Oh my, even NYTs gets Blind Sided

Honest, I tried.

I have tried to avoid writing — again — about the interesting, and very late, mini-surge of interesting, nuanced mainstream coverage of the hit movie “The Blind Side.”

You may recall that I praised the work of the Los Angeles Times on this story, which is logical in light of its zip code, after all. Now, even the New York Times is on the story as we march toward the Oscars. I decided to wait on this one, rather than stack “The Blind Side” posts one atop another.

You could, of course, say that the New York Times is chasing all of those Los Angeles Times stories. You could say that. I would simply like to say that the East Coast crew got the story — one way or another. Progress is progress.

So what is the story? No, it isn’t that this little hit movie that turned into a blockbuster is important because of its respect for religious faith. This is not about some niche, contemporary Christian movie approach to the marketplace. That is not the story. The story is precisely the opposite and it took time for journalists to see that. Thus, the headline: “‘Blind Side’ Finds a Path to the Oscars by Running Up the Middle.” And the top of the story says:

LOS ANGELES – The whoops and giggles, heard at 5:42 a.m. on Tuesday as Anne Hathaway announced that “The Blind Side” was in the pool of 10 best picture nominees at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, were the sound of Hollywood surprising itself.

The film’s makers had created a deeply earnest picture aimed less at tastemakers than at people in the middle: sports fans, families, churchgoers and do-gooders.

Ouch. Faint praise indeed, but that’s accurate.

Unexpectedly, those middle-of-the-road fans had turned the movie into not merely a smash hit — … “The Blind Side” had taken in more than $238 million at the domestic box office and was still playing in about 1,750 theaters — but a genuine Oscar contender. Both the film and its lead actress, Sandra Bullock, received nominations. And even some of its backers were left puzzling over a question that has not often troubled the movie business lately: What went right?

The movie is the true story of Michael Oher and his rise from the bad streets of Memphis to the Baltimore Ravens, with the help of a Christian school and a rich Christian family that walked its talks. But the story of the movie focuses on writer-director John Lee Hancock, superstar Sandra Bullock and some entrepreneurs you have never heard of — unless you know quite a bit about Christians in the world of Bible Belt business.

Then again, the big story may be that unusual list of fans who bought the tickets.

Later on in the story, the Times team has to admit that women played a major role in the success of this movie. Apparently, lots of women who are willing to buy movie tickets go to church. Who knew?

Also, it seems that African-Americans go to church and the movies, especially intact black families. Who knew?

Read the story. And like I said, after you have read it, ponder the implications of this quiet success story on the challenges facing executives in other forms of mass media. If Hollywood can make millions appealing to the “normal” American middle, might other entrenched media elites?

Just asking. Again.

Photo: The writer-director and the star.

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Got news? Saluting a Baltimore hero

To my amazement, the Baltimore Sun managed to get some newspapers delivered earlier this week — in between the record-shattering snow storms that keep rolling through the Mid-Atlantic region. As I type this, we are in the middle of storm No. 3. and, OMG, the word “snow” is in the Monday forecast.

As I dug into that thin Monday newspaper, I was struck by the power of a story that appeared under the headline, “One man’s fight against redlining.” Here’s the top of that piece:

A small paid notice in Wednesday’s Sun announced the death of Anne Irene Ruth Salzman at Charlestown Retirement Community. She was 97 and “was preceded in death by her husband of fifty years, Sidney Salzman,” the notice said.

Missing was the rest of the story — how the Salzmans in 1941 fought the Federal Housing Administration for the right to live in a neighborhood of their own choosing. Much has changed since then, but studies suggest that each year millions of Americans still face similar discrimination — not by the government, perhaps, but by the real estate marketplace.

In 1941, Anne Salzman and her husband wanted to buy 821 Glen Allen Drive, one of seven foreclosed houses in Hunting Ridge, a neighborhood off Edmondson Avenue. Four years earlier, the federal government had prepared lending risk maps for Baltimore and 238 other American cities from coast to coast. It had given to Hunting Ridge its highest ranking, the same rating it bestowed on Guilford, Homeland and Rodgers Forge. Under federal guidelines, such mostly Protestant neighborhoods generally barred “inharmonious elements” — African-Americans and Jews.

In Hunting Ridge, though, the homeowners’ covenant against Jews had expired in 1940.

Sidney Salzman was Jewish and his wife was a Christian and they had always managed to live in Gentile neighborhoods. The bureaucrats were “not impressed.”

Mr. Salzman decided to fight. He repeatedly offered purchase prices verbally suggested by FHA officials, proposing to put nearly half the money down. He was refused each time, even though he had been pre-approved for a mortgage, according to documents in the possession of University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor W. Edward Orser.

Finally, one official, “with evident embarrassment … gave as reason for the turning down of my offer the fact of my Jewish extraction, that it was thought best not to sell one of these properties in a restricted neighborhood to me, that it might affect the sale of other properties, and that the [Charles] Steffey Co. real estate brokers handling the properties strenuously objected to such sale to me, on the same grounds.”

And so the fight began, a pivotal fight in the history of race and religion in this city.

The Salzmans won the fight.

It’s an amazing and important story.

So why did this story have to appear on the newspaper’s op-ed page? Why did it need to end with this credit blurb?

Antero Pietila retired from The Sun after 35 years. His history of Baltimore, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” will be published later this month. He may be reached at www.anteropietila.com.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am very glad that the newspaper ran this piece — somewhere. However, the piece opens with a reference to factual material, to an event — the death of Anne Irene Ruth Salzman — that provided all of the news hook that was needed for a news feature.

This is a major story. Why wasn’t it played out front, with photos and, online, some kind of video tribute to this couple and the role they played in the history of Baltimore? I assume that retired reporters can still receive or share bylines, or perhaps write sidebars to major stories. Why did this very important subject get shuffled over to the op-ed page? A quick search of the newspaper’s web site found no other references to “Sidney Salzman.”

This is an A1 news feature story if I have ever seen one.

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‘How could He do this to us?’

Journalists in the mainstream press often talk about covering both sides of a story fairly and accurately. I can say “Amen” to that, even while acknowledging that it is rare to cover a major story that only has two sides. Nevertheless, the key is for journalists to keep seeking multiple points of view, especially when covering a subject as complicated as religion.

So far, journalists covering the hellish scenes in Haiti have done a good job of showing the degree to which religion — or religions — color life in that haunted, yet intensely spiritual nation. This must be incredibly hard work, when surrounded by so much chaos.

As I mentioned the other day, we are now moving into the “theodicy” (How could God do this? How could God allow this to happen?) stage of this disaster story. I stand by my earlier statements that the best coverage is focusing on the voices of believers and doubters in Haiti, as opposed to rounding up the usual suspects in America.

Consider, for a moment, this Washington Post headline on a weekend Associated Press report: “Religious Haitians see hand of God in earthquake.”

Do tell. I have been wondering when someone would write about this angle of the story, in the wake of the media storm around the Rev. Pat Robertson. To cut to the chase: Are there Haitians who believe that the earthquake is, in some mysterious way, an “act of God,” even a form of divine judgment?

That depends. For starters, you will be glad to know that reporter Michelle Faul quickly establishes that Haitians are not of one mind when it comes to answering that question.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Deeply religious Haitians see the hand of God in the destruction of Biblical proportions visited on their benighted country. The quake, religious leaders said Sunday, is evidence that He wants change.

Exactly what change He wants depends on the faith: Some Christians say it’s a sign that Haitians must deepen their faith, while some Voodoo followers see God’s judgment on corruption among the country’s mostly light-skinned elite.

Jumping down, there is more content on that second point:

Some followers of Voodoo, practiced alongside Roman Catholicism by the vast majority of Haitians, said the devastation of key symbols of power was punishment for corrupt leaders who have allowed the mostly light-skinned elite to enrich themselves while the black majority suffers.

“If all of a sudden, in 15 seconds, 20 seconds, all the physical representations of corruption are destroyed, it gives you pause for thought,” said Richard Morse, a renowned Haitian-American musician whose mother was a singer and revered Voodoo priestess. “The Justice Ministry: down. The National Palace: down. The United Nations headquarters: down.” …

The destruction of every major Catholic church in the capital, including the 81-year-old cathedral, also was a sign, he said: “When there is all this corruption going on, whose role is it in society to speak out? Isn’t the Church supposed to say something?”

There is an old saying in the region that Haiti is 80 percent Roman Catholic and 100 percent Voodoo. However, that simply isn’t true, these days. The government does recognize two official state religions, which are Catholicism and Voodoo. Media reports have emphasized, accurately, that most Haitians practice both of these faiths and believe they are compatible.

However, the nation also includes a growing number of Protestants, especially Baptists and Pentecostal Christians — who reject Voodoo, as a rule. You have to ask: What are these groups saying? Are these some of the people whose street sermons have — vaguely — been mentioned in some media reports? What is their stance on the “divine judgment” issue? I predict that the answer to that question is more complex than you might imagine.

It would also be good to know if Catholics are united in the belief that Voodoo rites and beliefs can be fused, as they often are in Haiti. Is this topic debated? And what about the Voodoo community itself? It is hard to imagine that there would be only one point of view on the question of who is being judged and by what Deity. How does Voodoo address the “theodicy” question?

What about unbelievers? What about the people who have lost so much, including their faith or faiths?

Clearly, there is much ground still left to cover. But for now, try to forget the final image from this AP report:

“How could He do this to us?,” cried Remi Polevard, who said his five children lie beneath in the rubble of a home near St. Gerard University. “There is no God.”

Sunday night, as downtown residents began burning some of the bodies that have been rotting on the streets for five days, a woman walking by in an orange dress pulled out a copy of the Bible.

She flung it into the fire.

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In Philly: Sunrise, sunset, sunrise …

andrewsAnyone who has, for the past 20 years or so, followed the joys and sorrows of Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States knows that at least two important trends can be seen, all at the same time.

The story that has received the most media attention is the rise of the “evangelical Orthodox” and others who are converting into this ancient faith. I have been part of that story, of course, on both sides of the notebook. This is a story of the slow growth of an American expression of Orthodoxy, a process both painful and encouraging.

The other trend, however, is linked to the struggles of many — but not all — Orthodox parishes in the United States that are defined, for the most part, in terms of ethnicity and their ties to the “old country,” whatever that old country might be. This story has received little media attention.

But if you want to start somewhere to understand this second, painful, trend — click here, sit down and read. This will take you to a news feature in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the struggles of several Eastern Christian churches, not all of them Orthodox, in the old, hip, resurgent neighborhood known as Northern Liberties. The writing by David O’Reilly is quite good and I only have one major complaint about the reporting, which I will mention later. You must read the whole story.

Let it sink in, in all of its sadness. Here’s a crucial chunk of this long feature, near the top:

The ages-old glow of Christendom’s most elaborate, enigmatic liturgy no longer is a guiding light for the community. But inside St. Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, beneath four blue onion domes, the sanctuary is as luminous as the day it opened in 1902, if not nearly as brimful of youth and hope.

The Rev. Mark Shinn, bearded and gold-caped, appears through the “royal door” before the altar, an ornate chalice in each hand. Murmuring a prayer, he raises the goblets toward the worshipers, who bow and make the sign of the cross under the wide-eyed gaze of saintly icons. In a gesture of humility, some sweep their fingertips across the oak floor. A few prostrate themselves to kiss it.

They do not retake their seats. There aren’t any. The congregants stand for a candlelit service lasting at least two hours and celebrated almost wholly in Old Church Slavonic, an archaic Eastern European tongue.

On a typical Sunday, about 80 people attend. For that, the archpriest is grateful.

“We keep no rolls and collect no dues,” Shinn said. “If you come, you’re a member.”

If you come.

The neighborhood used to be the safe, transforming landing place for immigrants. Now it is emerging as the spiritual home of young urbanites who define themselves as, yes, “spiritual,” but not “religious.” Who wants to go to church, let alone one in an ancient tongue? This is life in the post-denominational, post-doctrinal world. The only creed is that there are no creeds, unless they focus on the environment or other worthwhile causes.

One pastor sadly quips, “We’d probably do better if we had a doggy day care.”

O’Reilly does a stunning job of painting the historic context for what is happening now, flashing back into the good old days when the churches were full and pastors knew that their mission was to provide a home to those who were settling so far from home.

So what is missing?

OrthodoxCandlesWhat is missing is the broader picture of what is happening in Orthodoxy elsewhere in greater Philadelphia, in areas where multi-ethnic and pan-Orthodox parishes are greeting newcomers with open arms, when, of course, the newcomers come seeking a place to practice the faith of Eastern Orthodoxy.

There is one nod to small changes in a few of the Northern Liberties parishes. At least two Russian heritage churches switched to English liturgies and some new members arrived. However, the older members of the parish are not sure that they want to allow these newcomers to threaten what one pastor calls “their authority, their prestige.”

It’s a sad story, but an important story. A few years ago, I was invited to speak to a national assembly of Orthodox laypeople on this topic — “What do the converts want?” Here is one pivotal part of my address, which may or may not be linked to what is happening in this one corner of Philadelphia.

America is all about assimilation. But I need to stress that Orthodox believers face two different forms of assimilation. One asks them to assimilate into America at the level of culture and language. The other tempts them to assimilate on the level of doctrine and practice.

I believe that Orthodox Christians have divided into two different camps, whether this choice is conscious or unconscious. In many parishes, we see people who are struggling to assimilate into American culture, but don’t know what parts to accept. They are struggling to retain their language and to some extent their art. But on the level of faith and practice, they have already assimilated and their children have as well. You walk into their homes and you see little or no iconography. Yet when you walk into their church, they are not speaking English.

It’s an interesting mix of what they’ve given up and what they’ve chosen to cling to. As an Orthodox priest of an ethnic parish once told me: “Most of the members of my congregation have never been to confession in their lives. They have no idea that this even exists as a part of our church. They see no connection between confession and the life of our parish and the sacramental reality of our parish.”

So, let me offer some sad, but sincere, applause for O’Reilly and the team that produced this deep, vivid story. I hope they explore some other sanctuaries, looking for the other side of the Orthodox equation here in the “new country.”

Top photo: From the “Weekend in Philadephia” page at Cgunson.com.

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Race in God’s Kingdom

martin-luther-king-jrGrading religion writers involves evaluating their work on stories both simple and complex. I always offer extra credit to those enterprising and creative journalists who seek out important stories that transcend today’s headlines. That’s why TIME’s David Van Biema gets a gold star for his 2,400-word piece, “The Color of Faith.”

Race has been a difficult issue for Christians since the time of the Apostles. Today, most of us might wish for the beautiful vision described in the song:

Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

But we have largely settled for the much sadder reality described by Martin Luther King, Jr., who said the most segregated hour in America was from eleven to twelve on Sunday morning.

Here in Colorado, where evangelical parachurch organizations grow like the Columbine flower, efforts to transcend racial barriers have met with greater (Promise Keepers) and lesser (Focus on the Family) success.

Van Biema turns his attention to a Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, the suburban megachurch that was America’s most influential congregation before Rick Warren and Saddleback came along. The story shows how Willow Creek’s founding pastor Bill Hybels has worked “to aggressively welcome minorities to his lily-white congregation.”

Van Biema mixes personal stories and national statistics in his powerful story:

Despite the growing desegregation of most key American institutions, churches are still a glaring exception….It is troubling, even scandalous, that our most intimate public gatherings–and those most safely beyond the law’s reach–remain color-coded.

But in some churches, the racial divide is beginning to erode, and it is fading fastest in one of American religion’s most conservative precincts: Evangelical Christianity. According to Michael Emerson, a specialist on race and faith at Rice University, the proportion of American churches with 20% or more minority participation has languished at about 7.5% for the past nine years. But among Evangelical churches with attendance of 1,000 people or more, the slice has more than quadrupled, from 6% in 1998 to 25% in 2007.

Call it the desegregation of the megachurches–and consider it a possible pivotal moment in the nation’s faith.

Willow Creek remains influential, in part because of its Willow Creek Association of 12,000 churches, which fills the role denominations formerly played for many churches. Van Biema shows us what Hybels and Willow Creek have successfully done–and have not yet done–on their long and challenging journey to desegregation.

The light went on for Hybels in 1999 after he read Michael Emerson’s book, “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America” and realized:

…that racism is “not just an individual issue but a justice issue” with “structural and [systemic] aspects” violating dozens of biblical admonitions. “I went from thinking ‘I don’t have a race problem’ to ‘There is a huge problem in our world that I need to be part of resolving.’”

The catch was that “I hadn’t [preached] about it in 24 years.”

Willow Creek hasn’t yet achieved King’s dream of a color-blind society. This reality is most apparent to church members who note “that Hybels never promoted a nonwhite member to a pulpit pastorship or senior staff position at the main Willow campus.”

But as he closes his story in a mixed-race Willow Creek Sunday school classroom, Van Biema eloquently gives credit where credit is due:

Here, today, Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation about Sunday school is finally refuted. In one room of one huge church striving to do the right thing, the harmony of His kingdom has already arrived.

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When “specifically” needs specificity

jesus-censusIt’s a cliche for a reason — sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Suffice to say, I quickly understood what this Washington Post story was about before I even read it thanks to the picture included with the story (and reproduced here to the right). It’s about a poster produced by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and distributed to some 7,000 churches in an effort to get Hispanics to increase participation. As you can see, the poster has stirred a bit of controversy.

The story is perfunctory and does a fine job of noting the objections of religious leaders to the poster but it does a really bad job of summing up the nature of the controversy, which has a lot to do with whether illegal immigrants should participate in the census. In fact, the Post story doesn’t even mention the word “immigrant.” Aside from that, though, there were two religion-related things of note. The first is this:

Luke 2:1-4 says Jesus was born during a census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Although historians question the accuracy of the account, Luke stated that everyone had to return to his ancestral town to be registered for taxes and that Joseph and Mary left Nazareth for Bethlehem.

Emphasis mine. Really? I wonder whether that qualifying phrase is really all that necessary, but even so — what about the accuracy of the account is it that historians dispute? Jesus’ birth? That there was a census? That is was ordered by Caesar Augustus? That they had to return to Bethelem? That the purpose of the census was to register for taxes? The lack of specificity there is dismaying. And what about the historians that don’t question veracity of the account? Historians don’t think as a block, so either get specific about the objections of particular historians or at the very least write it as “Although some historians question…”

The other aspect of the story that seemed worth looking at was near the end where, after quotes from a number of religious leaders objecting to the poster, we get this:

Marcus Borg, a historical Jesus scholar at Oregon State University, said the narrative of Jesus’s birth is often used for secular purposes.

“Take Christmas cards, if they say, ‘Peace on Earth,’ and don’t say anything specifically Christian,” he said. “I can’t imagine why anyone would take issue with the poster on grounds of irreverence or blasphemy.”

What Borg says really demands some explanation and clarification. The assertion that the phrase “Peace on Earth” isn’t “specifically Christian” probably had a lot of people scratching their heads when they read that — starting with one of my colleagues. While the sentiment may seem universal, the phrase “peace on earth” as a Christmas wish comes from Luke chapter 2, already noted above as being a Nativity account: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” As to whether that Christian desire for peace on earth was meant is understood to be anodyne enough to be agreeable to all men, I can only quote Jesus himself in Luke 12:51: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”

To be fair, perhaps Borg meant to say that it wasn’t explicitly Christian, in that the phrase doesn’t mention Jesus or — at least when taken out of context — explicitly assert the primacy of the Christian faith over others and thus might be considered not especially offensive to non-Christians. On the other hand, I’m not sure what that would have to do with the poster, which is headlined “This is how Jesus was born.” The whole quote seems somewhat out of place. If Borg’s remarks are to be included, some context and clarification are in order.

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Brooks on Obama the theologian

DavidBrooks2There is so much to like about New York Times columnist David Brooks. Here’s a short list:

(1) He is thoughtful and analytical.

(2) He doesn’t let his conservative views blind him to non-conforming realities.

(3) He’s great at coining new terms (remember “Bobos,” his famous word for the bourgeois bohemian descendants of the yuppies?).

(4) He’s quick on his feet, as you can see in his TV appearances (especially his regular Friday gig with Mark Shields on the recently renamed PBS News Hour).

(5) He has a sense of humor that seems genuinely warm rather than cynical.

(6) He makes intellectual history comprehensible and downright fun.

But the thing I appreciate most about Brooks is his theological astuteness. I would argue that among all the major media columnists, Brooks is the most likely to connect the dots between ideas and their theological foundations. That’s what he did this morning in his Times column, “Obama’s Christian Realism.”

Brooks summarizes Christian realism as follows:

…that each person is part angel, part devil. Life is a struggle to push back against the evils of the world without succumbing to the passions of the beast lurking inside.

He then traces the ideas evolution from Princeton’s John Hibben, George F. Kennan, Harry Truman, and Reinhold Niebuhr, who declared:

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

Brooks then shows how Obama has articulated a Niebuhrian vision for our time:

In 2002, Obama spoke against the Iraq war, but from the vantage point of a cold war liberal. He said he was not against war per se, just this one, and he was booed by the crowd. In 2007, he spoke about the way Niebuhr formed his thinking: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Somewhere along the line, Brooks says, most liberals dispensed with Niebuhr’s notion of evil, but Obama didn’t:

But after Vietnam, most liberals moved on. It became unfashionable to talk about evil. Some liberals came to believe in the inherent goodness of man and the limitless possibilities of negotiation. Some blamed conflicts on weapons systems and pursued arms control. Some based their foreign-policy thinking on being against whatever George W. Bush was for. If Bush was an idealistic nation-builder, they became Nixonian realists.

Barack Obama never bought into these shifts. In the past few weeks, he has revived the Christian realism that undergirded cold war liberal thinking and tried to apply it to a different world.

Obama’s race probably played a role here. As a young thoughtful black man, he would have become familiar with prophetic Christianity and the human tendency toward corruption; familiar with the tragic sensibility of Lincoln’s second inaugural; familiar with the guarded pessimism of Niebuhr, who had such a profound influence on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know there are many God-fearing Americans who feel certain Obama is a socialist. Or, if they are pressed to define him in religious terms, they have consigned him to an outer rung of hell reserved for fire-breathing black preachers like Jeremiah Wright.

But then along comes David Brooks–probing, reflecting, connecting the dots–to help us hear what Obama has been saying in his speeches and understand the theology that serves as the foundation for his views.

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Tony Dungy the moral scold

Eagles Vick Signs FootballEvery now and then, a star in the National Football League gets into trouble and, during his ritual of repentance, decides to play the God card. In some cases this even involves Jesus language, which is always risky in today’s media marketplace.

In a previous GetReligion post on this issue I have stressed that it’s important for reporters to remain skeptical and, above all, to actually try to find out if the athlete in question has any serious, ongoing ties to a faith community. I asked: How does he spend his time? How does he spend his money? How does he make his decisions?

Actually, these are good questions to ask while writing about any major public figure who likes to talk about faith issues all the time.

Take former NFL coach Tony Dungy, for example. The New York Times ran a strange little story the other day about how Dungy is doing, now that he has left coaching and gone into a combination of “ministry” in a variety of settings and television commentary for NBC’s “Football Night in America” operation.

I put the word “ministry” in quotation marks because the newspaper keeps talking about Dungy’s work in this area, while devoting no ink whatsoever to his faith or how he lives that faith out in connection to an actual, well, church. It’s amazing. This is a story about ministry that ignores religion.

Meanwhile, check out the tone of this headline: “Dungy Takes to New Role as Football’s Conscience and Scold.” Here’s a typical chunk of the story, early on:

“He’s ministering all the time,” said Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, who hired Dungy as an analyst for “Football Night in America.” “I think he has a mission to minister to people in need.”

But if Dungy is becoming a life coach for the pads and cleat set, it raises the question of whether at least some of the people who have sought him out have done so precisely because latching on to his reputation offers some kind of unofficial benediction.

“I guess I’m flattered that people think I can help get things done,” Dungy said. “I’ve always talked to players about perception and reality. I don’t worry about perception. There may be some of that, that people want to attach to a good name, but the reality is that some good things can happen. Were Mike Vick’s attorneys trying to attach a good name to him? Maybe so, but I thought I could help him and add some insight. So that is more my concern than what the perception is.”

In other words, it seems that some people are convinced that Vick and other troubled athletes are managing to play the “God card,” and make it stick with top NFL leaders, by playing the Dungy card.

Now, there is news that Dungy will even serve as a special adviser to Commissioner Roger Goodell — another prominent role for a high-profile African American who is clearly (a) respected by his peers and (b) a moral and cultural conservative. Goodell even says that Dungy quietly played that role for the league while he was still coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

UnCommonTonyDungyCover.40161305In other words, it appears that Dungy has an unusual amount of credibility. If you read between the lines it seems that some people, perhaps in the Times newsroom, are not convinced that this a good thing. Remember that word scold in the headline?

Meanwhile, Dungy has raised eyebrows with his television work — offering a low-key, but ultra-candid approach while dissecting everything from video highlights to the strategic mistakes of the coaches on the sidelines. In other words, he is not a softie.

When Ebersol approached Dungy after a production meeting before the Colts’ playoff game against San Diego last season to tell him he would have a place for him if he retired, he asked Dungy if he could be critical and honest. He has been, analyzing for the television audience much the way he did for his team, in measured, but sometimes brutally candid, tones. He openly disagreed with Bill Belichick’s decision to go for the first down on fourth-and-2 against Indianapolis. He has criticized officiating.

The coaching fraternity is not always happy. Dungy heard through a friend, the Vikings’ defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, that Vikings Coach Brad Childress was not thrilled when Dungy said he would not have called a play that had Adrian Peterson running on third-and-long. Dungy rues that he might come across as glib because television rarely offers enough time to explain his opinions.

All in all, it’s a strange piece.

Dungy is getting more family time now and it appears that he is carrying through on his plans to walk the talk, when it comes to prison ministry and other causes.

But the story has this strange tone that something strange is going on here. Read the story for yourself and see what you think. There’s kind of a hole in the story where the man’s soul should be.

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