A football star (oh, he’s a minister) talks about sexual abuse

As I have mentioned many times, issues related to the world champion Baltimore Ravens (still enjoying typing those words) are about as close to serious religion news as my local newspaper gets, most of the time.

However, let me stress that for the old guard in Charm City there is only collection of gridiron saints that commands more respect and that would be players from the golden years of the Baltimore Colts.

So consider the emotional impact of this news story from The Baltimore Sun:

He was a bearded, Bunyanesque defensive tackle whose rugged play helped the Baltimore Colts to three straight division championships in the 1970s. But Tuesday, when Joe Ehrmann addresses a national gathering convened to deal with the problem of child sexual abuse in sports, he’ll take part in one of the most meaningful huddles of his life.

His words will weigh heavily on the audience at the two-day Safe to Compete summit in Alexandria, Va., because Ehrmann … is himself a survivor of child sexual abuse. He still feels tremors from that trauma.

“It hemorrhages your soul for a lifetime,” said Ehrmann, who, at 12, was raped by two men at a campground near Buffalo, N.Y. “That’s the leukemia [of sexual abuse]. It might go into remission, but it never goes away.

“I’m 63 and my life has been a long and painful journey. It didn’t have to be this way, if society wasn’t so shameful, and if I’d had the help [afterward] that I needed. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that.”

Now, I edited out one tiny, but crucial, phrase from that anecdotal lede.

As it turns out, Ehrmann’s biography includes one or two other notes related to his soul-barring appearance at that podium. Every so briefly, the Sun team mentioned that the former coach is also a “minister” and “motivational speaker.”

For starters, this raises an interesting Associated Press Stylebook question: Why isn’t this particular Colts legend referred to on first reference as “the Rev. Joe Ehrmann”?

Yes, this is a picky point. However, I would argue that it is highly relevant to the nature of this man’s message on this hellish subject. It is hard to imagine that his faith will not enter into his remarks on such a personal, painful issue.

So what does the Sun tell us about his ministry?

You have, alas, already read it all. The word “ministry” appeared and that was that. Yes, this is obvious religion ghost territory.

Now, it isn’t hard to go online and learn a few details about his preaching ministry at the local Grace Fellowship Church. This man has, in fact, lived a very interesting life:

Joe was a professional football player, named Man of the Year while playing for the Baltimore Colts. During his football career, Rev. Ehrmann matriculated at Dallas Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary, and was ordained in 1985. Currently a preaching pastor at Grace Fellowship Church, Rev. Ehrmann is known for his dedication and commitment to Baltimore City’s betterment. He’s the co-founder of Baltimore’s Ronald McDonald House, the founder of The Door—an inner city, community-based ministry, and is president of Building Men for Others Ministry, which addresses issues of masculinity and its correlating themes of boyhood, manhood, husbandry and fatherhood. Joe has been called “The Most Important Coach in America” by Parade magazine (8/04), and is the subject of the NY Times bestseller, “Season of Life.”

I understand that, in the wake of the scandal at Penn State, the sexual abuse of children by coaches and other sports-related volunteers is a hot sports story. That’s the topic that should dominate this story, especially in the sports pages of a major urban newspaper. I get that.

Nevertheless, why write a story about a football man who is also an ordained clergyman and avoid the second half of that equation, especially when addressing a story so rooted in questions about sin, pain, healing and grace?

Just asking.

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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.

  • Julia

    Amen. That would be very relevant.