Tim Tebow meets the fans in liberal New England

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Man, that Tim Tebow is way more popular than he should be, in light of his third-string quarterback status. Why is that?

And that Tebow guy does so much charity work and keeps going so far out of his way to identify with people and to make that one-on-one connection that is so rare in the world of mega-celebrities. What’s that all about?

You can tell that the Yankees up at The Boston Globe are trying to figure out what they need to say about Tebow and where, in a daily story, they need to say the obvious. It’s kind of interesting to watch Tebow just carry on, doing his thing, while located in a region of the country that tends to view people of his ilk like aliens from another planet.

You know what I’m saying, right?

So the Globe team did this story the other day about Tebow’s unusually gracious manner with people who are seeking autographs. It’s the sort of story that sports reporters have to crank out day after day during the drudge work of training camp. This one ran under the double-decker headline that begged the obvious:

Tim Tebow’s bond with fans is unique

‘There’s something about him, something that can make someone feel so special’

A unique bond. It seems that there’s something special about this guy. Now what might that be?

Now check it out: What’s the bizarre fact in this opening anecdote that goes without any commentary whatsoever?

FOXBOROUGH – Madelin Beardsley is a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy. She also has selective mutism.

Sometimes, in unfamiliar settings, she clams up.

So when she planned on attending Patriots training camp last week, her parents suggested what they often do: Make a poster.

“It’s a way for her to make herself known,” Madelin’s father, Scott Beardsley, said. “For her to stand up for herself and communicate what she really wants to say.”

Last Monday night, the Beardsleys gathered in their Virginia Beach home with markers and white oak tag.

Madelin selected the text: “Tebow we came 600 miles to see you, please come see me.”

On Thursday in Foxborough, he did.

Tim Tebow — the Patriots’ renowned third-string quarterback — met Madelin after practice. He smiled. He told her he loved the poster.

“A handful of players signed autographs for Madelin,” said Scott, who grew up a Patriots fan in Beverly. “Tebow was the only one to ask her name. I can’t tell you what that meant to her. There’s something about him, something that can make someone feel so special. Even if they meet for 10 seconds.”

Yes, there is a connection between the family and the Patriots. But did anyone ask if, truth be told, these people had come 600 miles in order to meet Tebow? And they’re from Virginia Beach? Might this family be identifying with Tebow for faith-based reasons, as opposed to the logic of football?

Did the Globe team even ask these people why they were there or, to be blunt about it, have we reached the point where no on even needs to state that this whole mysterious “bond” between Tebow and many of his fans — especially the young, the weak and the handicapped — is rooted in a faith connection?

How do journalists handle this “bond” thing, this far along?

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Tampa Bay tear jerker: A ‘former’ Baptist pastor?

The following is a picky little post about a story that kind of got under my skin today. It’s a human-interest story that, on one level, is about sports.

But it’s not really a sports story. Please keep reading.

No, it’s a tear-jerker piece from The Tampa Bay Times about a dying man who is clearly a serious baseball fan and, to some degree, he is a serious Christian believer. Maybe. You can’t really tell.

This story is one or two words away from being a normal, clearly written news report. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Times team elected — in a crucial sentence of the story — to be so vague. Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe someone just did take the story very seriously.

Here is the top of the story. Can you spot the vague word that got to me?

Harry Cummings sat in his wheelchair by the dugout and took it all in.

“Is that home plate?” asked the 80-year-old Spring Hill man who doctors say has only weeks left to live. “It doesn’t look that far from here to hit a home run.”

Cummings is dying from kidney cancer. The former Baptist preacher says he is ready to go when God is ready to take him. But Sunday he had some living to do, thanks to grandson Jeremy Via and the Tampa Bay Rays, who arranged for a pregame tour and meet-and-greet with players.

Yes, I am the son of a Southern Baptist pastor. My dad was a Baptist preacher until the moment he died.

What, precisely, is a “former” Baptist preacher?

I have known some ex-Baptist preachers. They were former Baptist preachers. The implication is that they either left the ministry, left the faith, joined another faith or some combination of the above.

Of course, I have known many, many retired Baptist preachers. They are still Baptist preachers, even if they have left full-time work in a church.

The point is that they are not “former” Baptist preachers.

So what is Cummings? Is he an ex-Baptist preacher or a retired Baptist preacher?

The story never tell us. The copy desk used the one word that really doesn’t work. Why?

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About those steroid whispers and slugger Chris Davis

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If you have been following major-league baseball this year, then you probably know a little bit about Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, the guy with 37 home runs at the All-Star Game break. If you wish, you can check him out tonight in the All-Star Home Run Derby (while pondering the question of whether Texas Ranger fanatic Bobby Ross Jr., will cheer for Davis or against him).

Now, here are a few basic facts that are highly relevant to the Twitter trouble that surrounds “Crush” Davis.

Davis is 6-foot-3-inches tall and weighs about 230 pounds. Those numbers have been roughly the same during his years in the minor and major leagues and, throughout that time, he has been known as a guy who could hit the ball about 450 feet without working up a sweat, while striking out at an even more rapid clip. He has always been a high contact-to-damage-ratio guy.

There are reports that Davis came into camp this year 10 to 15 pounds lighter and it certainly appears that he has improved his speed on the base paths, as well as his ability to hit baseballs that are pitched down and away. He has, as a left-handed hitter, developed quite a knack for hitting opposite-field golf shots (as opposed to monster blasts) into the first few rows in the stands. He is no longer trying to tear the cover off the ball during each and every at bat. His strike outs are way down and he’s batting .315.

What does this have to do with religion?

Actually, these are the kinds of numbers that matter when a slugger is being accused of using steroids. It is rare, you see, for people to lose weight and gain speed while using steroids that allow them to hit moon shots.

The religion angle — tune in any Baltimore talk-radio station or hit Twitter — is that @ChrisDavis_19 is a Christian who, especially since he got married a year or so ago, has become quite outspoken about his faith and even the possibility that he could end up working in some form of ministry.

Religion and steroid chatter? That’s a volatile mix.

As a Baltimore guy who closely follows the Orioles, I find it interesting that the religion angle of this story is EVERYWHERE when it’s addressed by the public, yet the key news story addressing this topic in The Baltimore Sun did not include any references to faith. Is Davis lying? Is his faith a sham? If one assumes that he is using PEDs, and some people do, then this would also mean that this born-again slugger is a hypocrite or worse.

It’s impossible to separate these issues. Right? However, The Sun team managed to completely skip the religion angle. Here’s the opening of that story:

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis understands that there are going to be whispers, and that those will grow louder if he continues his torrid home run pace.

He is, after all, a muscle-rippling power hitter with video-game home run totals. He knows the steroid accusations are inevitable and will accompany his pursuit of home run records this season.

“I think it sucks that guys in our day and age have to answer for mistakes that guys have made in the past. But it is part of it,” said Davis, who has 33 home runs in his first 92 games for the Orioles this season. “That’s what happened when Major League Baseball started addressing the issue. We knew we were going to have to deal with it.”

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Pay wall blues: This inspirational SI cover gets religion

Are there any working journalists in this day and age who do not have a love-hate relationship with paywalls, those digital fortresses erected by many publications to force readers to pay for their best online content?

I understand why they make sense. I am sure that they save some jobs. Personally, I favor some kind of micro-payment option that allows readers to pay for individual articles, if they so choose.

This, however, is a topic for another day. I have been waiting to see when the folks at Sports Illustrated would post a complete version of their June 19th cover story on an American hero named Frank Hall, who put his life on the line to help save students at Chardon (Ohio) High School. I still cannot find the text online.

Yes, this story ran in a sports publication, but it is more than a sports story. I want to call it to the attention of GetReligion readers, even the 99 percent who are not interested in the world of sports, because it is one of the best features I have come across in some time, especially if you are interested in journalism that blends faith content into the narrative in an appropriate manner.

I didn’t think that at first. I suspected that there was a faith element in this story early on, but, rather cynically, I also suspected that the SI team would avoid it. Here is a key moment early on that sets the stage for the drama in this national news story:

His eyes swept the room, his pen checking off the study-hall attendance list as the morning announcements ended. The three football players always at his elbow at 7:37 — fullback John Connic, who used Frank’s file drawers as his personal locker, and the Izar twins, defensive end Tom and linebacker Quinn — were all missing that day, John off taking a test and the Izards, thank God, late for school. Besides the cafeteria staff, Frank was now the only adult in the room.

Two loud pops jerked his head to the right. His hearing had always been bad.

Firecrackers, he thought. Then came another pop and another as he rose and took in the whirl of one boy slumped over a table, two others crumpled to the floor, two staggering away with bullet wounds, and a mad scramble of screaming children everywhere in the room.

Here it was, the question lodged in the recesses of all the educators’ brains in America, the one that their minds race to and away from without ever resolving, the one to which the rest of us seem to have unconsciously agreed to condemn them all: What will I do if a kid in my school pulls out a gun and starts shooting?

Here’s what Frank never could’ve guessed, all the years his mind had darted to and from that question: His anger trumped everything; it trampled thought and even fear. It sent his legs barging right through his brown table and straight at the gunman, sent his hand flying up, sent his voice booming, “Stop! Stop!”

Yes, anger is part of the picture — but not the most crucial part.

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Nolan Ryan’s son and the F-word

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In his 27-year major-league career, Nolan Ryan regularly fired 100-mph fastballs. He pitched seven no-hitters and struck out 5,714 batters — both records.

Now the CEO of my beloved Texas Rangers, the 66-year-old “Ryan Express” is a baseball legend — a Hall of Fame right-hander who needs no introduction to fans.

Nolan’s son Reid Ryan, 41, is a different story.

Except for his famous father, the younger Ryan remains relatively unknown. However, the Houston Astros hired him as team president in May, increasing his profile in the Lone Star State.

Enter The Dallas Morning News.

Over the weekend, the Dallas newspaper ran an in-depth, “what makes him tick” feature on Reid Ryan.

Unfortunately for non-subscribers, most of the 1,700-word profile is hidden behind a paywall. Fortunately for you, kind GetReligion readers who so much enjoy posts on sports stories, I am a subscriber and read the whole ghost-ridden thing.

Since I pay $9.99 a month mainly to peruse the Morning News’ behind-the-scenes Rangers coverage, I was enjoying the story as a baseball fan when the first holy ghost caused my GetReligion antenna to rise.

Early in the piece, the writer eloquently describes the major turning point in Reid Ryan’s life. It occurred when he was 7 years old and was hit by a car. Let’s enter that scene:

At the hospital, the doctors had no trouble diagnosing Reid’s shattered left leg.

After the surgeons carved him open to check for internal injuries, they removed his severed spleen. When the pain lingered into the next week, they opened him up again and removed a damaged kidney they had hoped to save.

Then came the body cast.

It was sometime during his confining next two months in the hospital that Reid, described by his mother as previously “vivacious” but turned eerily “subdued,” took a silent oath.

“God blessed me with a second chance,” Reid Ryan says 34 years later. “That time shaped how I look at the world. I decided that no matter how many more years I had on this earth, I was going to be extremely positive in everything I do.”

Let’s see: The money quote that describes the most significant event in Reid Ryan’s life involves G-O-D.

Did anyone at the Morning News catch that reference or consider delving more deeply into the role of Ryan’s faith? Apparently not, because the story immediately heads in a totally different direction using a, shall we say, ironic description given the ghost just mentioned:

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What about those prayers for Dwyane Wade’s pains?

Greetings, GetReligion sports fans. Anyone who has been following the news lately knows that the ageless San Antonio Spurs, the heroes of red-zip-code America, face a seventh and deciding NBA Finals game tonight against the Miami Heat, a team symbolizes evil for millions of fans from coast to coast.

While much of the saturation-level media attention focuses — naturally — on superstar LeBron James, people who have actually been following the series closely know that one of the keys to the outcome will be the health of Dwyane Wade.

This brings me to a interesting story in the pre-Finals issue of Sports Illustrated, a feature that ran under the headline, “Dwyane Wade’s Knee Has A Cold.”

At the heart of this fine article are two painful subjects and two sets of prayers.

First of all, the superstar guard’s right knee has been held together for weeks with grit and tape. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Miami tends to win when the knee is functioning.

And the prayer involved in that?

So maybe that’s why no one blinked the first time Dwyane Wade’s mother begged God to heal his right knee. … Last month, after Miami had beaten the Bulls in Wade’s hometown of Chicago to go up 3-1 in their second-round playoff series, he hobbled into the postgame crush of family and friends at the United Center. His knee had collided with the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler during the second quarter, leaving Wade crumpled on the sideline, and retaping it didn’t help much. He finished with six points, hit just three field goals. His mother was in mid-sentence with someone else when she heard him yell.

“Ma!” Wade said. “Come and touch my knee and pray on it.”

Jolinda Wade — 58 years old, a former drug addict who lost her family, went to prison, reformed and is now a minister — walked over to her son, bent down and placed her hand on a knee. She rubbed it and asked for it to be healed. She didn’t think she did a very good job. In truth, Jolinda was surprised Dwyane had even asked. “He had never done that openly, loud, in front of everybody before,” she says.

Now, that is pretty much all readers learn about Wade’s mother and her ministry and I would argue that, “she asked for it to be healed” is a rather poor effort to capture that moment in words. And then there is the statement: “She didn’t think she did a very good job.” Is that what she really said?

It’s pretty easy — takes about five seconds — to find out that Jolinda Wade is actually the Rev. Jolinda Wade, senior pastor of a flock known as the New Creation Binding and Loosing Ministries International of Chicago. It would only have taken a sentence or two to give readers a sense of what she actually said — there are no direct quotes linked to these healing prayers — and what role Christian faith plays in her relationship with her son.

Well, you know, those African-American folks are so spiritual. There’s no content to all of that worth covering, of course. That’s just the way they are, you know?

Readers are given this:

When she was finished, she said he should be prepared to be mystified; God likes confounding man by fixing the unfixable. “You’ve just got to believe that this knee’s going to be healed,” she said. “It’s going to mess you up when it’s healed; it’s going to mess the doctors up; it’s going to mess people up. But you’re fixing to have a supernatural healing on that knee.”

But there’s more. As it turns out, the biggest crisis covered in this article — Dwyane Wade’s tabloid-material divorce — leads straight to another reference to prayer, and they are prayers linked to a subject with more spiritual and cultural significance than his knee.

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Crush Davis wrestles with anger issues, with God’s help

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I realize that GetReligion readers have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of interest in the world of sports or, at the very least, media coverage of stories that mix faith and sports. I remain a pretty intense sports fan, based in Baltimore.

So it’s rather remarkable that the newspaper that lands in my front yard not only produced a major story about the life and faith of hotter than hot Orioles slugger Chris Davis (hello Red Sox fans), but put it on the front page. I am not taking about the front page of the sports section, I’m talking about A1 in the Sunday issue.

The story isn’t perfect — more on that in a minute — but it’s clear that The Baltimore Sun team let Davis talk about the arc of his life and, in the end, accurately concluded that his return to evangelical Christian faith has actually had something to do with him getting his act together as a man, a husband and as an All-Star level player.

God is in the lede, which tends to happen a lot in sports coverage. The more important fact about this story is that the God factor is — to some degree — actually fleshed out in the reporting in the story.

To. Some. Degree. Here’s the long overture to the piece:

The power? That blunt-force ability to lay wood to a baseball and propel it 400, 420, 450 feet? He had it even when he was a boy. Came from God, as far as he’s concerned.

Harnessing it? Well, that’s the work of Chris Davis’ life. There’s a paradoxical quality to the Orioles’ first baseman, who has emerged this season as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers, a likely All-Star starter who leads the majors with 22 home runs.

Growing up in East Texas, Davis was like a puppy with big paws, bowling over everything. But even as he climbed the ranks of the game he loved, he could not find the deeper fulfillment he coveted.

Before he could put all that strength to use, he had to stop trying to overpower everything in his life. He had to tone down the perfectionist streak he inherited from his dad, Lyn, who gave him his work ethic but could also be an overbearing presence. Both men acknowledge their competitive drive created friction in their relationship. That stress, which friends and teammates watched unfold as the younger Davis was blossoming into a star athlete in Texas, is what Chris Davis says helped set the course for his success today.

He had to believe that his faith, his marriage and his team could prop him up during bad times.

All of the usual themes that dominate sports features are here. The key theme that relates to faith is Davis’ struggles, not only with perfectionism, but with anger. And what is the only thing that has helped him with his anger?

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On Tim Tebow, ‘spirituality’ and stating the obvious

Here we go again, sort of.

Now, I live in the land of purple and black here in Maryland, home of the World Champion Baltimore Ravens (it’s still fun to say that), where if anyone asked the local faithful to nominate a few candidates for the role of Antichrist, New England coach Bill Belichick would be right near the top of the list. Thus, the announcement that You Know Who had signed with the Patriots (Tim Tebow plus Patriots; get ready for an IRS audit) created quite a bit of amazement.

And now this, care of a better-than-the-norm story in Newsday:

FOXBORO, Mass. – The Patriots have said almost nothing about Tim Tebow’s football skills — or lack thereof — and where he might fit in on the field.

But Wednesday the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, said he was drawn to Tebow in part because of his “spirituality,” using that term three times to reporters.

“You can’t have enough good people around you,” Kraft said after a ceremony to honor 26 winners of the Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards, named for his late wife. “He has the added dimension of spirituality being so important to him, and that personally appeals to me a lot.”

Now, no sane reader had any trouble reading the code language here. There is no way on earth that Kraft was suggesting that young master Tebow was one of those “spiritual but not religious” people. Kraft simply didn’t need to connect the dots for everyone in the room to know what he was saying. Right?

Now my journalist question — after reading quite a few mainstream reports on this development — is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that some, perhaps many, journalists felt that they needed to write this story while avoiding the “C” word. Did journalists need to state the obvious, or was the fact they were writing about TIM TEBOW enough for most of the population of North America?

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