Just another generic do-gooder on a Baltimore pro team

At this point, I have just about decided that the editors of The Baltimore Sun sports section have banned the use of the word “Christian” in stories about local and national athletes. Several times a year (for an imperfect survey, click here), the newspaper that lands in my front door prints a sports story that, from beginning to end, is full of religious themes, yet stops short of printing a few crucial facts.

Consider, for example, this profile of Jemile Weeks, who is competing for a second-base slot in the Baltimore Orioles line-up. This is very ordinary sports-page stuff, although it is pretty obvious what Weeks is from a rather unusual family (and I’m not talking about the fact that his big brother is the better known pro Rickie Weeks).

The X-factor in his family? The only word that leaps to mind is “ministry.” Note the hook at the end of the opening anecdote.

In early December, Jemile Weeks’ baseball career was thrown upside down. He was traded away from the only organization he had ever known, the Oakland Athletics, and sent to the Orioles for one of the franchise’s most popular players, closer Jim Johnson, in what was immediately deemed a salary dump.

Although the 27-year-old second baseman viewed it as a new opportunity, the external pressure was once again descending on Weeks, a 2008 first-rounder who grew up playing in, and around, the shadow of his All-Star big brother, Rickie.

But Weeks didn’t have time to get caught up in the hoopla; he was too busy trying to figure out how to feed 1,000 people and how he could borrow a bounce house or two.

Feeding the 1,000? What is that all about? As it turns out, the event is linked to a charity near his old stomping grounds in Orlanda, Fla.

Spot the key word in this summary of the roots of this project:

A month before the deal, his offseason schedule got particularly complicated when he announced at a periodic family meeting — yes, two pro ballplayers and a community-relations professional sister still have occasional family meetings with their parents — that he wanted to host a community event for charity near where he grew up in Orlando, Fla. Never mind that Weeks had never attempted such an event or that Christmas was a month away. That was what he wanted to do. And so it was going to happen.

“With my own hands, I reached out to people I know and my sister did, along with my mom’s church,” Weeks said. “I just phoned friends. I got the bounce houses and the food, pizzas and ice cream, and asked for live performances from people I knew.”

Simple as that.

Now what, precisely, does the phrase “my mom’s church” mean? Also, what does it mean — a few lines later — when the story notes that the event featured the work of an “inspirational rapper”?

Perhaps it’s linked to this information that is tucked away in a biographical paragraph later in the report:

Weeks’ father, Richard Sr., spent parts of two decades working for a food bank in Orlando before switching gears to operate collegiate and youth baseball programs. Weeks’ mother owned a cleaning company when her kids were young, but she is now a full-time pastor in Orlando. The couple divorced when Weeks was a pre-teen, but the parents raised their children together, stressing faith, family and community.

“My mom and dad always instilled in us that we don’t forget where we come from, no matter how high you get in your career or how successful you become,” said Kaisha Weeks, the family’s middle child, who was a track star at Southern and is now a communications-public relations specialist.

All three of the Weekses’ children helped out at the food bank where their father worked.

Now, anyone want to bet that this charity is linked, in some way or another, with a network of religious groups? Also, readers now know that this athlete’s mother is a pastor. Really? Ordained? In what church or tradition? Pentecostal? Mainline Protestant?

The bottom line, in terms of journalism: All it would take is one additional sentence to connect this young man’s life and his commitment to helping others to the facts of his upbringing. Why not provide that fact?

After all, as the story notes, the young Meeks has had his struggles. But when facing hard times, he has learned to lean “on the faith that has buoyed him since he was a youth.” And then there is this final quote:

“He looks at baseball as an amazing opportunity and a gift given to him, but he also looks at things in the long run because he knows baseball won’t always last,” Kaisha Weeks said. “Really, the sky is the limit for him. He has a mind for business and for the community. Only God knows what he’ll be doing after baseball, but it ultimately will be something impactful.”

So, who didn’t want to talk about this young man’s faith and the roots of his family, leaving a vague religion ghost at the heart of this story? Was it the athlete himself or the Sun editors?

IMAGE: Baltimore Orioles press photo.

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.

  • Daniel Merriman

    Just catching up on your posts, and I see nothing has changed at the Baltimore Sun. What would it take for them to actually acknowledge religious connections on the sports page? Do you think they might pay attention if Tim Tebow suddenly became starting QB for the Ravens?

    You have some standing in the journalism profession and you’ve been on their case for a few years now. Have you ever gotten any kind of response from them?


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