‘Apparently,’ there’s a news story about Wisconsin church

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The lead story on CNN’s “Belief Blog” at this moment concerns a former National Football League player who apparently lost a church speaking engagement after tweeting support for basketball player Jason Collins, who this week revealed that he’s gay.

Stop the presses!

Seriously, this is national news?:

Washington (CNN) – LeRoy Butler, a former safety for the Green Bay Packers, is one of many professional athletes to tweet support for Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out as gay this week.

“Congrats to Jason Collins,” Butler tweeted April 29, the day Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated cover story.

But Butler says the four-word tweet cost him a speaking appearance at a Wisconsin church.

The church’s response?

Well, that’s where the apparently comes in:

He was scheduled to speak at the church (whose name he has not revealed) about bullying and his new book, “The LeRoy Butler Story: From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap.”

However, Butler announced the trouble in a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday.

CNN links to a similarly vague, one-sided Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story:

Shortly after sending a four-word message on Twitter — “Congrats to Jason Collins” — Butler got a call from a member of a church where he was scheduled to give an anti-bullying presentation this summer, he told the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday. Butler confirmed the church is in Wisconsin, but declined to share its name or approximate location.

He assumed the call was to discuss details of the upcoming event. He said he speaks to several churches every year and that sponsors usually help the church raise money to cover his fee – in this case $8,500 – and in turn, donations are collected during the event to benefit the church. He assumed the call was to discuss event details.

Instead, Butler was told the church would cancel his presentation unless he removed the tweet, apologized and asked for God’s forgiveness.

“This is what bothers me the most. They said, ‘If you ask for forgiveness and remove the tweet and you say something to the effect that you don’t congratulate (Collins), then we’ll let you do the engagement and get the speaker’s fee, and I said I’m not doing that,” Butler said Wednesday. “Every gay and lesbian person will say ‘You know, LeRoy doesn’t speak up for the weak or the silenced. He doesn’t stand for anything as a man and he did it for money.’ Why would you ask me to reduce my integrity like that?”

Neither story provides any context or insight into the former NFL player’s religious background or specific beliefs concerning homosexuality.

Nor does either story seek out any “other side” type of comment to explain why a church with traditional Christian beliefs on sexuality might have a problem with what Butler tweeted.

Your turn, GetReligion readers: Is this story news or not? Why or why not?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I saw this story (Chicago Tribune version) linked on a feed from Bioethics.net. I went to it because I wondered the bioethics connection. It’s clearly not a story – it’s an anecdote – but it’s especially not a bioethics story.

    At the C Trib story, I was struck by this: “This is a form of bullying, what you’re doing,” Butler told the pastor, according to the Journal-Sentinel. “ You’re trying to get me to do something I don’t want to do.”

    I think if that is what “bullying” is, then we’re all in trouble.

  • John M.

    If a journalist can’t fact-check the story, should it be printed? If whatshisname won’t provide the name of the church, how do I as a reader know he isn’t just lying about even having a speaking engagement?

    The whole This American Life/Mike Daisey thing really opened my eyes to the fact-checking portion of journalism.

    -John

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      You as a reader don’t know if he’s lying, which is the point. Thanks.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    If I were a newsdesk editor I would say, “No church name, no news story.” I can see a Milwaukee columnist, maybe, offering a piece on this and Milwaukee editors OK’ing it because there are far too few news outlets that would insist on that standard on this issue and they didn’t want to be the local paper that didn’t have anything about it. And I could see knowing the church name but not using it if a good case could be made for leaving it out (although I’ll admit that possibility’s unlikely).

    Butler doesn’t *seem* to be the kind of person who would make up a story like this, but the crusty old buzzards who drilled us at Medill said the reporter’s creed is “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      I agree with you: No church name. No news story.

      And I’m still not sure I understand why it’s a story even with a church name.

  • mollie

    If I had a dollar for every time someone told me a story that I couldn’t verify, I’d be wealthy.
    Maybe I should have just printed them anyway!
    Unbelievable!
    I didn’t go to Journalism School, so maybe that’s where you learn differently, but I thought verifying the basic facts of a story was the first step, not an optional step.

  • http://www.andrewhidas.com Andrew Hidas

    All well and good, but the religion beat is hardly alone in begetting the “This is national news?” question. I half-shout that question to the television, my wife and the gods with virtually every segment that Diane Sawyer runs with her precious 30 minutes of time on the nightly news…

    • http://www.andrewhidas.com Andrew Hidas

      20-something minutes, actually. I forgot to account for time allotted to all the ED, BP and adult diaper commercials.

  • Jay

    I am with you that until the story has been verified, there is no story. But your comment, “And I’m still not sure I understand why it’s a story even with a church name,” tells me you don’t understand journalism. This seems to me to be an important story IF it’s true and can be verified. Why would you think it is not a story? Because it makes the church involved looks bad? (I assume to some people, it would make the church look good.) Because stories about discrimination by churches against gay people are so common that they are not news? Please explain yourself.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      To me, it’s not national news that a former football player got disinvited from a Wisconsin church over a tweet. Maybe it’s local news. Maybe it’s even news for the Milwaukee paper. But I’m not certain it rises to the level of national news for CNN. As I said, I’m not a big football fan, but this guy doesn’t impress me as a household name.

    • Brian

      I had a short story published in a science fiction magazine once. The other day some guy called me a vile name because I stated some concern over what Collins must have been learning at his church. That portion of the controversy should probably be national news too. “Childhood ‘Futurist’ Assaulted Over First Amendment Speech in Collins Case”. CNN should call me for a quote in their follow-up story to provide balance.

  • Pingback: Pod people: Ghosts and crickets in Jason Collins coverage


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