Week after week, month after month, year after year, I write GetReligion posts in which I fault mainstream sportswriters for looking the other way when they encounter religious facts and themes related to the lives of amateur and professional athletes.
Some reporters ignore or radically downplay the religious elements in the lives of important athletes and coaches (hello, Ravens-beat editors at The Baltimore Sun). Then there are journalists who allow athletes to flash the God-card in the language of a story, but then never follow up on those faith claims (hello Michael Vick) when it comes to digging out the facts (follow the money, follow the hours on the clock) about their lives in the real world. Where’s the basic journalism?
Often, after the publication of one of these God-and-sports posts, I hear from people who say that I am constantly pointing out the bad, without showing positive examples of coverage that gets the faith element of one of these stories right, combining religious symbolism, facts, etc., into one A-plus package.
Well, here’s one. The other day Sports Illustrated offered a long-read drawn from the biography of UCLA hoops legend John Wooden (“Wooden: A Coach’s Life“) written by veteran reporter Seth Davis. This particular chunk of the book was summed up in the headline, “The Wizard and the Giant.”
Which giant? In this case we are talking about the great 7-foot-2 Lew Alcindor, who was arguably the greatest college big man — ever.
Now, younger readers may say, “Lew Alcindor? Don’t you mean Kareem Abdul Jabbar?”
A that’s the subject that this story captures so well. It shows, in clear human terms, how one of the greatest coaches who ever lived, who was also a traditional Christian, learned to adapt to changes in the life of his greatest player, as he went through the process of converting to Islam.
Also, as you would expect, Wooden attracted excellent players to UCLA who shared his Christian faith, along with hoops stars from across the nation who had no active faith at all.
This created a unique atmosphere, and a unique challenge. This is precisely what reporter Davis captures in his story.