I realize that GetReligion readers have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of interest in the world of sports or, at the very least, media coverage of stories that mix faith and sports. I remain a pretty intense sports fan, based in Baltimore.
So it’s rather remarkable that the newspaper that lands in my front yard not only produced a major story about the life and faith of hotter than hot Orioles slugger Chris Davis (hello Red Sox fans), but put it on the front page. I am not taking about the front page of the sports section, I’m talking about A1 in the Sunday issue.
The story isn’t perfect — more on that in a minute — but it’s clear that The Baltimore Sun team let Davis talk about the arc of his life and, in the end, accurately concluded that his return to evangelical Christian faith has actually had something to do with him getting his act together as a man, a husband and as an All-Star level player.
God is in the lede, which tends to happen a lot in sports coverage. The more important fact about this story is that the God factor is — to some degree — actually fleshed out in the reporting in the story.
To. Some. Degree. Here’s the long overture to the piece:
The power? That blunt-force ability to lay wood to a baseball and propel it 400, 420, 450 feet? He had it even when he was a boy. Came from God, as far as he’s concerned.
Harnessing it? Well, that’s the work of Chris Davis’ life. There’s a paradoxical quality to the Orioles’ first baseman, who has emerged this season as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers, a likely All-Star starter who leads the majors with 22 home runs.
Growing up in East Texas, Davis was like a puppy with big paws, bowling over everything. But even as he climbed the ranks of the game he loved, he could not find the deeper fulfillment he coveted.
Before he could put all that strength to use, he had to stop trying to overpower everything in his life. He had to tone down the perfectionist streak he inherited from his dad, Lyn, who gave him his work ethic but could also be an overbearing presence. Both men acknowledge their competitive drive created friction in their relationship. That stress, which friends and teammates watched unfold as the younger Davis was blossoming into a star athlete in Texas, is what Chris Davis says helped set the course for his success today.
He had to believe that his faith, his marriage and his team could prop him up during bad times.
All of the usual themes that dominate sports features are here. The key theme that relates to faith is Davis’ struggles, not only with perfectionism, but with anger. And what is the only thing that has helped him with his anger?
In direct quotes, Davis specifically says “the grace of God.”
You knew that the sports-news team in a major-league city daily newspaper would get the sports elements of this story straight. No shocker there. The theme of conflict with his father is woven throughout the piece, as it should be. If you write it, they will read.
But toward the end of this lengthy piece, just before Davis comes to Baltimore from the Texas Rangers, readers hit this:
What few knew was that Davis had already begun a reckoning with his spiritual side. He had always been a Christian, raised in the Baptist church from the time he was little. When he decided to get tattoos, he opted for a cross and the word salvation on the right side of his back and a Bible passage from Hebrews, chapter 12 on the left.
OK, that raises a basic question: What part of that famous chapter from Hebrews? It would only take a sentence to note the words in ink and blood, right?
Might we be talking about these famous lines, including one of the most famous biblical references to sports?
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
That’s a rather significant fact to mention, then fail to follow through on the details. Is there a Sun style rule against quoting scripture? Come on people, what’s on the MAN’S BACK?
The story continues:
… Faith remained an abstraction for him, off to the side of a ballplayer’s life that included late-night drinking and carousing.
“I basically had everything I wanted,” he said. “Had money, my own place in Dallas, was playing in the big leagues as the next great thing for the Rangers. And I just had this overwhelming sense of loneliness, this emptiness. And I didn’t understand it.”
The night before the first game of the 2010 World Series, he awoke in his San Francisco hotel room, drenched in sweat and sure that he needed to pick up his Bible. Since then, he said, he has begun every day by giving thanks and reading scripture. He had to put in all the work, he decided, but the result would be in God’s hands.
“That’s kind of where I was able to let go,” he said. “I was hanging on to baseball so much. It was everything to me. If I was failing at baseball, I was failing at life.”
So what is missing? Simply stated, what is missing are the journalistic details of how faith impacts his life. The detail about reading scripture every day is good, but what is he reading? Any particular parts of the Bible? Any particular Bible study?
Oh, and he was raised Baptist, in Texas. That’s rather normal. But where does he go to church in liberal Maryland? Is there a pastor who has helped him and walked with him through these changes? The timing of his marriage is also interesting — following the renewal of his faith.
I can think of all kinds of detailed, precise, factual questions that would help provide some journalistic structure for the faith language here. Why are so many reporters afraid to ask factual questions when public figures start talking about faith? It’s like faith is a totally private thing, or something.