Dang it, that Ravens executive keeps spouting Godtalk

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I get the feeling that many of The Baltimore Sun folks are starting to get tired of the Baltimore Ravens talking about God.

The other day, one of my favorite Sun writers wrote a story about executive O.J. Brigance, a former linebacker who continues to work for the team despite being ravaged by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. His story has often been told, but in a Super Bowl week it is being told again.

Why? Here’s the symbolic detail lede:

He was a mighty presence when the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV, a warrior who busted a wedge to make the first tackle that day and went on to make four more. If current coach John Harbaugh is to be believed, even then he was the toughest man in football.

Today O.J. Brigance has limbs that hang limp, his muscles withered. He can move only his lips and eyes and must use a computer to speak. The team’s director of player engagement is in his fifth year of battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a lethal and incurable illness.

Yet as his second Super Bowl looms, Brigance, 43, appears stronger than ever, and that lifts the title contenders.

“There aren’t enough words to describe what that man means to me and to this team,” punter Sam Koch said. “Just seeing ‘Juice’ here with a smile on his face is inspiring. If I have to choose a word for him, it would be ‘powerful.’”

Now, I am not sure that I have much to say — in terms of negatives — about the content of this story.

Nevertheless, there was a phrase in this piece that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, it’s linked to Godtalk about the essential faith element that must be included in this story, along with the strength of his marriage.

Why “must” the faith element be included?

Talk to O.J. Brigance about football or life, and like it or not, he’ll raise the subject dearest to his heart, his Christian faith. Without that, he said — and without Chanda — he’d never have realized the truth that sustains him: His tragedy could be his strength.

His eyes darting side to side as he scans the screen, he summons a quote from 2nd Corinthians he believes could not fit his situation better.

“[God] says, ‘My power is made perfect in weakness,’” Brigance said through his machine. “I have no physical voice, and have atrophied arms and legs, but God has given me a voice and platform to do my greatest work. This significance of moment is not about me. It’s about the thousands of people out there on this same journey I am.”

Yes, that “like it or not” phrase struck me as a bit much. I know that others will not feel the same way.

I tried putting the same language into other contexts. Here is one from this week.

So, “like it or not,” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo would not stop sharing his beliefs in favor of gay marriage.

I know what the reporter is trying to say, about Brigance. My question is whether this wording was called for. What if this remarkable man was driven to talk about politics, race, economic justice, AIDS, etc., etc. Like it or not?

Was there some more dignified way to say this in a straightforward news story?

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://derekjohnsonmuses.com DerekJohnsonMuses

    Because athletes have to retire in their 20′s or 30′s, they have to find something else to be great at. Sometimes it’s gay marriage, sometimes it’s religion. I do think it would come across more effectively if Brigance would say “this is what helped me and what I have found to be true.” There are ways to share Christ without others feeling like you are imposing on them. BTW, I live in Same Koch’s hometown.

    • http://www.twitter.com/jdeklittle jdl

      But the question is not about Brigance’s choice of words. The reporter should quote what he or she thinks is relevant (which clearly the verse was).
      The question was whether reporter Jonathan Pitts’ words “like it or not” were uncalled for.

      I think they absolutely were not. It betrays his own discomfort with the fact that this athlete gets his incredible power from the wellspring of the Christian faith. Instead of a “like it or not” approach, he should have an inquisitive approach is what about his beliefs can result in OJ’s current attitude toward his situation.


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