Yesterday, CNN ran a feature highlighting the faith of members of a Bible group the meets on the PGA Tour. The article itself is well-done and provides an superb model for how to address religion in sports.
Job one: let the athletes speak for themselves and quote them accurately. Out of 175 lines in the article, 91 are direct quotes from the members of the Bible group talking about their faith.
But the commendatory approach taken by CNN also provides examples of the confusion that can arise when sources use religious language in a way that might be familiar to those in a particular faith tradition (e.g., Christianese), but may come across as inaccessible gibberish to outsiders. When people use religious jargon the denotation of certain words can vary from common usage and shortcuts can be taken based on the assumption that the listener can fill in the blanks. Journalists are not supposed to make those kinds of assumptions.
An example of the latter is the assumption by golfer Kevin Streelman that others will be familiar with the narrative pattern of personal redemption stories:
Players from across the PGA Tour meet regularly at a Bible group, whose members include high-profile stars such as major champions Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Stewart Cink.
Each week, the group will study one particular verse, with some players such as Kevin Streelman taking that particular scripture and getting it printed onto a golf club.
For Streelman, who won his first big PGA Tour tournament at the Tampa Bay Challenge in March, his reawakening has come following a period of struggle in his personal life.
“I would lie if I said that I was previously that way,” he told CNN’s Living Golf.
Wait, previously what way? And how did we jump ahead to the reawakening before mentioning either an awakening or a falling away? If this article had appeared in Christianity Today, readers would intuitively understand what he was referring to. But in a mainstream secular outlet like CNN, no such assumptions can or should be made.
In a later quote, Streelmen slips in the first of several other examples of Christianese: