A ghost in the healing power of hoops?

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If you’re a regular GetReligion reader, you know all about ghosts.

If you’re new to this site, which critiques the mass media’s coverage of religion news, we frequently refer to ghosts as important religious elements that are haunting stories:

Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.

A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Speaking of which, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that a ghost might be lurking in a recent Associated Press story that ran under this headline:

After tragedies, Austin Hatch heals with hoops

The top of the story:

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Late in basketball practice at Loyola High School this week, Austin Hatch slipped around a 7-foot teammate and hit an up-and-under shot with all the grace and savvy you would expect from a Michigan-bound swingman.

“The celebration caused us to miss about five minutes of practice,” coach Jamal Adams said, still beaming at the memory.

Basketball is gradually coming back to Hatch, a 19-year-old straight-A student who spent the past two years re-learning how to breathe, eat, walk and live after surviving a plane crash for the second time in his life.

“The emotional pain is never going to subside,” Hatch said Wednesday. “Over time, the way I cope with my loss is going to change.”

In June 2011, just 10 days after verbally committing to play for the Wolverines, his father and stepmother were killed in a crash in Charlevoix, Mich., that left him in a coma for roughly eight weeks with a traumatic brain injury.

Incredibly, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native had lived through another fatal plane crash eight years earlier, losing his mother, brother and sister in that tragedy.

Wow, what an incredible journey for this young man.

But see if you can guess which keyword in these next two paragraphs — coupled with Loyola’s Catholic affiliation — made me wonder about a potential ghost in this piece:

Although Hatch realizes he’ll never be the same person or the same player, he is determined to thrive in his family’s memory. He signed a national letter of intent last week with Michigan, and coach John Beilein has vowed Hatch will be welcome in the program in any role he can play.

“Signing with the University of Michigan has been a goal of mine since I basically woke up from my coma,” Hatch said. “Last week, it was kind of surreal to actually see my name on that dotted line. I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to be in that position.”

“Blessed” strikes me as a trigger word that demands follow-up questions, such as: Do you believe in God? And if so, what role has faith played in your ability to overcome these tragedies? If religion is important in Hatch’s life, then certainly the story should reflect it. But AP ignores the faith angle altogether.

And it seems that AP also ignored a quote that removes all doubt as to whether a ghost exists in this story. That’s evident by the lede on USA Today’s report on the same news conference:

LOS ANGELES — Tragedy will never be fully behind Austin Hatch. But he showed again Wednesday that he has not lost hope — whether or not he ever becomes a high level basketball player again.

“I feel like God has his hand on me,” Hatch told a gathering of Los Angeles news media, at a surreal, uplifting news conference. “I feel like there’s a plan for my life.”

Give USA Today credit for not being afraid to put God way up high in its story. But since this is GetReligion, and we like to be prickly, I’ll go ahead and suggest that the Nation’s Newspaper drops the ball, too, by failing to expound on Hatch’s apparent faith.

I, for one, would love to read a story that take Hatch’s faith seriously and dares to explore whether God — and not just hoops — has helped him heal.

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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.

  • Brett

    Both blow it, with “USA Today” blowing it a little bit less. It’s not even necessary to have an opinion about Austin’s statement, just curiosity or an interest in what makes people tick the way they do. But it’s not really surprising that they blow it, is it? What’s the track record for the story authors when it comes to ghosts like this?


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