What does “Christ-like approach” mean?

johnwoodenpyramid2.jpgNewspaper sports columnists around the world jumped on an “incident” between two Texas schools involving a 100-0 blowout as a juicy opportunity to explore the issues surrounding youth athletic competition (see here, here, here, here and here). Aside from this well-reported ESPN.com piece by Jeff Miller on the history of high school blowouts, Barry Horn of The Dallas Morning News has provided much of the reporting muscle in this story that combines youth athletics, competitive values and Christian educational institutions.

Horn’s story Friday on how the losing school’s athletic director marked the 100-0 loss up as a win because his “girls never quit” — as the opposing team continued to apply a full-court press and score quick and easy layups despite the lopsidedness of the competition — launched the international attention the schools are receiving. The game actually occurred about 10 days prior to the appearance of this article, but the frenzy that occurred after the article appeared touches some on the religious element that drifts in and out of the articles.

Here is Horns first article on the incident:

Queal said he hopes his school will work “behind the scenes” with Dallas Academy to make sure the schools continue their “long-standing” relationship.

“I’ll say this,” Queal said of the Dallas Academy girls, “that was an amazing testimony to their tenacity and perseverance.”

Edd Burleson, director of 236-member TAPPS, had a different description. He called the Class 2A, District 3 game an “embarrassing incident.”

“Our motto is ‘Competition With Honor,’” Burleson said. “I can’t see how the one school can live up to that.”

TAPPS is the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, and the losing school announced in this article that they would no longer participate in the league and canceled a game later this month against the winning school. If one reads between the quotes in this article, this was not being considered a routine beatdown. Something deeper was at stake. Perhaps it is the special, undeserved, sacredness the number 100 receives in basketball lore?

Note how what becomes a series of articles starts out focusing on how the losing school played with the “amazing testimony” of “tenacity and perseverance.” This morality tale quickly changed its focus.

The next day, Horn published an article on the “winning” school’s apology for the “victory without honor.” The school told TAPPS that they really wanted to forfeit the game, but the school on the losing end of the game said they didn’t want to be considered to have won a game they didn’t win on the basketball court.

That is when the national spotlight started shining brightly, according to Horn’s article the following day. The story steamrolled as the coach of the “winning” team denounced his school’s apology, stating that his girls “played with honor and integrity.”

The article then quotes the entire statement/apology from the winning school, which interestingly includes the claim that the incident did “not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition.” A companion piece explores further what it means to play athletics with honor:

Arin Harrison, an English teacher at Life School in Oak Cliff, experienced what it’s like to lose a basketball game, 103-0. She was the center on a Duncanville ChristWay team that lost to Arlington Oakridge in the winning school’s Christmas tournament in 1998.

“It was a very vulnerable feeling being out there on the court and having people watch and laugh at you, basically,” she recalled, adding that the Covenant-Dallas Academy game brought back memories.

“It’s also the responsibility of the coach on the winning team to teach lessons,” Harrison said. “Let’s not take this opportunity to completely crush another team’s spirit. In high school sports, it should be about building skills and character as well, and it’s the coach’s responsibility to instill that character into players.”

This talk of character, players’ spirits and life lessons could easily be seen as secular, non-religious lessons, but I can’t help but noting that many of these incidents, including the one from earlier this month, involved religious institutions. Many of the statements invoked Christian themes. Is there more to their statements when they say that they want to instill “character” into their student athletes? As the story plays out, apparently that is the case.

The next day, the “winning” coach was fired, giving Horn yet another opportunity to explore the morality of the story he had been covering over the weekend. I would love to know what Horn first thought about this story when he published the first story and whether he had any idea where it would go.

Here is the end of the article:

Cheryl Bugg, whose daughter is one of Covenant’s top players, said she didn’t want to talk about the firing.

She said the parents of the team’s eight players met with school officials Saturday and outlined three goals for the program:

“We want to represent Christ with the highest respect, we don’t want to humiliate anyone ever and we want our students to be enthusiastic in everything they do.”

What does it mean, as the school said in its original statement apologizing for the loopsided margin of the victory, to play sports with a “Christ-like” approach? As the mother of one of the student athletes says above, what does it mean to “represent Christ?” Is there a deeper meaning to the athletic offense because the students, administrators and family members say they are representing Christ as opposed to a vaguer sense of secular athletic honor?

More specifically, do these student athletes hold themselves to a higher standard than one expected of athletes who do not play for religious institutions? More broadly, is there a religious angle to this story that could receive more attention in the news pages?

Get those opinions in the news

If anyone needs any evidence that inaugurations are for the most part all about pomp and circumstance, see The Chicago Tribune‘s home page the day after the big event. The top of the “most read list” was an article about who made Michelle Obama’s dresses. Just below the front page’s top news story (“Obama freezes top-pay, adds ethic rules”) were two columns of articles — the first titled “fashion” and the second titled “The reaction.”

I was hoping to find a follow-up article on the role of religion throughout the day’s events, particularly after Manya A. Brachear’s Sunday article questioning (in the headline) whether religion should be a part of the day at all, but unfortunately I have yet to see anything (other than this short piece on ballroom guests).

The role of religion in the public square is a great subject to ponder, particularly in news articles. If we get a preview of religion’s role in an event, should there not be some sort of follow-up from the newspaper that covers Obama’s hometown? In other words, if you write a news article saying that Miami’s warm weather could play a role in the Super Bowl, might you want to follow that up with an article the next day talking about whether the weather did indeed play a role in the game.

For various reasons of which I am not aware, the Tribune‘s coverage of the reaction to religion’s role in the inauguration was relegated to opinion-oriented blog posts.

Leading the list of reactions for the Tribune was Steve Chapman’s post (on a blog subtitled “Solving the world’s problems, one post at a time”) on how a certain prayer was a slap in the face against nonbelievers:

If I were a Christian, I’d have been embarrassed by Rick Warren’s invocation at the Inauguration. It was aggressively evangelical, serving to exclude everyone who doesn’t accept the divinity of Jesus. Warren invoked his name four times, in four different languages, and closed by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, a specifically Christian supplication. He seemed to think he was at a revival rather than a secular event meant for all — in a country whose constitution rejects official sponsorship of any faith.

No one expected Warren to pretend to be something other than an evangelical Christian. But better pastors know how to strike themes that resonate with believers without making everyone else feel slapped in the face. Nonbelievers are asked to respect religion by sitting quietly during prayers of this sort. It’s not too much to expect a measure of restraint in return.

Chapman’s fourth and final paragraph has a super short opinion-oriented statement from Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Joe Conn (that backs up his post’s point), but that is a total of four paragraphs of almost solid opinion (without any links, texts, or videos). That’s nice, but what purpose is that post really serving beyond the above-average letter to the editor? If newspapers are to survive, their blog posts will have to be more relevant than that.

I know resources are tight these days, but covering the opinions on matters such as these in news stories — along with an attempt at balance, the filter of editors and the benefits of providing original content — could provide a much better product than what we have here.

But onto other coverage of the big event that relates to religion. Tribune critic Chris Jones noticed an interesting bit about the benediction:

When the benediction to a presidential inauguration — the benediction — contains the very ungodly phrase “fiscal climate,” you know times are tough. But Barack H. Obama has a preternatural sense of context.

At Tuesday’s inaugural ceremonies, analysts and cameras strained for symbols, metaphors and context. His brow furrowed against the icy currents of the moment, the new 44th president of the United States delivered duties, challenges and responsibilities.

Has any political process anywhere, anytime, ever churned up so disciplined a rhetorician, a speaker with such an innate simultaneous sense of the possibilities and limitations of the moment?

At least we know one person at the Tribune paid attention to the religious content of the inauguration beyond Warren’s prayer.

Inauguration prayers and sermons

Some prayers and sermons are given more news value than others. For example, the fact that HBO did not broadcast Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s prayer on Sunday made a rather significant news ripple. However, a CNN interview with Colin Powell received priority over the mealtime prayer of Rear Admiral Barry C. Black (Ret.), U.S. Senate Chaplain, before Tuesday’s rather significant congressional luncheon with President Obama.

If anyone watched the end of Sunday’s Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh AFC Championship game, one would have noticed the scary incident when Willis McGahee was on the field looking horribly hurt while his teammate Ray Lewis was nearby, on one knee with his head bowed in one hand. The announcers multiple times noted that he was kneeling nearby but they never said what he was doing. When McGahee was taken off the field, the announcers commented a final time that Ray Lewis was still on the ground, but again didn’t bother to mention that he was likely praying. Needless the say, we have had our issues with the way the subject of prayer is handled in NFL broadcasts.

But back to the subject at hand on this historic day.

The fact that religion played an important role in today’s inauguration received a lot of notice in the news. See here a Los Angeles Times article on how “Obama’s religion-studded inauguration joins a long history” of inaugurations. However, how much of that was coverage of substance with regard to the faith-issues?

Rachael Zoll of the Associated Press noted about a week ago that a Muslim woman and rabbis would be offering a prayer at the inauguration’s National Prayer Service. The article is a preview of sorts that announced that The Rev. Sharon Watkins would be delivering the service’s sermon. Watkins happens to be the first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is based in Indianapolis.

Fortunately for religion readers in my neck of the woods, The Indianapolis Star‘s Robert King picked up on this story, and my front page this morning had a nice religion-oriented feature tied nicely into the inauguration:

Watkins made history in 2005 when the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), whose general offices are in Indianapolis, made her the first woman to lead a mainline denomination. But this latest achievement is prompting a renewed round of congratulations from women who now look at her with the pride she felt that day at Yale.

“It seems to give a moment of hope and opening that the aspirations of girls and young women can be wide open,” she said.

Watkins, 54, met Obama last summer in Chicago when his campaign called together a diverse group of faith leaders to offer the candidate lessons about their concerns and pet issues.

“He was not reticent to come back with his own opinions,” she said. “There was some pretty good give and take.”

So much, in fact, that the meeting bordered on contentious. But Watkins offered a closing prayer that, she was told later, seemed to have a calming effect. She doesn’t know whether that landed her the sermon Wednesday. But she will take it.

Unfortunately, the article is not long enough to give the reporter the necessary room to expound upon any of the larger issues such as how this selection reflects Obama’s own faith and worldview and a deeper look into Walkins’s own religious views, but it is a start.

The key will be to see whether the media follows up on any of these prayers and sermons to give its readership an in-depth view of what was said and what those words meant.

As a quick but incomplete survey of what is out there, see Zoll’s report on the prayers here and Newsweek‘s Lisa Miller here.

Star prayer power

maria_magdalene_prayingThe following bit of local news may not be the best evidence of a declining newspaper industry, or the media’s overall challenges in covering religion, but I must say a word about The Indianapolis Star‘s decisions to cut the short prayer on page A2 next to the chuckle and horoscope and then bring it back a couple of weeks later.

Star religion writer Robert King told us back when the prayer was yanked that of all the changes the newspaper made the day it dropped the prayer (eliminating the stand-alone business section, folding the features section into the classifieds section), the decision to send the short non-denominational prayer to the dumpster generated the most reader outrage. As a disclaimer, I never read the prayer until now (or the chuckle or the horoscopes and only occasionally the comics), but I’m told by a reliable source (my wife) that the prayer was a nice way of starting one’s day along with the chuckle (which remains, but was reportedly less funny as a result of the prayer’s temporary demise).

Apparently other readers felt the same. Here is King’s blog post on the matter:

In conversation, [Star Editor and Vice President Dennis] Ryerson told me that he understands that there are people who grew up with prayer in the public schools and prayer in other public settings who see things like this as a “chipping away” of something sacred. But Ryerson told me he really sees prayer as something intensely personal and that he has spoken with Christian ministers who agree with him that prayer belongs in churches and in hearts, but not on the pages of the newspaper.

Callers so far do not seem mollified that the Star still maintains a Bible verse (“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” II Cor. 3:17) high atop the front page — one of the few major metro papers in the country to do so. And there is no indication that the Spirit verse will go away.

But the question remains, in an environment where newspapers are struggling to remain viable, is saving the postage stamp sized space the prayer occupied worth the grief to readers accustomed to seeing a prayer in the paper?

That was then. This morning’s front page contained a note that the “Prayer Returns:”

Earlier this month we eliminated the prayer that had been published daily in The Indianapolis Star for more than 40 years. We reasoned that philosophically, prayer was not the function of a newspaper. Our role is to be the voice of news and information in Central Indiana.

Thousands of calls, e-mails and letters to the editor later, we have been reminded of, and are thankful for, another important role: to be a vital part of our readers’ lives. As our religion writer, Robert King, put it: “You don’t get much more important than being a part of grace said over breakfast.” The daily prayer returns today to Page A2.

Thank you for letting us be part of your life.

As for the prayer, read this with the fact that it’s negative 12 degrees in Indianapolis right now:

O God, in these cold months, so many are homeless. Give them shelter, warmth and hope. Bless them through your care and ours. Amen.

That’s a pretty good prayer, in my opinion. For a more extended explanation for why the newspaper removed the prayer in the first place, see here.

Former Star columnist Ruth Holladay and now local blogger provides some insight when the prayer was first canceled:

But in the meantime, those of us who know Ryerson’s mindset are surprised, frankly, that the prayer has lasted this long. I can see the problematic nature of such a feature — years ago, pre-Gannett, a copy editor who was Jewish pointed out that the Thanksgiving prayer set to run in the Thanksgiving paper was aimed at Jesus Christ. The last she had checked, the holiday was not a Christian one. Hence, she was concerned, perhaps even offended, and the prayer was changed.

But as King notes, the prayer for years has been vanilla flavored. It lacks the muscle to offend anyone.

Yet its removal clearly has created a sense of being wronged.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion editor Frank Lockwood notes that the newspaper kept the daily horoscope. Well, now they’re both in the newspaper.

Clearly there are bigger things on the minds of the journalist at the Star right now, who just went through a severe round of layoffs and are now facing a quarter in which they will be forced to take an unpaid week off to avoid more layoffs.

The news that is bigger than the prayer controversy is, of course, the disturbing lack of news reporters and writers at the city’s only major newspaper. The last couple of years have seen the growth of a fleet of local bloggers who occasionally break news ahead of the Star, a couple of alternative newspapers, the handful of local TV news stations, and a couple of radio stations. However, the days of the muscular local newspaper are over in Indianapolis and most communities around the country. (Star readers and reporters should be thankful they are not in the position of the Rocky Mountain News or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)

As for religion coverage, King continues to produce excellent local articles relating to religion news (occasionally producing a local version of a national story), but that is about all we have when it comes to religion coverage in my city’s major newspaper. The entire features section has essentially been eliminated (which used to occasionally carry religiously-themed articles) and a popular local columnist who wrote on family issues from an occasionally religious perspective was let go recently. Here is my question: what will rise in its place, with or without a prayer?

Image of Mary Magdalene by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

Two stories on Dungy merge

Two basic kinds of stories have been written about the retirement of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. The first are about Dungy’s results on the gridiron, his record-setting 10 straight playoff seasons, and six in-a-row seasons of 12-plus wins. The second story is about Dungy’s faith and his personal impact on the world around him.

The New York Times came close to merging these two stories into one late in its article on Dungy’s retirement announcement, but for one reason or another seems to back off the subject at the last minute:

In an interview during the 2006 season, Dungy said that the accomplishment he was most proud of was proving to the N.F.L. that there was more than one way for a successful coach to behave. In a sport that venerates the sleepless control freak, Dungy was a man apart, unfailingly positive, eschewing the dour countenance so prevalent on the sideline.

He dined with Edwards the night before their teams met in the playoffs. He spoke openly about his faith and about the agony of losing a teenage son to suicide. His book, “Quiet Strength,” became a best seller. Dungy often worried about how much time coaching took him away from his family. They moved back to Tampa last year and they were intrinsic in his decision to retire now.

It was telling that when Dungy spoke Monday, he began by thanking those who had influenced him. He started with his parents.

The Washington Post‘s Sally Jenkins almost seems to write-around the faith aspect of Dungy’s career in an article titled “A Champion of Decency.” We do get a hint of where Dungy’s decency came from in this paragraph:

There was a fundamental generosity to everything Dungy did in football. He made no secret of the fact he was a devoted evangelical who viewed NFL coaching as something of a pulpit and a ministry. But he wasn’t a holier-than-thou proselytizer or a do-right; he just lived his words, working with a prison ministry and mentoring program in the offseason.

I guess Jenkins views most evangelicals — whatever that means these days — as having holier-than-thou attitudes.

ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen has an excellent piece on Dungy’s retirement and it appropriately keeps Dungy’s faith in perspective throughout the entire article:

It was late Saturday night and the words flowed from Tony Dungy’s lips like water from a spring. He was quoting his favorite book; not his best-selling “Quiet Strength,” but, naturally, the Bible.

“I’m at a point, kind of like the Apostle Paul,” explained Dungy, “he said, ‘If I live, it’s good. If I die and go home with the Lord, it’s better.’”

I have not watched any television coverage of the retirement, but if any of you readers were able to catch Sports Center or any other television sports news on Dungy’s retirement, please let us know if any faith aspects of Dungy’s life and career were mentioned. Overall, ESPN.com’s coverage has been solid on the faith aspect, including this excellent side-bar story that tells a great story about Dungy’s personal character in action.

However, my favorite Dungy retirement article was by The Indianapolis Star‘s Robert King on how Dungy impacted the local central Indiana faith communities. It is a moving story that shows the extent to which Dungy will be missed off the football field here in Hoosierland:

The Rev. Clarence C. Moore considers the time Tony Dungy spent in Indianapolis, including many Sunday mornings in his Northside church, to be transformational — not just for a football team but for a city.

“Most of the time, cities are ready to get rid of their coaches,” said Moore, pastor at Northside New Era Missionary Baptist. “But in this case, it is almost like a funeral because we loved him so much and because the intangible presence of the man was larger than football.”

Nonprofit groups across the city were struggling Monday to explain how they would fill the void left by a coach who lent his name, time, money — and often his heart — to so many causes. When he came to Indianapolis seven years ago, Dungy said faith would come before football, and he has been true to his word.

I have a strong feeling Dungy is not going away. He has left football, but his impact on people and communities will go on and hopefully journalists will be able to continue covering his story.

Got news? Kristof reports hard truth

As part of our new effort to highlight opinion columnist and their work that could have and should have been covered as straight news, I wanted to highlight a pair of articles by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times. The first, which dates just before Christmas, highlights some interesting statistics purporting to show that “[w]e liberals are personally stingy.”

Kristof places himself willingly in the category of being a liberal and goes on to criticize everyone from Democrats to residents of “Northeastern states” for not living up, in their personal lives, to their political proclamations of helping those who are less-well-off than themselves. Sounds like an excellent topic for a news story, but Kristof’s column provides an excellent substitute.

I was pleasantly surprised that Kristof spent a good portion of this column dealing with the claim that conservatives are merely giving their money to their churches:

When liberals see the data on giving, they tend to protest that conservatives look good only because they shower dollars on churches — that a fair amount of that money isn’t helping the poor, but simply constructing lavish spires.

It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives.

According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do. But Mr. Brooks says that if measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes.

In any case, if conservative donations often end up building extravagant churches, liberal donations frequently sustain art museums, symphonies, schools and universities that cater to the well-off. (It’s great to support the arts and education, but they’re not the same as charity for the needy. And some research suggests that donations to education actually increase inequality because they go mostly to elite institutions attended by the wealthy.)

Now Kristof’s apparent suggestion that churches don’t even help the poor would hopefully never make it into a news story because many I am aware of do help the poor and needy. Nevertheless, Kristof’s article is a good example of an issue that could easily have been turned into a news story.

An important angle he overlooked would be the fact that charities funded by private individuals are often more effective than government funded charities. Private charities are capable of trying new things — see Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation — while government charities are often directed more towards assisting groups and causes that help the politicians get re-elected. Obviously this is not always the case, but the economic efficiency of private charity should not be overlooked. Also important to look at, and Kristof hinted at this, is the fact that some private charity is not that effective and is more about promoting the individuals doing the giving. Both sides of the issue must be covered.

The second, and far more heart wrenching of Kristof’s columns, was his up-close look at the sickening world we live in when it comes to sex trafficking and the consequences in one girl’s life.

While the story of the girl’s experience in the brothel is extremely disturbing, the fact that Kristof had to spend a rather significant portion of his column disputing whether sex slavery exists today presents a situation that is nearly as upsetting:

After my last column, I heard from skeptical readers doubting that conditions are truly so abusive. It’s true that prostitutes work voluntarily in many brothels in Cambodia and elsewhere. But there are also many brothels where teenage girls are slave laborers.

Young girls and foreigners without legal papers are particularly vulnerable. In Thailand’s brothels, for example, Thai girls usually work voluntarily, while Burmese and Cambodian girls are regularly imprisoned. The career trajectory is often for a girl in her early teens to be trafficked into prostitution by force, but eventually to resign herself and stay in the brothel even when she is given the freedom to leave. In my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground, I respond to the skeptics and offer some ideas for readers who want to help.

Pross herself was never paid, and she had no right to insist on condoms (she has not yet been tested for HIV, because the results might be too much for her fragile emotional state). Twice she became pregnant and was subjected to crude abortions.

The second abortion left Pross in great pain, and she pleaded with her owner for time to recuperate. “I was begging, hanging on to her feet, and asking for rest,” Pross remembered. “She got mad.”

That’s when the woman gouged out Pross’s right eye with a piece of metal.

Sex slavery’s existence in today’s world is a story in and of itself. Often when the story gets reported, as it was about a week ago in the Times on prostitution in South Korea, it is mostly a matter of politics.

Another take on the story could be the fact that sex slavery doesn’t receive the kind of attention it should. When was the last time Hollywood looked at the issue in a way that portrayed the industry for its disgusting evilness? Kristof has been writing on this subject for a number of years now and its too bad he is still struggling to get people to recognize the evil of this trade.

This Kristof column does not deal specifically with religion, but religion relates in the sense that many of the non-governmental groups fighting sex trafficking in the world today have faith-based backgrounds.

Kudos to Kristof for this pair of excellent columns. He remains one of my favorite opinion columnists and that’s probably because instead of merely spouting off his opinions or what his friends or saying, he actually goes out there and reports news.

Faith-free Tebow? II

Since so many of you liked talking about Florida Gator two-time champion quarterback Tim Tebow, I thought I would drop this quick follow-up on last night’s national championship BCS championship game. I managed to avoid most of the game until the final quarter, but I happened to stay awake for Tebow’s (short) post-game interview that included a shout out to his Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Some of you thought the networks did an adequate job of talking about Tebow’s faith while others felt the subject was avoided by the interviewers and the cameras. Since I can’t say much along that front, I’ll just mention a couple of news articles that could have mentioned the elements of Tebow’s faith that stood out last night. (And yes, the altar call I mentioned Thursday was a joke.)

Most prominently was this column in The Los Angeles Times where one of the most obvious faith elements in last night’s broadcast went completely ignored:

Finish with the face. Thick cheeks decorated in eye black, framed by a crew cut, above a tight expression that sweated with intensity, a face of a fighter.

This is Tim Tebow. For a couple of wonderfully antique hours Thursday, this is the perfect player who made us forget college football’s imperfect system.

Thanks to Christianity Today‘s Ted Olsen, we know that Tebow’s face was not the only thing that stood out to fans last night. It was what was written on Tebow’s face, but for one reason or another, the Times decided to ignore that:

Last night it was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The Florida quarterback accomplished more than one goal last night: Google Trends says John 3:16 is currently the hottest search term.

People had to look up John 3:16? Maybe someone should bring back the Rainbow Man.

A column on The Sports Network Web site was more direct about covering the faith element in last night’s game. I don’t think every column or news report on last night’s game had to go this far with the faith element, but maybe this is what you have to do to create some balance:

Yet, he never flaunts his success or boasts about his enormous talents, but rather deflects praise to his biggest fan at every turn.


The most famous biblical verse, John 3:16, was expressed in eye black on the night he cemented his collegiate legacy. His famous “I promise” speech after Florida’s only loss this season on September 27th to Ole Miss concluded with two simple and telling words.

“God Bless.”

On second thought, from a straight news perspective, faith and God’s impact on Tebow’s life was one of the major elements of the game, so maybe this is what reporters should be telling their readers.

For those of you who like faith-free sports coverage, here is The New York Times coverage.

Another perspective that seems to get ignored is that some don’t like personal messages such as these and hope to see them banned. If that were to happen, one would imagine that the faith elements in sports would ironically receive more coverage.

Tebow’s mission and his critics

tim-tebow-ncaa-coverI keep forgetting that this evening’s alleged national college football championship game is something in which sports fans are expected to be interested. The lack of a proper method for determining a national champion in college football really puts a downer in my interest in the game. Or maybe I’m still just sore about the Colts and the fact that Tony Dungy likely coached his last game in Indianapolis.

However, I am reminded that this evening’s football contest is not just a game. The nationally televised football game between Florida and Oklahoma is also a church-state event, and the ACLU may need to file a lawsuit to prevent Tim Tebow from doing an altar call at the end of the game.

Hear that critics of sports journalists’ forays into covering the spiritual lives of the athletes they cover?

ESPN.com’s Pat Forde felt compelled to write a nice article Tuesday focusing on how the haters should lay off Tebow and just focus on appreciating the “Tim Tebow experience.”

The article started with Forde quoting a snarky reporter who apparently doesn’t appreciate Tebow and his off the field behavior all that much:

“I don’t mean to sound cynical, but between winning the national championship and winning the Heisman, saving the world in the Philippines and all, did you ever, like, sneak a cigarette when you were in high school? Do you ever do anything wrong? Do you feel like everything off the field is sort of on cruise control for you?” . . .

His response, in part:

“You know, everybody, they can look and say how easy it is. But it’s definitely not that easy. The difference is ’cause not many people want to wake up at 5, go through workouts, go speak to young kids, go back, eat lunch, go to class, go to tutoring, go speak at a prison at night, come back. I mean, more people would do those things; they just don’t want to sacrifice.

Forde doesn’t directly address Tebow’s faith all that much, but he did not really need to because the evidence of Tebow’s faith is present in nearly everything he does. Tebow’s story is well-known among sports fans, and if I manage to tune the game on this evening, this angle will be exactly what I will be looking for from the announcers, side-line reporters and post-game interviews.

This blog has in the past noted that the media has ignored Tebow’s faith in the past. Fortunately, other news organizations are finding it difficult to ignore his faith now.

Amy Shipley of The Washington Post approached the Tebow story with a similar attitude towards Tebow’s faith and background. His Christian faith was certainly a theme, but his family’s decision to home-school him and his four siblings received more significant attention:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The first time Florida quarterback Tim Tebow faced a large crowd, he trembled with nervousness. Still months away from emerging as a high school star in northern Florida, Tebow, then 15, had never felt 10,000 sets of eyes upon him.

And most unsettling of all, he was nowhere near a football stadium. In fact, he stood some 9,300 miles away from his home at a village in South Cotabato, Philippines. On the first of now-annual missionary trips with his father, Tebow stood behind a microphone and told the assembled high school students about his Christian faith, putting to the test evangelistic skills honed through years of speech classes at home.

Neither of the articles focus much on the specifics of Tebow’s faith. One has to wonder if Tebow did not go on the mission trip to the Philippines whether the subject would even be coming up. Only the ESPN.com article mentions the previously-reported fact that Tebow outlines the word “Phil 4:13″ under the black marks under this eyes. (Apparently it’s a common practice among athletes. Who knew?)

For those non-sports fans out there that read GetReligion, or people like me disillusioned with football for one reason or another, tonight may be the one night you want to turn into a major football game because how the broadcasters handle reporting and portraying displays of Tebow’s faith will be quite interesting.