Pod people: From clubhouse to courthouse

For this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about media coverage of tragedy involving baseball star Josh Hamilton and about news reports on the impact of Illinois’ new civil-unions law on faith-based adoption and foster care services.

We revisited my post on Hamilton’s unfortunate role in the death of a fan at a recent Texas Rangers’ game:

An Oakland Athletics player hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton picked up the ball and tossed it toward fans in the bleachers behind the out-of-town scoreboard. A man in the front row with his 6-year-old son reached for the ball, leaned a little bit too much over the railing and fell headfirst behind the left-field wall — as the entire crowd, myself included, gasped.

In my original post, I noted that anyone familiar with Hamilton and his demons knows that his Christian faith is a big deal in his life. Wilken and I discussed the media’s reporting on Hamilton’s statement that he believes “God has a plan” even in such a sad circumstance. I also pointed out a subsequent quote from Hamilton that attempts to make sense of the freak accident. Here’s the version of the quote that appeared in USA Today:

Hamilton said his Christian faith, which helped him overcome alcohol and drug addiction to become one of baseball’s brightest stars, has buoyed him and his family this week. He said his family continues to pray for the Stone family.

“This is life,” Hamilton said. “There are tragedies, things that happen that you have no control over and you don’t understand them. One of them is standing in front of your maker.

“Maybe I was a little more prepared to handle a situation like this. Still, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt and affect you. It was just a random act of kindness that turned tragic.”

After my visit with Wilken, I came across another piece — this one from ESPN Dallas — on Hamilton’s faith helping him cope:

“I don’t know all of the answers to everything, but I have a relationship with God,” Hamilton said. “It’s changed my life. In some ways, I feel like I was picked. In a lot of ways, I feel like I was picked because in my situation I just happen to have faith. My family’s handled it well also. It’s been tough, but we’ve talked through some things and we’ve prayed a lot.”

In the other half of the interview, Wilken and I focused on my concerns about some of the coverage of Catholic Charities refusing to place foster children with gay couples despite Illinois’ new civil-unions law. In a later post, I found a bit more to like in a Chicago Tribune story on the legal fight. In an updated story, the Tribune reports that the state will hold off cutting foster care funding to two other faith-based organizations.

Anyway, check out the podcast. Wilken asked some enlightening questions, and I did my best to answer them.

God’s plan in baseball fan’s death

I was sitting in the third deck behind home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, munching kettle corn and sipping a Diet Dr Pepper in triple-digit heat, when the unthinkable happened the other night.

An Oakland Athletics player hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton picked up the ball and tossed it toward fans in the bleachers behind the out-of-town scoreboard. A man in the front row with his 6-year-old son reached for the ball, leaned a little bit too much over the railing and fell headfirst behind the left-field wall — as the entire crowd, myself included, gasped.

“Anybody hear if he’s OK?” I posted on my Facebook page, hoping a friend watching the game on television or listening to it on the radio might have information on the fan’s condition.

Play resumed almost immediately, even as ambulance sirens could be heard outside the stadium, but no announcement was made concerning the elephant in the ballpark. Later reports indicated that the fan was conscious and asking about his son as first responders tended to him, but he died on the way to the hospital. Players and fans learned of Shannon Stone’s death only after the game ended.

That night, the image of the father trying to grab the ball for his son constantly replaying in my mind, I tossed and turned until I finally dozed off about 3 a.m. Obviously, that’s the big story here — that of a young boy left without a dad and a wife forced to move forward without her husband. But a secondary story — an important one — is that of Hamilton, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, and how he will handle his unfortunate role in this tragedy.

Anyone familiar with Hamilton and his demons knows that his Christian faith is a big deal in his life. Tmatt noted in his Sudan post just yesterday that “one of the mantras of GetReligion is that it is impossible to understand how the world really works without taking religion seriously.” Well, in Hamilton’s case, it’s impossible to understand how he works without taking his religion seriously.

Evan Grant, The Dallas Morning News’ Rangers beat writer and the main reason I pay $9.99 a month to subscribe to that newspaper’s online edition, nailed that detail in — of all things — a tweet just a few hours after the fan’s death:

There is a lot of concern out there about Josh Hamilton. I believe his faith will truly be an asset for him in dealing with this test.

But did that key angle make it into actual news stories after Hamilton talked to reporters on Friday?

Kind of.

From a GetReligion perspective, here’s the money quote that Hamilton gave to reporters who asked if he’d reached out to the victim’s family:

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. … All I can think about is praying for them and knowing that God has a plan. You don’t always know what that plan is when those things happen, but you will.”

That quote made it into a few stories, including one by The New York Times. The Associated Press did not include that quote but reported that Hamilton said he was relying on his Christian faith. A Dallas Morning News piece on Hamilton’s road to recovery by baseball writer Gerry Fraley ignored the faith angle except to say, near the end, that “Hamilton will keep the Stone family in his prayers.” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted Hamilton as saying he “can’t stop praying for them,” but that’s as deep as the religion angle went.

Actually, the best religion details were contained not in a mainstream media report but in the MLB.com story by Rangers writer T.R. Sullivan. Sullivan not only included the full quote on “God has a plan” but reported that the Rangers “held a team prayer meeting” before Friday night’s game. And he even included revealing details from manager Ron Washington, not necessarily known for wearing his religion on his sleeve:

Washington said he still expects his team to be ready to play the Athletics, and it took a four-game winning streak into Friday night’s game.

“I expect us to continue to play baseball the way we have been playing,” Washington said. “We all feel badly over what happened, but nobody has canceled this game. We’ve got to play. We’re not going to use what happened yesterday as an excuse for not playing baseball.

“You get on your knees, say your prayers and live with a power higher than you. We all as individuals do what we can do and move on. You don’t forget, but you move on.”

In a perfect world, reporters would ask Hamilton to elaborate on what he means when he suggests that “God has a plan” in a situation such as this. Might even be a story there.

Creating a ghost-shaped news hole

I thought that I should write about the Texas Rangers winning the American League pennant, since fanboy Bobby Ross, Jr., is probably still sleeping off a serious Ginger Ale hangover.

Now, if you don’t get the Ginger Ale reference then you haven’t been paying attention to slugger Josh Hamilton and to one of the biggest and most dramatic personal stories in the recent history of professional sports.

That’s OK, I understand that.

This is why, when covering major events, journalists are supposed to add just a dash of background material to make sure that the average reader can understand what is going on. Hamilton’s roller-coaster ride with Satan and then with his Savior has been told, and told well, more than once. That’s not the point. The issue is how to deal with the faith element of his story in a few clear, accurate words, so that average readers can understand the drama of what is currently happening with the Rangers.

Here’s an example from the Washington Post that will show you how to do it — not.

At 10:09 p.m. Central time, when Alex Rodriguez watched Neftali Feliz’s curveball for strike three, the Rangers streamed from the dugout and pig-piled by the mound as red, white and blue confetti fell and Pat Green’s “I Like Texas” blared. They sprayed ginger ale on one another and celebrated both the greatest moment in their history and a fitting ALCS finale. They thrashed the defending champs all week, and Friday night was no different.

There’s plenty of background, as there should be, on the story of how the luckless Washington Senators became the Rangers of today, under the leadership of Nolan Ryan, he of the legendary rocket arm and Texas-sized toughness. Later on we read:

As Ryan, now the team president, watched from behind home plate, all that changed this fall. They have managed to pair the best outfielder (Josh Hamilton) and the best left-handed pitcher (Cliff Lee) on the planet. They have a bedrock third baseman (Michael Young), an electric young shortstop (Elvis Andrus) and an underrated force in left field (Cruz).

When it ended, Hamilton stood on a podium and accepted the series MVP award. Not long ago, his life and career was nearly derailed by a consuming drug addiction. He was, in his words, “a man with no soul.” That he will now play in the World Series had not yet sunk in Friday night.

“All throughout the game, I was tearing up,” Hamilton said. ” ‘Is this going to be it tonight?’ Thinking about where I was and everything I went through.”

OK, so there you have it — ginger ale and a superstar who has been through rough times, or something like that. Obviously, the assumption is that readers already know this story or that they don’t and it isn’t worth giving them another phrase or sentence to clear things up.

Over at ESPN, the ginger ale was in the Hamilton lede and, later on, there was just a hint of context.

ARLINGTON, Texas – It’s a good thing Josh Hamilton likes ginger ale.

The Texas Rangers slugger got yet another shower of the non-alcoholic bubbly after the Rangers’ 6-1 win over the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series clinched the franchise’s first World Series berth.

Then later:

Hamilton, who has battled alcohol and drug addiction, doesn’t want to be around the smell of champagne. So before his teammates popped corks on the traditional celebration beverage of choice, they sprayed themselves — and Hamilton, of course — with ginger ale. …

When the Rangers won the AL West in Oakland, Hamilton did not take part in the clubhouse celebration. He hugged his teammates on the field and then showered and changed clothes to keep an appointment to speak to church groups in the stadium as part of Faith Day. His teammates tried to douse him with water bottles, but by the time they found him, he was already dressed and ready.

In Tampa Bay, his teammates made sure he couldn’t get away. They planned in advance the ginger ale celebration, ordering large plastic bottles of the drink along with the champagne. It was the same thing on Friday.

OK, that is subtle and gives a few hints at the larger Hamilton story. I realize that there is rarely room to baptize readers in all of the religion details in a story written on deadline, late after a playoff game. However, we are talking about the series MVP. He gets a sidebar.

For example, back at the Washington Post, the following Associated Press story ran online.

What I want to know is if this ran in the dead-tree-pulp edition. I won’t know that until I reach my office on Monday (since I do not live in a rich neighborhood on the south side of greater Baltimore, the kind of zip code in which one can subscribe to the Post). Hey readers in DC Beltway land! Care to check on that for me?

This MVP story by the AP’s Jaime Aron is direct and to the point:

ARLINGTON, Texas – Josh Hamilton fought off the tears, just in case the last out came his way.

Then Alex Rodriguez struck out and there was no holding back. His 11-year odyssey from teenage, No. 1 overall pick to drug addict to clean, sober superstar had finally reached the point every little boy dreams about: He’s going to the World Series. …

“All throughout the game I was tearing up — is this going to be it tonight? — and thinking about where I was, and everything I went through, and how God was just faithful and to bring me out of it,” Hamilton said.

A team player and a devout Christian, Hamilton was more interested in sharing the success than taking any individual glory. “I’m so excited for this team, for this city,” he said. “To be part of something like that means the world. It’s something that nobody can take away from you.”

You see, if you are going to use that kind of language — the “everything I went through” stuff — readers have to know something about what that means or they feel left out. I mean, no one needs the whole story again, complete with Billy Graham-esque altar call at the end. This is sports journalism, not evangelism.

But readers need the basics, with enough background to be able to understand the words they are reading in one of the nation’s top newspapers. Right? I mean, there’s no need to avoid the religious details or to be afraid of them. Right?

Baseball demons, angels and Jesus

Texas Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton acknowledges the fans after it was announced he had won the American League Batting Title for the highest batting average, in the eighth inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Arlington, Texas October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

When my beloved Texas Rangers clinched the American League West championship on Sept. 25, Josh Hamilton steered clear of the champagne-and-cigar celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse in Oakland, Calif.

The difference in how various media outlets covered the absence of Hamilton, a leading AL Most Valuable Player candidate, was interesting.

ESPN Dallas seemed to go out of its way to avoid any mention of Jesus Christ or Hamilton’s Christian faith:

Hamilton, whose baseball career was derailed for several years by drug and alcohol abuse, felt it was smarter for him to avoid the champagne and beer showers in the Rangers clubhouse. So he stayed in the trainer’s room, showered and kept his commitment to speak to a large fan gathering in the stadium as part of Faith Day in Oakland.

He was able to hug teammates and celebrate with them on the field right after the final out of a 4-3 Rangers victory. A large group of his teammates got the idea to dump water on him instead of champagne as part of the celebration, but Hamilton was already dressed and headed out to his speaking engagement when they located him.

Later, there’s this:

Hamilton’s troubled past is well documented. He was a can’t-miss prospect when Tampa Bay made him the No. 1 overall pick out of high school in the 1999 draft. But drug and alcohol abuse sidetracked his career, and he was out of baseball by 2003.

He credits his religious faith for helping him overcome his addictions, and he finally made it to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. He was traded to the Rangers in 2008 and has developed into one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.

So … Faith Day. Religious faith. At this point, I’m surprised the story went ahead and called him a Texas Ranger rather than a generic major-league baseball player.

Contrast that with the Associated Press story about Hamilton skipping the clubhouse party:

He had to convince a few teammates to not pour bottles of water on him, explaining he had other postgame activities in mind. It was church day in Oakland and Hamilton planned to join some of the Athletics in sharing stories of their faith with fans.

“So it would be kind of hypocritical of me to come in here and douse myself with alcohol and smoke cigars and then go out there and talk about Jesus,” Hamilton said.

So … Church Day. Jesus. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

My wife, children and I got to see Hamilton up close at Rangers’ spring training in Surprise, Ariz., in 2009. We were with a college group on a spring break mission trip to the Phoenix area. A friendly Hamilton posed for pictures with my children and visited with the Christian university students in our group. When one of the students asked Hamilton about his faith, he smiled and pulled a devotional guide out of his uniform sock. I was surprised and impressed.

But several months later, I was disappointed when news surfaced of Hamilton relapsing that previous winter. Photos were published involving the drunken slugger, whipped cream and women who were not his wife. Mollie posted last year on the media coverage of that incident.

This past Sunday, The Dallas Morning News recalled that incident in a remarkable Page 1 story about Hamilton and the role of his Christian faith in helping him overcome his addictions and sins:

On the chilly morning of Jan. 22, 2009, when everything else in her life seemed to be working out perfectly, Katie Hamilton received a phone call at her home outside Raleigh, N.C.

It was her husband, Josh, calling from Tempe, Ariz., where he had gone to a boot camp for athletes. Hamilton had become famous the year before for leading the American League in runs batted in and making the All-Star team in his first full season as a major leaguer.

And now he was calling his wife to tell her, through choking sobs, that after three years of sobriety, he had relapsed. He had gone out late the previous evening, alone, to a pizza restaurant, which happened to have a bar. He had a vodka and cranberry juice, then another, then went to a bar and had many more. He told her he didn’t remember everything that happened, but that there might be “pictures.” Katie told him to come home, and then she prayed.

The 1,900-word story goes into great detail to explain the role of pastors and “accountability partners” in Hamilton’s life … to describe how he sees nearly everything he does outside of baseball as a ministry … and to point out the specific steps he has taken to avoid the demons that allowed him to burn through a $4 million signing bonus in four years, including spending $100,000 in drugs in six weeks.

The writer, S.C. Gwynne, lets the story unfold naturally, mostly through the perspective of Hamilton and his wife, although others, such as Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, are quoted. Readers can determine for themselves the sincerity of Hamilton’s faith. (I must acknowledge that if I were the editor, I would have added a he says to facts such as this: he has been clean since that night in Tempe.)

But to his credit, Gwynne reports the story without condescension. Now, that should be a given in a mainstream news account. As GetReligion readers know all too well, though, that is not always the case in such reports.

If Gwynne’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a veteran Texas journalist who reported stories with Godbeat legend Richard Ostling at Time magazine and drew GetReligion praise from Tmatt for his Texas Monthly piece on Fort Worth Episcopal — er, Anglican — Bishop Jack Iker.

Gwynne’s professionalism and experience shine through in his Hamilton story.

By the way, the Rangers’ opening playoff game against the Tampa Bay Rays starts at 12:37 p.m. my time. I’ve already filled out the proper medical excuse form to take off from work.

Prayers in the outfield (updated)

Screams and frightened gasps interrupted Tuesday’s night’s Texas Rangers-Cleveland Indians game when a fan fell 30 feet from the second deck while trying to catch a foul pop.

“Whoa! A fan tumbled out, and I pray that he’s OK,” Rangers play-by-play announcer Josh Lewin said on the Fox Sports Southwest broadcast that I was watching. “Oh my.”

Lewin wasn’t the only one who prayed.

The TV screen showed Indians outfielder Trevor Crowe kneeling face down with his head in his hands.

“What’s he doing?” my 13-year-old son asked, unsure if he was seeing what he thought he was.

“He’s praying,” I confirmed. As emergency personnel at Rangers Ballpark rushed to the fan’s aid, Cleveland shortstop Jason Donald also appeared to be praying.

I have watched a few thousand — OK, a few million — major-league baseball games in my lifetime. Never before that I recall have I seen major-league ballplayers bow on the field in spontaneous prayer. I was curious to see if news reports would pick up on that image. I was pleased to see that some did.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted Donald up high in its game story:

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Indians were on the way to loss No. 50 Tuesday night when a man fell out of the stands at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in the fifth inning.

“I didn’t see it,” said shortstop Jason Donald, after the Indians’ 12-1 loss to Texas, “but I heard it. I heard the body hit and I heard the crowd reaction. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened.”

Donald immediately squatted down in the outfield grass and started praying.

“I was praying that he wouldn’t die,” Donald said.

Now, I’d love to know more. I’d love to know Donald’s faith background. I’d love to know if he prays often or if his appeal for God’s help was an unusual thing for him. But that’s probably asking too much from a deadline game story.

Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News is one of my favorite baseball writers. Devoted Rangers fan that I am, I read Grant’s stories, um, religiously.

Unfortunately, his story did not mention the players praying. Now, that could be because they were Indians, and his beat is the Rangers. But I would suspect that Rangers such as Josh Hamilton, who has made no secret of his evangelical Christian faith, might have been praying, too. I wish Grant had included that angle.

Like the Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon Journal noticed — and noted — the reactions by Crowe and Donald:

After the incident, Trevor Crowe in left and Jason Donald at shortstop went down on one knee, obviously feeling emotions coursing through them.

”It was crazy,” Crowe said. ”I looked up and saw him coming down. He tried to catch himself [on the suite railing], but he kept coming down. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.

”I just started praying for the guy. There was nothing to break his fall. I thought he might have killed himself. It affected everybody emotionally, but that’s not the reason we lost the game.”

The game was interrupted for 16 minutes, and just before it restarted, players were told the man was conscious and moving.

”I didn’t see it happen because my head was turned, but I heard it,” Donald said. ”I heard the crowd, I heard the body hit the seats. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Thank God I didn’t see it. That would have done damage to me.”

Donald retreated to the clubhouse for a couple of minutes to compose himself.

”I was down on one knee, because I was praying for the guy and the people he landed on,” he said. ”It kind of puts in perspective that we’re playing a game. You take your family to a game, and you never think something like this could happen. It’s terrifying.”

Kudos to the Beacon Journal for letting the players describe, in their own words, what they were thinking and feeling. The description of Crowe going down on one knee is not totally accurate, however, as he clearly was down on both knees. A YouTube video (since removed from the Internet by Major League Baseball) confirmed my recollection.

It sounds like the man who fell — and four people slightly injured when he landed on them — will be OK. But players and fans had no way of knowing that at the time.

That made the prayers in the outfield all the more dramatic. And worthy of news coverage.

Photo: That’s my niece and nephew at Monday night’s game. Thankfully, we were not there in person to witness the fan’s fall Tuesday night.

UPDATE: The original video I posted was removed from the Internet by MLB, so I have replaced it with an ESPN Dallas video in which the reporter describes the two Indians players praying.

Major league demons

hamiltonbookYou might remember the unbelievable story of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. He’s the guy who had the unbelievable performance at last year’s Home Run Derby. It wasn’t just that he had a first-round record — crushing 28 home runs in the first round and at one point hitting 13 home runs in 13 swings. But what was particularly noteworthy about the whole thing is that he’s a recovering addict. And what puts this into GetReligion territory is his incessant discussion of his faith and how God saved him from a rather miserable life.

So cut to a couple of weeks ago when Deadspins’ A.J. Daulerio rather snarkily highlighted some pictures of Hamilton falling off the wagon:

Josh Hamilton claims he’s been sober since October 2005. Since then he’s rejuvenated his career, saved his marriage, devoted himself to Jesus, and become America’s flawed, homer-derby hero. Last winter, while he was alone in Tempe, Arizona, Hambone kinda slipped.

But that’s where the story gets interesting. I wanted to highlight two mainstream pieces that handled the situation well. Here’s ESPN on the day the news broke:

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton acknowledged a January bar incident Saturday in which he became drunk and was photographed with several women, not including his wife, in lurid poses in Tempe, Ariz.

“I’m embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I’m embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids,” Hamilton said in Anaheim, Calif., before the Rangers played the Los Angeles Angels. “It’s one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol.

“Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I’m out there getting ready for a season and taking my focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it’s amazing how those things creep back in.”

I like how it’s a just-the-facts lede followed by some powerful quotes. The piece continues with important information about how the organization is handling the incident interspersed with quotes from Hamilton. One important piece of information is that the folks closest to Hamilton weren’t surprised by the news. That’s because he told his wife, his team and MLB higher-ups the next day. Here’s an interesting quote from near the end of the article:

“I don’t feel like I’m a hypocrite. I feel like I’m human,” he said Saturday. “I got away from the one thing that keeps me straightened out and going in the right direction.”

I also liked this piece from Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News. Hodges advances the story by asking the leaders of an evangelical ad campaign called “I Am Second” if Hamilton will still be featured in the campaign. He will. Hodges gets some good quotes from the leaders of the campaign and Hamilton:

Leaders of I Am Second were impressed by how he owned up, and made a “pretty easy” decision to stick with him, said Nathan Sheets.

“We had him in the lineup before. We’re not going to take him down,” said Sheets, vice president of Plano-based e3 Partners Ministry, the group behind the campaign. “This isn’t about a bunch of perfect people.”

Hamilton said through a team spokesman that he’s not surprised that I Am Second leaders are standing by him.

“As a Christian, other Christians realize you are still going to make mistakes,” Hamilton said. “But as a Christian, you learn from and get encouragement from other believers. They don’t give up on you.”

I’ve sort of had a revelation this week — and yes, I know it’s really obvious to most readers of this site — that the mainstream media doesn’t really get the Christian doctrines of sin and forgiveness. I knew that some people sort of caricatured Christians as people who think they’re perfect, but I didn’t realize how little is understood about what the church generally teaches about sin and forgiveness. Anyway, these were some good examples of stories that let sources discuss how these doctrines play out in real life.

Discerning the call

600px Soccer ball svgA few days ago, Daniel wrote a post about media coverage of Josh Hamilton — the Texas Ranger who speaks openly and frequently about his faith. Some of the comments to that post wondered why we look at the intersection of sports and religion at all. An interesting discussion ensued.

But I came across a fantastic sports and religion story that definitely deserves a look. The Associated Press wrote about professional soccer player Chase Hilgenbrinck who left the New England Revolution this week to enter a seminary:

“I felt called to something greater,” Hilgenbrinck said. “At one time I thought that call might be professional soccer. In the past few years, I found my soul is hungry for something else.

“I discerned, through prayer, that it was calling me to the Catholic Church. I do not want this call to pass me by.”

Hilgenbrinck accepted the calling on Monday when he left the New England Revolution and retired from professional soccer to enter a seminary, where he will spend the next six years studying theology and philosophy so he can be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.

“It’s not that I’m ready to leave soccer. I still have a great passion for the game,” he said in a telephone interview. “I wouldn’t leave the game for just any other job. I’m moving on for the Lord. I want to do the will of the Lord, I want to do what he wants for me, not what I want to do for myself.”

It’s so weird to read a story where the reporter just permits the source to explain himself. This story could have been spun into a cheesy, sensational tale. Instead the reporter tells us the genuinely compelling story of a 26-year-old who will attend Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. The ESPN reporter spoke with team representatives about how they feel:

“He said it was time for him, that he had been thinking long and hard,” New England vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said. “Purely from a Revs standpoint, it’s too bad. But a lot of players leave the game not on their own terms. He’s clearly left on his own terms, which is great for him.”

The reporter explains the process of discernment that Hilgenbrinck went through, getting some great quotes. He also explores why the soccer player didn’t just wait to enter seminary until after his soccer career:

With a short window in which he will be able to play professional sports, he considered postponing the priesthood until after his career was over. But he decided with the same certainty that he could not allow himself to wait.

“Trust me, I thought of that,” said Hilgenbrinck, who in his studies came across the saying, “Delayed obedience is disobedience.”

The entire article, though brief, is chock-full of great quotes. I’m glad the reporter asked the right questions to get those quotes and then just put them nicely in the story. He also explains helpful details about the rigorous application process for seminary.

The article is thoughtful, informative and interesting — traits that are unfortunately rare. I also love that it looks at religion in a non-political context. More, please!

A ‘lousy night’ for atheists?

josh hamiltonWhen Josh Hamilton talks about the impact of “God’s grace” on his life, reporters and commentators cannot ignore it. Back in January, there was a flurry of coverage of the Major League Baseball slugger’s amazing life turnaround, much of which focused on the role of faith. Those watching the ESPN broadcast of Hamilton’s ridiculously amazing performance in last night’s All-Star Home Run Derby would have had trouble missing the fact that God played a rather significant role in the mere fact that Hamilton is still swinging a bat today.

Many Internet boards and blogs are buzzing over a broadcaster’s statement that it was “a lousy night to be an atheist.” I do not know how this statement makes any logical or theological sense, particularly since Hamilton failed to win the contest. I am sure the atheists, who had every right to enjoy Hamilton’s athletic performance, are not too pleased with the comment either. Are all atheists presumed to be incapable of finding enjoyment in hearing about the role religion played in turning a person’s life around?

At best, the comment was a rhetorical device for an ESPN broadcaster who seemed at a loss for words to describe both Hamilton’s performance and his remarkable life turnaround.

Aside from the comment about atheists, ESPN included some of Hamilton’s own personal testimony from previously recorded interviews, and the broadcasters made a series of references to the role faith played in turning his life around. The broadcast has left an array of impressions regarding ESPN’s handling of Hamilton’s faith. From what I saw (unfortunately only Hamilton’s first round set of homers), most of the comments touched lightly, but frequently, on the role Hamilton’s faith played in his life. Others saw it differently:

[I]t is painfully obvious that ESPN does not get religion, either in print or on the air. During the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game, Josh Hamilton mentioned God, his faith in God, how God had made a difference in his life, etc. every time someone from ESPN put a microphone in his face. ESPN consistently, and deliberately, changed the subject.

At times, it was almost comical. One commentator quoted a Hamilton teammate as saying that Hamilton is an “evangelist” and then tried to explain the term without any reference to Hamilton’s faith. Another commentator said that Hamilton makes sure that he has a “buddy” when he goes out in public to avoid succumbing to temptations. I guess that “buddy” is the religion-neutral term for “accountability partner.”

ESPN needs to employ one person who gets religion. Desperately.

If you saw the derby Monday night, particularly the later rounds, feel free to leave us with your impressions of how the broadcast handled the subject of Hamilton’s faith.

The ESPN broadcast aside, the print media and the Internet have also been covering Hamilton’s story of faith in the aftermath of his impressive display of athletic prowess. Here is an article titled “Josh Hamilton: A Story of Faith” from the Bleacher Report, an open source sports news network:

When confronted about his former drug addiction, Hamilton simply says, “It’s a God thing.” Hamilton is not shy about his story, he talks to groups and fans at different functions about how Christianity has brought his life from drugs to what it is now.

The song that plays when Hamilton steps to the plate in Texas is, “Saved The Day” by the Christian group, Phillips, Craig & Dean.

One way or another, the news account by The Associated Press managed to neglect any significant mention of Hamilton’s faith other than his quote that he feels “blessed” to be playing baseball again and that his recovery story was an “incredible tale of redemption” that made national news this year. Why would a straightforward news account avoid using words that more directly describe the faith-aspect of Hamilton’s story?

The Baltimore Sun was more direct about Hamilton’s faith-based recovery story:

New York — Despite losing in last night’s Home Run Derby final, the legend of Josh Hamilton keeps growing.

The Texas Rangers’ 27-year-old outfielder is not only a budding superstar who leads the majors with 95 RBIs.

He’s not just a born-again Christian and recovering addict who publicly speaks about overcoming his demons.

And he’s more than a Home Run Derby record holder.

He’s also a soothsayer.

The Sun‘s coverage is an example of how a journalist can appropriately mention the significance of faith in a rather short story. By using direct language, the 10-paragraph news story conveys Hamilton’s story of faith rather accurately.

There is an appropriate time and place to cover an individual’s faith in an in-depth format. While the morning-after story is rarely the place for this type of coverage of any subject beyond the box score, an appropriate choice of words (“born-again Christian” and “demons”) can convey a significant amount of information and meaning in a short amount of space.

Photo of Josh Hamilton used under a Wikimedia Commons license.


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