Saturday, February 06, 2010

A good column, Thank God

A commentary popped up in the Wall Street Journal on Friday about a subject that I've never seen discussed anywhere before: religion and the sports media. You can read the column by clicking here.

Over the years, I haven't touched on a player's faith much at all, and then only in passing. I'm a firm believer in trying to report on the events themselves, and why things happened the way they did. Even with feature stories, I haven't gone in a religious direction very often; I'm sure I wouldn't bring it up first.

If I were writing longer stories on certain athletes, I'm sure it would come up in a story. For example, any story on Tim Tebow -- by all accounts the nicest college student on the planet -- probably has to include his missionary work. Tony Dungy also comes to mind.

But ... but ... but ...

If I'm being honest with myself, I'd have to admit that one of the reasons I wouldn't bring it up is that I'm not particularly interested in the subject. I'm not religious and I don't believe God is playing favorites in sports events. At least, He'd better not be. There are bigger things in Haiti that need help.

I recently read a book in which a fan used to say a prayer for his favorite team before every game. He explained a Bills' comeback win as an example of power of prayer. When it was pointed out that the other team might have fans praying too, he scoffed and said, "These athiests have an answer for everything." To which I was tempted to say, "Sometimes it's a good answer, too."

This attitude toward faith comes out in a couple of ways. Let me give you an example. Many years ago, I remember interviewing a pitcher with the Buffalo Bisons who had just won a game. I said something like, "Lee, that was a nice game. What was working for you today?" And he replied, "I just put my game in the hands of the Lord. I didn't even feel like I was doing anything out there. He was doing all the work for me."

Which prompted me to wonder, did God hang that slider that was hit about three miles over the fence in the fourth inning? But I didn't ask.

So I can be a little cynical about such answers. I've also seen plenty of athletes who profess a religious approach to life, and then engage in all sorts of unGodly behavior.

I tend to censor such material out of my stories, unless there's some sort of direct connection that might move the story along. Real life example -- when Frank Reich led the comeback by the Bills over the Oilers in the playoffs 17 years ago, he said a little poem of faith before starting his news conference. I'd have used that had I been writing.

The funny part is, traditionally I have gotten along better with more religious athletes than others. I'm basically polite and friendly in reporting situations, and that seems to mesh nicely with such athletes. I also understand that for many, some sort of faith can help an individual cope with the pressures of high-level sporting events.

I'm not sure the story from the WSJ will change my approach at all; in fact, I'm sure it won't. But, it has gotten me to think about the issue a little bit, and that can only help me.

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