The return of Baylor football, minus all that Baptist stuff

Way back when I was in college, soon after the cooling of the earth’s crust, the always confident folks at the University of Texas (rivals in the region would use a different adjective) fired an interesting salvo at a key rival.

The marketers for the Tea Sippers created a burnt orange and white car window decal that simply said “The University.”

The message was clearly targeted at the humble Aggies over at Texas A&M University in their semi-military fortress. There was, you see, only one university of Texas and it was in Austin, not in College Station.

And in Waco?

While that hubbub lingered, someone at my alma mater had an interesting idea. They created a green-and-gold decal for the much smaller university on I-35 that said “Thee University.”

In other words, Baylor University answered to an authority even higher than the folks who ran higher education in the Lone Star State. That “thee” move was clever, since there was no way for Baylor people to deny that the school’s image was completely dominated by the fact that it was the world’s largest Baptist school. There was a reason that people liked to call Baylor — as a tribute, or with a touch of venom — “Jerusalem on the Brazos.”

After all, it’s hard to play truly Texas-worthy football when you’re a rather bookish Baptist school, the kind of place where just as many players, or more, frequent Bible studies as often as they do the local watering holes (ask for a Big O). Right?

Maybe not. Right now, the Baylor Bears are on a bit of a multi-year roll, riding the waves still rippling from that remarkable Heisman Trophy run (and pass) by Robert Griffin III, a church-going do-gooder who was as skilled in the classroom as on the gridiron.

So, how does anyone try to tell the Baylor story without mentioning the whole “Jerusalem on the Brazos” angle?

Ask the folks at ESPN.

To my shock, the world’s most powerful multi-media sports empire recently ran a lengthy piece on Baylor, Griffin and head football coach Art Briles without mentioning the word “Baptist” or the word “church.” How about “Christian”? How about “faith”? That would be “no” and “no.”

But what about the history and identity of the program?

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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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Back to the Bible, with hot shot Stephen Curry

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Hello all of you GetReligion readers who are totally into sports! I am sure, at this time of year, you are really getting into the NBA playoffs.

If you are, then that means you cannot believe what you are seeing whenever the mad gunner Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors takes the court. This young man is on fire.

Curry is also one of the most visible religious believers in basketball and that has in the past led to some interesting problems for mainstream sports reporters. For example, back in his March Madness days with tiny Davidson College, one Associated Press report noted:

On the red trim at the bottom of his shoes, Stephen Curry has written in black marker, “I can do all things.”

Yes, yes he can. And because of him, Davidson is marching on.

Now, the implication was that Curry — as a statement of confidence, if not outright ego — was saying that he could do whatever he wanted to do whenever he stepped onto a basketball court.

It was safe to say that the AP team did not recognize that this Christian kid was making a biblical reference that, as interpreted by most active Christians, could be seen as a statement of humility — precisely the opposite of the spin the AP put into that story. You see, there is every reason to think that Curry’s sneaker quotation referred to the New Testament, specifically to Philippians 4:13, which states:

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

You think?

Now, I bring this up once again because GetReligion has, in recent weeks, spotlighted a few — click here and then here, for starters — mainstream press references to scripture that, like that 2008 gaffe about Curry, missed the mark when it came to accuracy.

Thus, I wanted to note a recent ESPN essay by superstar scribe Rick Reilly in which he got the Curry-loves-scripture thing right. Just to set the tone, here is the opening of that piece during the earlier Warriors playoff series:

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The Broussard brouhaha and why context matters

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Context matters.

Take the brouhaha that has brewed over comments ESPN NBA reporter Chris Broussard made concerning basketball player Jason Collins publicly coming out as gay.

From USA Today to the Los Angeles Times, major media latched on to Broussard’s comments concerning his personal Christian beliefs on homosexuality.

Chris Broussard usually offers expertise on fast breaks and zone defense, but on Monday he drove right into America’s culture wars by calling homosexuality “an open rebellion to God” and implying that gay people can’t be Christians.

Speaking on ESPN‘s “Outside the Lines,” the basketball analyst and former New York Times writer was discussing NBA player Jason Collins, who in a landmark move just became the first active player in one of the major pro sports to come out as gay. Collins revealed his sexual orientation in a first-person Sports Illustratedstory.

“I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality,” Broussard said. “I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.

“If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin … that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” he added.

He also expressed some irritation that those who disapprove of homosexuality are, he says, labeled as intolerant and bigoted.

Here’s where the context issue comes into play: Most of the reports I’ve read make it sound like Broussard launched into an unprompted attack on gays. In fact, he was asked a question, and he answered it.

Give the Washington Post credit for making that distinction clear:

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Super Bowl: Ray Lewis is Ray Lewis — deal with it

I have said it before and I will say it again. I know that, as a rule, GetReligion readers care very little about what happens in the world of sports.

Nevertheless, some of you may have heard that there is a rather big football game being played tonight in New Orleans, with the Baltimore Ravens squaring off against the San Francisco 49ers. It’s in all the newspapers.

Some readers may also have heard that a very famous, sure first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker named Ray Lewis is — after 17 remarkable years — playing his last game for the Ravens.

Now, whether one considers Lewis a kind of urban saint or a man who, literally, got away with being an accessory to murder, this big man is a major figure in American sports. There is no way around this. Click here for a GetReligion post containing all of the basics.

With the Super Bowl looming, ESPN.com summed this all up the other day:

Do you believe in Ray Lewis? Do you embrace the eye black, smeared down both of his cheeks, occasionally mixed with tears? Does your heart pump faster when he dances, feet sliding, biceps bulging? Do you nod and say, “Amen” when he speaks? Do you have your name in his cellphone? There are hundreds in the NFL who do, my friend — rookies, Ravens and even the poor soul he just flattened on the 20-yard line. “I love you,” Ray will tell some of them. And they love him, too. …

Do you see it in his eyes, his passion? Maybe you roll your eyes because Lewis is doing another news conference in designer sunglasses when it’s dark outside. But do you believe? That villains can become heroes? Do you buy into what he’s selling? It’s simple, really. Either you do or you don’t; you’re in or you’re out. … Do you believe in Ray Lewis? Do you believe that a man should be judged at his very worst or his very best?

Now, I know a lot about the sins in Lewis’ past and, in posts here, I have tried to deal with the press coverage of the man’s fiery, if at times vague, faith. After reading a week or two of the “last ride” coverage, I think it is rather obvious that a significant number of reporters simply want the man to shut up — especially about God.

Forget the last pre-game dance. Many are dreading the last post-game sermon.

Well, I want to urge GetReligion readers to pay close attention to the post-game sermon. In particular, I want folks to see whether Lewis is outspoken about the blessings of God if the Ravens win and silent on the blessings of God if they lose.

Personally, I want the Ravens to win, but I rather expect the ’49ers to win (with the key being whoever runs the ball most effectively). So I think we will have a chance to hear Lewis deal with defeat.

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