Another haunted story about Ravens locker room faith

At this point, fans who pay close attention to the Baltimore Ravens are contemplating a deep moral and religious question. No, I am not referring to the sins being committed on a weekly basis by the offensive linemen who are allegedly blocking for quarterback Joe Flacco.

No, the bigger question is this: Who dominates the locker room, the party players associated with the recent “party bus” incident, with that strong supporting role played by a stripper named Sweet Pea, or the inner core of religious believers who are clearly being pulled into the organization or retained as leaders by head coach John “give me some mighty men” Harbaugh?

As the defending Super Bowl champions attempt to get their act together on the field, it’s clear that there are questions that need to be answered in the locker room.

Do the reporters and editors of The Baltimore Sun see what is going on?

I honestly do not know. I do know that, in story after story, the folks that operate the newspaper that lands in my front yard demonstrate that they are tone deaf when it comes to writing about the lives of the many religious believers who are playing key roles in the Ravens locker room. Tone deaf? What other explanation is there for this trend in which the religious role in players’ personal lives is either ignored or downplayed in story after story? Want to see a few examples, just from the past 12 months? Then click here, here, here, here and here.

The latest story in this haunted series focuses on safety James Ihedigbo, who — against strong odds — has emerged as a leader on the Ravens defense. It’s important to know that his family is from Nigeria.

Thus, this crucial transition in the story:

After bouncing around the NFL for a couple of years and surviving another training camp competition, Ihedigbo is thriving as a starter for the Ravens. The 29-year-old is providing sound coverage, reliable tackling and leadership for a younger group of defensive backs that lost a pair of veteran mentors in Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard this past offseason.

“James has been kind of the glue back there,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Fighting to keep a dream alive is nothing new for him or for the Ihedigbo family. Decades before, Ihedigbo learned about perseverance and the power of faith from his parents.

The Ihedigbos, Apollos and Rose, left Nigeria and came to the United States in 1979, settling in Amherst, Mass. Two of their five children were born there, including their youngest son, James.

OK, there’s the faith word. Now what’s the story, in terms of the journalistic facts?

Well, later in the story there is a reference to a book produced by this player’s mother, who appears to be quite a remarkable character. Is she a church leader? The evidence online is mixed.

Meanwhile, readers are soon given another fact-free reference to religious influences in this family:

James Ihedigbo’s father, who died in 2002, and mother both earned doctoral degrees at Massachusetts — where James would eventually go — worked in education and opened a small technical and agricultural college in Nigeria that is still in operation.

“I see that if my parents accomplished that, then there is no reason that I can’t accomplish what I set out to do growing up here in the United States with the resources that I have and the people I have around me and the spiritual foundation that they laid out in front of me,” said Ihedigbo, whose HOPE Africa foundation provides financial aid to students of African descent.

“That’s kind of my mindset.”

And later on:

“Winning the Super Bowl kind of brought everything together for him, for me and for the family,” said Rose Ihedigbo, who recently published a book, “Sandals in the Snow,” about the family’s journey. “Throughout his career, he has been underestimated and under-graded. He was not recruited. He was not drafted. And he continued on. Finally, getting that victory with the Ravens and him having that Super Bowl ring, it’s amazing.”

At the end of the story, there is one clear Godtalk reference, but again no factual material about the faith commitments in the life of this player or his family.

Meanwhile, his defensive coordinator talks about the “wisdom” that Ihedigbo offers to younger players, how he is a “motivational guy” whose voice is important in the locker room.

But what does he say with that voice? The final quote offers a hint:

“I’m a firm believer in my faith, and I believe that what God has set in stone, no man can change,” Ihedigbo said. “That’s something that has been throughout my career. … I knew what it was going to take to be a starter. … That was my goal. Earn that starting job so everyone understands why you’re [playing].”

It also helps to dig around a bit in Ihedigbo’s Twitter account: DIGGZ32. He isn’t hiding much.

In terms of journalism, why offer vague religious references about this leader in (one side) of the Ravens locker room? Why not ask one or two questions and print a few facts?

Just saying. Again.

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.


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