Baltimore Sun drops ball in profile of a preacher’s son

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Here we go again.

The following has become a GetReligion mantra, when it comes to mainstream media coverage of sports and religion. If journalists are going to play the God card, especially in the ledes of major stories, it really helps if they are willing to devote some part of these stories to detailing the role that faith plays in the lives of the athletes who are being profiled.

In this case, we are talking about a piece of scripture that is at the heart of a story about a player who was just selected by the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the first round of the National Football League draft. To top that off, this same piece of scripture played a highly symbolic role in the lives of several Christians on the Ravens team (think Ray Lewis, especially) during last year’s run to the Super Bowl and the NFL title.

The Baltimore Sun team gets the scripture into the lede and initially does a good job of framing its importance. This is long, but the following will show some of the context for the verse’s appearance in this young man’s life:

Long before Isaiah 54:17 became a rallying cry during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run and a fixture in Ray Lewis’ speeches, an angry and withdrawn young boy heard the words and decided to put them over his bedroom door.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

Yet to celebrate his 10th birthday and already burdened by a lifetime’s worth of tragedy, Matt Elam felt that the whole world was against him when he displayed the verse to give him a daily reminder of what mattered.

His half brother had been shot and killed four years before he was even born. His parents divorced when he was 5. Already acquainted with death and departure, Elam then had to deal with the murder of his older sister, Christina, who was at a local park when shots rang out.

Elam, just 8 years old, got the news from his neighbor and sprinted to the park to see his 12-year-old sister one final time.

“We were really close and when I lost her, I felt like everybody was against me,” Elam said Friday.

Read that carefully. We are not talking about a college player putting that scripture over the door of his bedroom. It appears — the sentence structure is quite bizarre — that we are talking about a 10-year-old boy, already burdened with tragedy and pain, putting those words over the doorway into his private sanctuary in the rough streets of the neighborhoods north of downtown West Palm Beach, Fla.

That’s really quite amazing, if one stops and thinks about it. It would appear that religious faith — the kind that teaches fairly obscure scriptures to young boys — must have played a major role in his upbringing. You think?

Yet what is going on with all of these violent events that have touched his life? Might there be some connection between the faith and the pain, some link between scripture and the realities of Elam’s tragic young life?

So how far into this story will readers have to go to find out the answer to that unasked question? Good question.

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