This was one of those sports stories in which the God card was played early and often, but — of course — in as vague a manner as possible. Here’s a sample or two of the language used in the Baltimore Sun second-day story on this angle of the game:

Smith was intent on honoring his 19-year-old brother, Tevin Jones, pointing to the sky after a 25-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and finishing with a team-high six receptions for 127 yards.

Kneeling in the end zone, Smith said a prayer during the fourth quarter.

“It was tough emotionally,” said Smith, who was excused from practice Monday to be with his family and is expected to return Tuesday. “I didn’t know how I would hold up. This is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother.”

To add depth to this story, the Sun team sought out — long distance — a sports psychologist to discuss how athletes hold up under this kind of stress. Let me emphasize that this interview yielded some interesting, and valid, material.

Life and death transcend sports, but athletes often decide to be with their teammates, a second family of sorts, when tragedy strikes. How Smith excelled after his brother died in a single-vehicle accident when his motorcycle struck a utility pole, is remarkable, according to Dr. Joel Fish of The Center for Sports Psychology in Philadelphia.

“It clearly takes a tremendous level of will and motivation and character to dedicate your performance to a loved one to honor their loss,” Fish said in a telephone interview. “The tribute can allow someone to harness those emotions and channel them. Not everyone can do it.

“The stress is amazing, and it’s not about strength and toughness. It’s important to recognize that everybody responds differently to these kinds of tragedies. This is a tribute to dedicating our moments to someone, connecting and elevating our focus.”

Strength. Toughness. Character. Focus.

How about faith?

I was left wondering if, in the crucial moments before the game, Smith had taken part in some kind of worship service that allowed his teammates to surround and support him. Most, if not all, NFL teams allow a chaplain to lead voluntary services of this kind. Did the Ravens hold such a service before this game? It so, that’s a crucial detail in this story.

Oh, by the way, who is the Ravens chaplain? Did he talk to Smith? At one point, the Rev. Rod Hairston filled that role. Would the chaplain have consented to an interview?

It is clear that some members of the Ravens team approached Smith and discussed this crisis in terms of faith and prayer. We know that because the Sun included this short reference:

Two years ago, Ravens free safety Ed Reed boarded a private jet to return home to his family when his younger brother Brian Reed was reported missing after jumping into the Mississippi River after being chased by police. …

“When I went through losing my brother, being around these guys really helped,” Reed said. “Everybody is mourning and trying to figure out what happens. I gave [Smith] a psalm. We don’t know our time, none of us. …”

The reference to the psalm is interesting. As it turns out, Reed did address that issue with the press. CNN reported:

Smith received words of encouragement from everyone inside the club and around the globe. … Inside the clubhouse, safety Ed Reed, who lost his brother in 2011, gave Smith a psalm that he hoped would help him through the tough time.

“God’s in control, and God has a plan bigger than ours. We don’t know our time, none of us. We all experience the same things, so I just told him that we’re here for him; I’m here for him,” Reed said, recalling his conversation with Smith to reporters after the game. “I can relate to him. I told him we get so caught up, like our pastor said today, in the physical and what we see. I still talk to my (late) brother to this day because I know there’s much more to us than just being here. I told him that he could still have those conversations. Just know that he’s in a much better place.”

There was a pastor involved in this story? Really? Who knew?

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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.

  • MikeD

    I noticed similar ghosts in the stories about Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, who lost his maternal grandmother to cancer and his girlfriend to leukemia two days apart a few days before the Michigan State game. Only a few of the articles that talked about his speech at the pep rally the following week mentioned this quote: “I know one thing for sure–I will see them again. I have faith and have peace knowing I will spend the rest of life after this with the people whom I love.” There was a good article a few years ago that discussed his Mormon faith and how he fits in at a Catholic University: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-08-14/sports/ct-spt-0815-manti-teo-notre-dame-foot20100813_1_manti-te-o-mormon-church-of-jesus-christ