Pod people: Russell Wilson, ghosts, 10 years of GetReligion

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Let’s do this one backwards.

In a perfect world, the easy way to do mainstream news criticism is to find a really bad example of a problem and then, a few days later, find an example of an equally important news outlet that managed to do the story right.

In this case, we are talking about one of those GetReligion ghosts, a religion angle woven into a major news story — yet missed by reporters and editors working on the story. For the past 10 years, spotting ghosts has been one of the primary duties of your GetReligionistas.

Hours before the Super Bowl, I posted an item praising the ESPN.com team for a feature story about the life, work and faith of Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson. Thanks, by the way, to the 20,000-plus readers who passed that post along in social media.

First of all, the creators of this story did the obvious, which is discuss the connections between Wilson’s Christian faith — which he talks about all of the time — and his life on and off the gridiron, focusing on his behind-the-scenes work as a real volunteer in a children’s hospital. That was the easy ghost to spot, one that 99 percent of the people writing profiles of Wilson (and the influence of his late father) manage to see.

However, in addition to that almost non-ghost ghost, the ESPN team went deeper and touched on a more subtle question: How are folks in the highly secular Pacific Northwest, in Seattle the Mecca of the so-called “nones,” handling the fact that this new Seahawk hero is a young, charismatic, African-American evangelical?

Now, I didn’t think ESPN nailed down that angle of the story, but I was impressed that this elite newsroom raised the question and made the attempt.

So three cheers. High fives all around.

As it turns out, that post on the ghosts in the Wilson story was where “Crossroads” podcast host Todd Wilken wanted to start out this week in our conversation. Click here to tune that in.

That’s where we started, but that isn’t where we ended up.

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KKK hoods, ‘two angels’ and a frustrating ghost

It’s a “where are they now” story that I was intrigued to read, since I had missed the first installment back in 1996. The 2013 update promised drama, forgiveness, lessons learned and perhaps racial reconciliation. Oh, and as a bonus: a faith element.

Darn the ghost.

Courtesy of GetReligion reader Kate comes this feature from BBC Magazine — an inspiring piece about a young black woman named Keshia Thomas. At a 1996 rally in Michigan, Thomas shielded a white supremacist from the sticks of a crowd of anti-Ku Klux Klan protesters.

In summary, the day of a planned KKK rally in Ann Arbor dawned with opposing sides separated by barricades of officers.

Thomas had participated in the protest and was photographed standing with other students. Events turned violent, however, when a woman with a megaphone shouted that there was a Klansman in their area.

A mob mentality rippled through the angry crowd, which chased and then began to punch the man, kick him and jab him with the pointed ends of their placards, according to the story:

“It became barbaric,” says Thomas. “When people are in a crowd they are more likely to do things they would never do as an individual. Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘This isn’t right.’”

So the teenager, then still at high school, threw herself on top of a man she did not know and shielded him from the blows.

So what gave Thomas the impetus to help a man whose views it appeared were so different from her own? Her religious beliefs played a part. But her own experience of violence was a factor, too.

“I knew what it was like to be hurt,” she says. “The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me.”

 Thomas has never heard from the man she saved, but she did once meet a member of his family. Months later, someone came up to her in a coffee shop and said thanks. “What for?” she asked. “That was my dad,” the young man replied.

Kate, who came across the story after a friend linked to it as an inspiring example of compassion and mercy, saw more. She saw an impetuousness born of religious conviction, thanks to the story’s allusion. She and I want to know more about Thomas’ background, specifically her faith upbringing.

It appears that Thomas dropped plenty of hints that should have prompted faith-based questions from the reporter. For example, she offered this insight when asked what she was feeling when she decided to intervene:

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