Praise be to Soros for investing millions in Baltimore

So, does the cultural left have a leader who might play the role that the Rev. Pat Robertson plays for the mainstream press when it is covering life on the religious right? I mean, is there a person on the religious or anti-religious left whose views are so predictable and, often, so predictably extreme that one can always count on him for that symbolic action or quote that you need to stereotype all of the other people on that side of the cultural aisle?

I mean, other than Madonna or Bill Maher?

At the level of real-life power, I think it would be hard to find a better nominee than mega-billionaire George Soros, the financial titan whose presence looms behind so many important institutions and projects on the cultural and religious left. Yes, I realize that Soros can be found on many lists of prominent celebrity atheists. However, the big tent on the cultural and religious left includes a wide array of people along the spectrum from proud atheism to progressive forms of religious faith. So there is room for this man and his wallet.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that there is a huge flaw in comparing Soros with Robertson, when it comes to the role of providing journalists with easy headlines and soundbites (I mean, other than the fact that Robertson is nowhere near as rich). Robertson talks all the time. Soros does not.

Still, both mean are oh so predictable in their motivations and actions.

Thus, I was interested when the newspaper that lands in my front yard featured a long A1 story built on an actual interview with Soros, focusing on the 15th anniversary of the creation of his Open Society Institute in Baltimore. Is there a GetReligion ghost in the story?

Well, the word “atheist” does not appear in the text, which I think is rather strange. Why is that? To be frank, the elements of the Open Society Institute’s work that are covered by The Baltimore Sun strike me as being, well, so similar to the kinds of social-ministry projects that are taken on by religious groups. In a way, what we have here is a kind of a secular alternative to the work of the major Catholic and Jewish groups that are so powerful here in Charm City.

Like what? Here is a key chunk of the story, right after the description of one outreach program to young internationals:

The lives of these Baltimore teens are among the thousands influenced by George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist who decided 15 years ago that the city, with severe crime and poverty and just enough potential, was ripe for an experiment.

The Baltimore office of his Open Society Institute was designed as a social justice laboratory to keep students engaged in school, confront drug addiction, reduce incarceration and grow an army of advocates. Now, the 83-year-old hedge fund investor — who has given $90 million to the effort here — wants to recreate it in as many as five more U.S. cities.

“A lot remains to be done, but we now consider the Baltimore experiment so successful that we wanted to replicate it nationwide,” Soros said in a phone interview from his native Budapest, Hungary.

Soros, who lives outside New York City, said his organization, Open Society Foundations, has given planning grants to eight communities to compete for future offices. Meanwhile, he pledged his continued support in Baltimore, saying the advancements the institute has helped promote in student attendance, discipline and performance are the return on investment he wanted. “Baltimore is our poster child, the city that has done the most,” he said. “From my perspective, that is the one I cherish the most.”

Now, what we have here are projects linked to ethics and moral choices — topics that journalists must not, repeat must NOT, assume are inherently religious in nature. What I think is missing here — in light of Soros’ beliefs as an atheist — is a story that truly explores precisely why he wants to get involved in this kind of, to be blunt, urban ministry.

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Another haunted story about Ravens locker room faith

At this point, fans who pay close attention to the Baltimore Ravens are contemplating a deep moral and religious question. No, I am not referring to the sins being committed on a weekly basis by the offensive linemen who are allegedly blocking for quarterback Joe Flacco.

No, the bigger question is this: Who dominates the locker room, the party players associated with the recent “party bus” incident, with that strong supporting role played by a stripper named Sweet Pea, or the inner core of religious believers who are clearly being pulled into the organization or retained as leaders by head coach John “give me some mighty men” Harbaugh?

As the defending Super Bowl champions attempt to get their act together on the field, it’s clear that there are questions that need to be answered in the locker room.

Do the reporters and editors of The Baltimore Sun see what is going on?

I honestly do not know. I do know that, in story after story, the folks that operate the newspaper that lands in my front yard demonstrate that they are tone deaf when it comes to writing about the lives of the many religious believers who are playing key roles in the Ravens locker room. Tone deaf? What other explanation is there for this trend in which the religious role in players’ personal lives is either ignored or downplayed in story after story? Want to see a few examples, just from the past 12 months? Then click here, here, here, here and here.

The latest story in this haunted series focuses on safety James Ihedigbo, who — against strong odds — has emerged as a leader on the Ravens defense. It’s important to know that his family is from Nigeria.

Thus, this crucial transition in the story:

After bouncing around the NFL for a couple of years and surviving another training camp competition, Ihedigbo is thriving as a starter for the Ravens. The 29-year-old is providing sound coverage, reliable tackling and leadership for a younger group of defensive backs that lost a pair of veteran mentors in Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard this past offseason.

“James has been kind of the glue back there,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Fighting to keep a dream alive is nothing new for him or for the Ihedigbo family. Decades before, Ihedigbo learned about perseverance and the power of faith from his parents.

The Ihedigbos, Apollos and Rose, left Nigeria and came to the United States in 1979, settling in Amherst, Mass. Two of their five children were born there, including their youngest son, James.

OK, there’s the faith word. Now what’s the story, in terms of the journalistic facts?

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Tom Clancy: That Baltimore Catholic and his generic beliefs

As I have mentioned many times, Baltimore culture is both historically Catholic and very liberal and the state of Maryland is used to having political leaders who are openly Catholic, yet clash frequently with the church hierarchy on issues of moral theology. Meanwhile, the newspaper that lands in my front yard just off the south edge of the Baltimore Beltway is, if anything, to the political and cultural left of the Maryland mainstream.

Thus, it is safe to say that The Baltimore Sun is not the place readers will want to look today if they are seeking insights into the moral (some kind of pro-life Catholic) and political (solidly Republican) beliefs of the late Tom Clancy, the Baltimore native who died Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 66.

For years, I have listened to liberal and conservative Catholics argue about the degree to which Clancy’s novels — which certainly contained a worldview far from the Hollywood norm — reflected moral absolutes that were or were not rooted in his Catholic heritage and education. Are we talking “just war theory” or “just war, baby”? And what were readers to make of that Catholic super hero Jack Ryan and his remarks about Roe v. Wade?

OK, I was idealistic this morning. I thought that the long A1 obituary in the Sun would at least address whether Clancy was or was not an active Catholic. Yes, he was a very private man and there was the matter of his divorce and remarriage. However, there were plenty of churches close to his luxury condo near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

This is all readers learned on the religion and worldview front:

Thomas Leo Clancy Jr., the son of a mail carrier and an eye surgeon and insurance agency manager, grew up in Baltimore’s middle-class Northwood neighborhood. “I was a little nerdy but a completely normal kid. Mom and Dad loved each other. It was like ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” he told The Sun in 1992.

His education was Roman Catholic, beginning with St. Matthew’s grade school. He went on to Loyola High in Towson, an all-boys school with an all-male faculty and a rigorous Jesuit curriculum. Students took four years of Latin, wore jackets and ties, and began each class with a prayer.

“He was kind of his own man. He was quiet and toward the shy side,” Father Thomas McDonnell, a former Loyola faculty member who taught Mr. Clancy religion, Latin and history in his sophomore year, recalled in an interview with The Sun some years ago.

He described Mr. Clancy as a straight-A student from the standout class of 1965, but unremarkable as a leader or athlete. …

While some of Mr. Clancy’s classmates went on to spend the late 1960s on campuses rife with antiwar activism, he moved to Loyola University Maryland, where the ruling Jesuits had little tolerance for demonstrations.

OK, but what if Clancy’s moral/religious worldview was reflected in some way in all of those bestselling novels? What if the content of the books actually had something to do with his fan base and his popularity?

This is the rare case in which Charm City’s newspaper didn’t even pursue the political side of this matter.

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Baltimore Sun looks at art and religion, but not really

From the beginning of this weblog, your GetReligionistas have urged mainstream newsrooms to do a better job of covering liberal religious believers — as RELIGIOUS believers.

Far too often, believers in liberal institutions are covered as if there is nothing to their lives and beliefs but politics.

The same thing tends to happen to African-American churches, even if — doctrinally speaking — these churches are quite conservative. Far too often, it seems that journalists simply assume that these believers are basing their lives on political and cultural motivations, period.

Well, the newspaper that lands in my front yard just served up a story that I kept thinking was going to avoid this syndrome. Why? Because this story focused on a Baltimore project that focused on cooperation linked to religion and art, as opposed to being exclusively about religion and politics.

Trust me, I know that the high arts have become just as politicized in our culture as the popular arts. In fact, because of their connections to government funding and academia, the high arts are even more politicized.

However, this Baltimore Sun story still had the potential to ask some spiritual questions linked to progressive religious institutions and an arts institution, with the added benefit of the involvement of some more traditional African-American churches. Here is the overture:

The old arched red wooden door to the Seventh Metro Church is less that two blocks from the modern glass-and-steel panel that floats in front of the Maryland Institute College of Art’s newest exhibition space. They bring to mind two different eras and seem designed to be used by two dissimilar groups of people: spiky-haired artists and church ladies wearing fancy hats.

But when a white art student in her 20s met a middle-aged African-American pastor, they discovered that both doors opened into sacred spaces where people look for answers to the same big questions.

Caitlin Tucker and Ryan Preston Palmer became acquainted through an innovative program that brings together two of the seminal institutions that have helped transform the Station North neighborhood — the Maryland Institute College of Art and a group of local churches.

“This program has been a catalyst for bringing together the whole neighborhood,” Palmer says. He admits that until recently, he had never set foot in MICA, though he himself is an artist. For her part, neither Tucker nor Bashi Rose, an artist assigned to the Seventh Metro project, had previously crossed the church threshold.

First, let me make a picky comment about Associated Press style. Why does the Sun continue its strange practice, when dealing with the black church, of ignoring AP style for the titles of ministers? In this case, we are talking about “the Rev. Ryan Preston Palmer,” on first reference. Yes, the story calls him a pastor in the previous sentence — but that does not cancel out the guidelines of AP style. I do not think I have ever seen the Sun them ignore this rule with a white clergy person.

Moving on. It’s clear, from the list of participating churches, that this project combines the work of modern artists with the culture of liberal white churches and the style and folk art of more traditional black churches. Here’s the participants list, in urban Station North: Seventh Metro Church, St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the New Second Missionary Baptist Church, St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church and the Spiritual Empowerment Center.

Tucker states the thesis of the story:

“There’s sometimes an assumption that there’s a divide between artists and communities of faith,” Tucker says. “Not a lot of members of our class identify as religious. The students at MICA who practice a faith have said in campus surveys that they feel discriminated against. But historically, there’s a strong connection between art and religion.”

Now, that is a promising statement, one that I truly hoped would be fleshed out in this story.

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Sun does it again: Ghost in the Ngata and Suggs friendship

Are you ready for some football!

GetReligion readers: What?!?

So, the National Football League season starts tonight with the world-champion Baltimore Ravens returning (due to a baseball schedule issue here in Charm City) to Denver to play the other beloved team of my heart, the Broncos.

As you would expect, this means that the team at The Baltimore Sun needed to churn out another lengthy news feature in which an obvious religion angle (a “ghost” in other words) was buried if not ignored altogether. This appears to be a Sun specialty.

In this case, the story focuses on the unlikely friendship between two radically different Pro Bowl-level members of the Ravens defense, massive nose tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs.

The key is that Ngata is the straightest of straight arrows and Suggs has lived a rather colorful personal history, to understate the issue. Thus this key passage:

Of Tongan descent, Ngata’s activity of choice is a quiet night with his wife, Christina, and their two young boys. He lets loose on occasion with his teammates, but he never appears comfortable or content in front of reporters.

Meanwhile, Suggs — or “Sizzle,” as his teammates call him — is a movie and music buff who doesn’t shy away from the nightlife. While Ngata “just likes to be quiet,” Suggs’ voice reverberates everywhere. Yet the two are inseparable, especially, Ngata says, at the team facility, where “I can’t go by myself to do anything or he can’t, and if one of us does, we get on each other pretty bad.”

“If I told my wife I was with Haloti, she wouldn’t worry about a thing,” Suggs said. “She’d say, ‘All right, you guys have fun.’ He’s a real good person to be around, especially if you want to stay out of trouble. The man doesn’t even curse. Haloti is a big teddy bear, and everybody knows he’s an amazing family man. But when Haloti is in pads and he has a helmet on, there’s no more gentle giant. He’s ferocious.”

Hint, hint. And later on readers learn more about this dynamic:

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Cutting ‘the Rev.’ out of a key Ravens executive’s work

If you number yourself among the millions and millions of Americans who follow the National Football League, then you know that this coming week is one of the most interesting, important and traumatic times of the year. It’s the time when “The Turk” walks the hallways at NFL camps, delivering the horrible news to players that they have been cut from the final rosters that teams take into the new season.

For many players, it represents the quick end of a dream or, at the very least, a severe setback. For journeyman players, it can mean the end a career or, at best, a time of radical life changes that can involve quick moves to a new location for their families or separation from loved ones they leave temporarily leave behind, because there’s no time to sell homes, change schools, etc.

What can NFL teams do to help men deal with all of this trauma? Or how about the flip side: What can be done to help young men handle the fact that they are now millionaires, with all of the attention and temptations that come with that amazing life change?

At the center of that maelstrom is a professional who is usually referred to as the “director of player development,” a job that is only growing in importance in the days when everything NFL players do in public or in private is subject to mass-media and social-media dissection to an unprecedented degree.

The Baltimore Sun recently ran a massive profile of Harry Swayne, the former NFL great who fills that role for the world-champion Ravens. The article argues that Swayne — simply stated — is a nationally known superstar in this crucial role, with a four-tiered player development program that is a model for others. Here’s some key background material:

Swayne is 48 years old and 55 pounds lighter than he was during a playing career that included a stint at starting right tackle on the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV team. These days, he is in his fourth year as the Ravens’ director of player development, a role that calls for Swayne to build relationships not only with players, coaches, team executives and their families, but also with corporate sponsors and business and community leaders.

It’s a tireless, yet rewarding job that has come under scrutiny recently with the slew of offseason arrests of NFL players, most notably the murder charge against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. The arrests, including one involving linebacker Rolando McClain, who retired less than a month after joining the Ravens, have spurred questions about the level of responsibility NFL teams have in recognizing and preventing destructive off-the-field behavior.

Swayne didn’t comment on individual cases, but he was more than willing to address what he feels is the biggest misconception about player development directors.

“If there is a problem off the field with players — and there always is and always has been — [people say] what’s going on with player development?” Swayne said. “One thing we are not is behaviorists. In my line of work and this is for all 32 player engagement directors, we don’t babysit 20-something-year-olds. They are going to do what 20-something-year-olds do across all cultural groups, across this whole country. Their parents can’t keep them from going out and doing some stupid stuff. Certainly, the player development director isn’t going to be able to either.

“But in that same respect, what we are is proactive individuals who like to approach things where it puts us out in front of some cloudy decisions before they even get an opportunity to make a bad choice. All 32 player engagement directors kind of have that approach.”

And what does the NFL think of this man, who strives to help the Ravens find the right kinds of players for the climate in the team’s locker room?

“People ask if I can give them information, what should the structure look like, how much involvement should this individual have, who should they report to. I just tell them, ‘I’d like for you to speak to Harry Swayne, who is in Baltimore.’ That’s the winning model,” said Troy Vincent, the 15-year NFL cornerback who runs the NFL Player Engagement Organization. “He has it all. He’s the benchmark.”

Now, what I am suggesting is that this is story is about ethics, morality, sin, wisdom, life changes, patience and a whole lot of other subjects — as opposed to being just another sports story. And what makes it GetReligion material?

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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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Why did a Catholic Raven skip White House visit? (updated)

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Let’s create a journalism parable.

Let’s say that there is a Republican president in office right now, one with ties to a somewhat doctrinaire form of Christianity.

So, the day comes when the team that won the Super Bowl — perhaps it’s the Baltimore Ravens — makes its traditional media-friendly visit to the White House. However, later the press finds out that one member of the team has elected to boycott the ceremony and had a very interesting reason for doing so.

We are not, by the way, talking about a minor player. We are talking about a Harvard University graduate, a consistent Pro Bowl performer and, here’s the key, the winner of the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award — in honor of his work with literacy programs for needy, at-risk children. On top of that, this rather interesting man has done what many players dream of doing: Win a Super Bowl ring and then walk away into a glorious retirement.

But there’s a problem: This player is a member of a liberal Christian denomination — let’s say that he’s part of the United Church of Christ — and because of his liberal Christian convictions he sharply disagrees with the Republican president of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Thus, he boycotts the White House ceremony as a symbolic gesture of support for the rights of gays and lesbians.

Would this be a pretty big story at ESPN? In The Washington Post? In the Baltimore newspaper?

I rather imagine that it would be a huge story and would make headlines for several days. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so.

Of course, this precise story took place the other day — only the occupant of the White House was Democrat Barack Obama and the boycott by recently retired Ravens center Matt Birk was inspired by his Catholic convictions about the rights of unborn children. Birk, who for many years played for the Minnesota Vikings, told KFAN-FM in the Twin Cities:

“I wasn’t there,” Birk told The Power Trip. “I would say this, I would say that I have great respect for the office of the Presidency but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’ … Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. … I am Catholic, I am active in the Pro-Life movement and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way.”

Now, this story has received a tiny blip of coverage, mainly in conservative news sources, but I couldn’t find any in either the Post or at ESPN. This strikes me as rather strange, especially with Birk’s recent Man of the Year stature.

And The Baltimore Sun?

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