But do I care? No. I’m going to keep writing God-and-sports posts, no matter what. After all, I am a pretty big sports fan and I think that religious issues in sports coverage are interesting and, at times, unique. Why’s that? Well, lots of athletes are religious (think Tim Tebow, of course) and lots of athletes are not (insert an obvious name here). Some athletes are religious and still go on to make dangerous lifestyle choices that create headlines and then, lo and behold, these rich media stars may play the “God card” (think Michael Vick) as they try to bounce back in the public eye.
So what should serious journalists do when they cover these kinds of God-meets-sports stories?
As in the past, let me note that the key is to ask precisely the kinds of fact-driven questions that reporters should ask about other public figures, questions about how they spend their time, spend their money and make their decisions. It’s also important to give readers the kinds of practical, colorful details that add depth to athlete’s lives.
Alas, this is precisely what — when it comes to religion — does not happen in The Washington Post opening-day feature story on Washington Wizards rookie Bradley Beal. This is a story, it seems to me, about a family that is striving to help Beal play it safe as he enters the morally-dangerous waters of pro sports.
How do we know that? The story starts in a promising manner, one rich with symbolic details:
Even before his parents urged his two older brothers to live with him in Washington this season, Bradley Beal was determined to take his family with him on his journey through the NBA.
Beal sketched a design that he wanted etched on his right upper arm: four descending stars, with the letters B-E-A-L inside, and names of his four siblings — Brandon, Bruce, Byron and Bryon — to the right of the stars. The names of his parents, Bobby and Besta, arch above them all.
Besta Beal joined her son at the tattoo parlor when he got his first ink at age 15, and he needed her permission, because otherwise, “she would’ve killed me,” Bradley said with a laugh. Beal provided all of the artwork on his arms — including praying hands with his favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, on his left arm — but he doesn’t draw much anymore.
His hands are now reserved for that beautiful, textbook release on his jump shot, which convinced the Washington Wizards to draft him third overall last June.
Now, what is the first logical question that is likely to pop into the minds of readers after they read that passage (unless we are assuming that the typical Post reader has memorized the entire New Testament)?
Right. What, pray tell, does Philippians 4:13 say? I mean, this rising NBA star has this verse inked into his flesh in a very visible place. It clearly means something to him and this verse seems to be linked to his family — which is the whole subject of this news feature.
So why not tell readers what this verse says? What is the journalistic logic for omitting the content of this short verse, once the biblical citation has been included?
Beats me. I mean, if the story had said that this young man had carved a reference to the first verse of Kanye West’s “The Glory” into his flesh, would the Post team have omitted the lyrics and created a similar gap in the facts? I kind of doubt it. (Oh, by the way, that verse is: “I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal. In my mind I can’t study war no more.”)
So what’s wrong with quoting the Bible verse?
Moving on. At the end of the story, the Post team offers quite a bit of rich detail about Beal’s new life as he moves inside the Beltway. Here is a sample:
Beal has developed an immediate affinity for his new home, even if he hasn’t completely settled in. As of last week, his apartment was undecorated and remained filled with boxes that have yet to be unpacked, as he prepares to move into a larger unit on a higher floor.
He had the essentials: a large flatscreen television, a stack of DVDs, an XBox and PlayStation III, a comfortable couch and beds for him and his brothers to rest their heads. Oh, and food in the refrigerator.
“That’s all you need: TV and a kitchen,” Beal said, without mentioning the obvious — his brothers.
“I’m the first one in my family to be a professional athlete, so I take that to heart and actually do it for them,” Beal said. “Because some of them were that close and didn’t make it and I feel that I do necessarily owe it to them, but I’m doing it for them. They are living through me, almost. My brothers are here, like I want them to experience what I’m experiencing.”
Now, if this young man is an active believer, what basic fact might have been included at this point as a follow-up connection to the biblical reference and some other God talk at the top of the story? What’s a logical question to ask?
Oh, and Philippians 4:13? That’s the verse (very popular with muscular Christians) that proclaims: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”