Super Bowl week: Sun misses the Spirit in AP Stylebook

News flash: This may be a shock to GetReligion readers, who are quite cool as a rule when it comes to caring about sports, but America is currently moving into the secular holy season known as Super Bowl Week.

News flash No. 2: This is a rather big deal in Baltimore this time around.

It is almost impossible to grasp, unless you have lived in a city with a Super Bowl team, how completely super news takes over a local newspaper (or local television stations) during the week before The Big Game. By the time the game is done, virtually every member of the squad will be the subject of a news story of some kind, especially if there is some poignant twist in the story. It’s kind of like all of those tearjerkers that get dropped into Olympics coverage, only multiplied by about 10.

Take, for example, the news feature that ran the other day in The Baltimore Sun about the life and times of reserve cornerback and special-teams player Chris Johnson — whose family went through hell this past year. This is a valid story, in my opinion, Super Bowl or no Super Bowl. As is often the case in sports coverage these days, the story opens with symbolic tattoos.

Tattoos adorn the torso and arms of Ravens reserve cornerback Chris Johnson, covering his body in a mosaic of smiling faces and names.

It’s Johnson’s way of paying tribute to his family, of ensuring that those loved ones remain close to his heart.

“This way, they’re always a part of you,” Johnson said. “They’re literally on your skin permanently, just like family is permanent to me.”

On the left side of his ribs is a tattoo of a face and two numbers. The face is that of his sister, Jennifer Johnson. The numbers represent the years she lived: 1978 to 2011. A little more than a year ago, Chris Johnson was exchanging general text messages with Jennifer and preparing for his next game with the Oakland Raiders. Then, she was suddenly gone.

Jennifer Johnson, 33, was shot multiple times and killed by her estranged boyfriend, Eugene Esters, on Dec. 5, 2011, in an apartment complex parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas, according to Tarrant County court records.

“I’ll never get to talk to my sister again or tell her that I love her,” Chris Johnson said. “You can’t figure out why things happen the way they did. As a Christian and as a man, you have to keep going forward. I needed to push forward and be strong. I didn’t have time to wonder why. As a man, as a father, as a husband, as a son, I believe you have to have more strength than your average person. Your family is depending on you. If you break down, they don’t have a solid foundation. I try to be that foundation for my family.”

This is not another GetReligion post about a sports story that fails to follow through on a major religion angle. Actually, I think that this Sun story does a fine job of including a valid, strong religion angle. Read the whole thing, please.

However, I am also convinced that this report did miss the Holy Ghost, but let me explain the nature of this specific journalistic problem.

A key element of the story is that Johnson and his wife, Mioshi, agreed to take in one of his sister’s children — 14-year-old Sidney. The Raven player’s mother took in another child, Solia. This leads to the following exchange.

“If it had happened to me, my sister would have done the same thing for my kids,” said Johnson, who has two sons, Chris Jr. and Bran, and a daughter, Krissy. “Everybody is doing fine. Solia is still a child. She doesn’t really know what went on. Sidney is taking it in stride.

“It’s a little bit harder for her because she knows the situation, but she gets up with a smile on her face. We try to uplift the kids and not talk about the bad things. I know my sister is with us in spirit. She’s in the girls and my mom, and she’s a part of me.”

Now, that’s “spirit” with a lower-case “s.”

But latter in the story, Johnson steps forward to talk to the whole Ravens team at a crucial moment in the season:

On Dec. 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher allegedly murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide in front of then-general manager Scott Pioli and then-coach Romeo Crennel. Four days later, Johnson asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh whether he could address his teammates. It was the one-year anniversary of his sister’s death.

“Never in my life had I gotten up in front of the team, but I knew it was important and I felt the spirit,” Johnson said. “I let them know I was having a normal day when I got a call telling me my sister was dead. It was the same situation as Kansas City. I told them you never really know what a person is going through as a teammate outside of those white lines. When you leave these doors at work, you might have hell at home and then you go to work and put on a front.

“Unfortunately, Jovan Belcher didn’t talk to anyone and he did something there’s no coming back from. He needed a friend. I told the guys, if you need advice, go to each other as brothers and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I said, ‘I don’t understand what this world is coming to, but, as a Christian, I pray about it and ask for guidance and to be strong for my family.'”

Now, I predict that when Johnson said he “felt the spirit,” what he actually said was that he “felt the Spirit” — with an upper-case “S.” In other words, what we have here is a copy-editing error, a violation of the following passage in the Associated Press Stylebook.

gods and goddesses: Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions. Capitalize all noun references to the deity: God the Father, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, etc. …

Johnson, as a Christian, was saying that as he rose to speak he felt the power of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Christian Trinity. Right?

Correction please. Or do newsrooms correct these kinds of errors these days?

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  • Copy editors correct such errors if they possess the basic knowledge to spot them in the first place. Most of our editors are good with such things. However, a few years ago a young newbie who was given a late quote to insert from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, attributed it to “Mr. Wuerl.”
    These kinds of mistakes aren’t new. About 35 years ago when I was in college near Chicago I spotted a letter-to-the editor in one of the Chicago papers, complaining about an error in a -profile of singer Pat Boone. The story had said he was ex-communicated from the Churches of Christ for baptizing people in his swimming pool. The letter, from someone representing his former church, said they had no problem at all with swimming pool baptisms, but had excommunicated him for claiming to speak in tongues.
    I immediately realized what must have happened. Boone, who had talked about swimming pool baptisms during the interview, must have said he was disfellowshipped because he had “the Spirit baptism” or “baptism of the Spirit.” The reporter, being unfamiliar with lingo and practices of the charismatic movement and the theological skepticism of traditional evangelical groups, interpreted this as an objection to his “spirited baptisms.”
    When in doubt, ask.

  • tmatt


    Sort of like the famous “slay” the Congress story in “The Elements of Journalism,” when a major, major newspaper quoted a Pentecostal preacher of saying he wanted to see half of the US Congress, well, slain.,+slay,+Congress&source=bl&ots=FGw_h39nRa&sig=Cbixq-hjONTmdG3kt4qZqc-lGEA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=CPQGUafNJ6fg0QHl6IGYDQ&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Elements%20of%20journalism%2C%20slay%2C%20Congress&f=false

  • “Copy editors correct such errors if they possess the basic knowledge to spot them in the first place.”
    And, of course, assuming your newspaper even still has them, has them in the same building — or city or state — as the reporters, rather than at a “universal news hub,” or doesn’t have them doing 20 million other things on a typical night!

    The Sun’s top copy editor, John McIntyre, has a terrific blog:
    Check it out sometime.

  • Oh, and yes – go Ravens! 😉

  • Julia

    Funny fish joke at that blog.

  • Tmatt, alas the Google books image did not come through.
    Cathy G, I want you to know that even though I am a Steelers fan who grew up in San Francisco, I will be cheering for the Ravens on Sunday.