Sports and games

Yes, there's a Jesus angle — and a Chick-fil-A one — in Clemson's football national title

Yes, there's a Jesus angle — and a Chick-fil-A one — in Clemson's football national title

Regardless of which team prevailed in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night, Jesus was going to get some credit.

Both Alabama’s Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, and his Clemson counterpart, Trevor Lawrence, are known for giving the glory to their Lord.

As it turned out, Clemson cruised to a 44-16 win, putting the focus on the team’s coach, Dabo Swinney, as well as its heralded freshman QB, Lawrence, neither of whom is shy about emphasizing his strong Christian faith.

Coverage of Clemson’s national title run that ignored that fact missed an important angle.

But I was pleased to see a number of reports that caught the relevance of Swinney’s mention of God, including this one from the Sporting News:

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Dabo Swinney insists no Hollywood movie producer — not even Steven Spielberg — could write the script for what the Clemson football program accomplished in the last 11 seasons.

No. 2 Clemson had just won its second College Football Playoff championship in three years with a stunning 44-16 blowout against No. 1 Alabama at Levi’s Stadium on Monday. The Tigers became the first team since 1897 to finish 15-0. Swinney, wearing an oversized black shirt that said "Ring Season" wore a smile and stared at a half-full Diet Coke bottle while riffing into his best explanation for how this could be possible again. 

"It's just the grace of God to have the opportunity to experience something like this once in a lifetime," Swinney said. “To have a chance now to do it two times in the past three years is just amazing.”

By the way, if you’re not familiar with Swinney’s back story, check out this 2016 column by the National Review’s David French.

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Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs: So 'God-given' talent and 'faith' drive Amari Cooper?

Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs: So 'God-given' talent and 'faith' drive Amari Cooper?

Yes, America’s Team won a playoff game over the weekend.

No, that hasn’t happened a lot over the past two decades.

Want a religion angle on the victorious Dallas Cowboys? Look no farther than Amari Cooper, the Cowboys wide receiver obtained in a crucial midseason trade. But be warned of holy ghosts. More on that in a moment.

In advance of Saturday night’s wild-card game against the Seattle Seahawks (which Dallas won, 24-22), the Dallas Morning News published a lengthy front-page profile of Cooper.

In a lot of ways, it’s a really compelling profile. Various folks on Twitter described the story as “great,” “deep” and filled with “awesome details.”

The superb opening:

FRISCO -- Amari Cooper hit up a local suit store recently to shop for game day. Cowboys players are required to dress up, and their arrival at the stadium is treated like a virtual fashion show on social media.

The salesperson kept bringing him pairs of shoes to go with the looks. "No," Cooper kept saying, "no." His childhood friend who was visiting spied one pair and started laughing, Cooper recounted.

They looked like Cooper's old "church shoes."

Growing up in the west Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Cooper was the youngest of five, and he owned only one pair of shoes at a time. He wore them for church, but also for school, for everyday, for playing football.

"They were my everything shoes," the wide receiver who changed the course of the Cowboys' season said in a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News. And, as he explained it, the shoes "talked," meaning the sole separated from the rest of the shoe and flapped.

"My mother, she used to buy super glue to glue the part back on," Cooper said. "But I was playing football ... so I would shake and run. They would always come back loose and the glue would be showing.

"It's kind of funny now. But all my friends remember that."

That early reference to church offers a clue that explaining what makes Cooper tick might include exploring his Christian faith.

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Calling all sportswriters: Don't forget the 'Catholic angle' in those Notre Dame football stories

Calling all sportswriters: Don't forget the 'Catholic angle' in those Notre Dame football stories

December can be lots of things to different people. For Christians, it’s the season of Advent that culminates with Christmas. Jews have Hannukkah. Sports fans have … lots and lots of college football leading into the bowl games that really matter.

The College Football Playoff introduced just a few years back has added that extra layer of excitement to the Bowl season and Heisman trophy contest that highlights the end of every season. The quartet of teams vying to be national champions this year are Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.

While Alabama is ranked No. 1 and the heavy favorite to win the title, the team that stands out from this group for reasons not at all associated with sports is Notre Dame. For sportswriters out in the field covering games and feature stories (and, more importantly, the editors who dictate that coverage), let’s not forget what can be called the “Catholic angle” to any Notre Dame team.

To cut to the chase: There’s more to this team than its iconic golden helmets, deep-blue uniforms and movies like “Rudy.”

That’s not to say the Catholic rituals and traditions associated with the school’s football team have been totally overlooked over the year. Michael Leahy, author and award-winning writer for The Washington Post, wrote a column in 2013 about the Catholic connection to the Division I school in South Bend, Indiana. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

If there is a single reason for Notre Dame’s enduring mystique, it is that — putting aside the perspectives of its alumni, students, professors and administrators — the place exists in the American psyche solely as a football team. The school has a top-notch faculty and notable graduates who never played a down, but who in Ann Arbor, Los Angeles or Tuscaloosa cares about that? To them, Notre Dame is the locker room where Knute Rockne exhorted his troops before they stampeded the opposition. It is the Four Horsemen. It is Ronald Reagan as George Gipp. It is a place where greatness, reality and fable mingle, and few know where one ends and the others begin.

For most of the 20th century, the adoration of Notre Dame also reflected the relatively favored status of Catholicism in American culture. Despite unfounded fears over whether a Catholic president could escape the Vatican’s influence, films from the era demonstrate a largely benign perception of Catholicism. The most memorable priests from the period’s major movies possess the same saintly qualities ascribed to Notre Dame: rectitude, hearts of gold and the righteous power to knock out a foe.

Leahy’s commentary is spot on. It captures a snapshot of the school’s religious and cultural relevance to American society like few pieces about Notre Dame ever have previously or since its publication. It is the backdrop and larger context for nearly every story regarding the Fightin’ Irish‘s football program.

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Tiffany Rivers is expecting child No. 9: Oh yeah, she is married to that NFL quarterback

Tiffany Rivers is expecting child No. 9: Oh yeah, she is married to that NFL quarterback

It’s Sunday, which means the National Football League is all over the place on television.

I have a request to make of GetReligion readers who plan to watch the Cincinnati Bengals play the Los Angeles Chargers this afternoon. Please be on the alert for displays of fecundopobia during the pregame show for this game, or during the contest itself.

What, you ask, is “fecundopobia”?

That term was created a number of years ago by M.Z. “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway. Here is the overture for a post at The Federalist in which she explains what’s up, starting with the headline: “Fecundophobia: The Growing Fear Of Children And Fertile Women.”

Last week Deadspin ran six sentences and a picture under the headline “Philip Rivers Is An Intense Weirdo.” The final two sentences about the San Diego Charger quarterback were blunt:

“And he’s also about to have his seventh kid. There are going to be eight people with Rivers DNA running around this world.”

Ah yes. How “intensely weird” it is for an NFL player to be having his seventh kid. Except that it isn’t weird at all for an NFL player to have his seventh kid. It’s only weird for an NFL player to have seven kids with his one wife.

Take former Charger and current New York Jet Antonio Cromartie. He’s fathered at least 12 children with eight different women. In fact, when the Jets picked the cornerback up from the Chargers, they provided him with a $500,000 advance so he could make outstanding child support payments. (You can watch him struggle to name some of his children here.)

Well, things have gotten even WORSE since then — which is why I want people to watch the Charger game today and take some notes.

You see, the Rivers team has been busy — some more. In fact, the family is joyfully expecting child No. 9 (and that isn’t a jersey number).

Here is the top of a short ESPN item about this announcement. Let’s play “spot the flash of strangeness” in this news copy.

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Here we go again: ESPN.com trims J-word out of big Florida rite in Tim Tebow's life

Here we go again: ESPN.com trims J-word out of  big Florida rite in Tim Tebow's life

Greetings from SEC football territory, deep down in the Bible Belt.

I was not surprised that my recent posts about the coverage — or the lack of coverage, in many cases — of sports and religious faith drew some reader responses. Click here for the main post and then here for the “Crossroads” podcast on the topic.

The podcast post included the following throwaway line, talking about how it’s impossible to discuss some sports figures without mentioning their faith, especially when their views on sex are part of the story: “Can you say ‘Tim Tebow’? I knew that you could.”

Well, a Catholic priest caught something in the news that I missed.

Apparently, Tebow was induced into the University of Florida football ring of honor the other day. As you would expect, ESPN did a story on this big day in the life of an SEC Network star. And, as you would expect, Tebow was asked to make a few remarks during the ceremony. And, as you would expect, Tebow did a shout-out to Jesus.

The priest noted: “Funny that tmatt should have just mentioned Tebow. Compare what he says in the video (about 28 seconds) with what's quoted in the article. Something's missing.”

Click this ESPN link to see the best video (or watch the longer version at the top of this post).

The ESPN.com news report goes out of its way, at the very top, to quote Tebow’s “message to the fans.” But was this all that he said? Here is the overture:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow became the sixth player to join the Florida Ring of Honor on Saturday, as the crowd inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium chanted, "Tebow! Tebow!"

Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships as Florida's quarterback from 2006 to 2009, was honored after the first quarter in No. 22 Florida's 27-19 home victory over No. 5 LSU.

A Tebow highlights package played on the video screens as he stood near the 20-yard line. When his name was unveiled, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. Tebow then took the microphone and had a message for the fans.

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Old question from world of sports: Why avoid role of faith in lives of many great athletes?

Old question from world of sports: Why avoid role of faith in lives of many great athletes?

There is nothing new (or newsworthy) about athletes, in post-game interviews, saying things like this: “Most of all, I would like to thank God for the many blessings he has given me.”

Or even this: “First, I’d like to give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Many superstars say this after victories. Many say things like this after defeat. The question “Crossroads” host Todd Wilken asked, at the start of this week’s podcast (click here to tune that in), was this: Do mainstream news reporters, when then here this, roll their eyes with skepticism?

The answer, I think, is, “Yes, they do.” And for others, the response is stronger than that: It’s either cynicism or sarcasm verging on hostility.

Why? Well, in many cases these sports reporters know that some of the athletes saying this are absolute jerks or hypocrites of the highest orders. Reporters know that some — no, not all — of these Godtalk superstars are not walking their talk.

So this acidic attitude tends to seep into lots of mainstream stories about the many, many, many religious believers who are newsmakers in college and professional sports.

But words are one thing. Actions are another.

Like what? Well, as is often the case, things get really messy when superstars are living lives that are genuinely countercultural when it comes to — you got it — sex.

Can you say “Tim Tebow”? I knew that you could.

When I was young, one of my heroes was at the center of similar controversies. That was Roger “Captain America” Staubach, a happily married, family-guy Roman Catholic.

Several years ago, M.Z. “GetReligion emerita” Hemingway wrote up a very similar case surrounding NFL star Philip Rivers. Her headline at The Federalist included a wonderful new culture wars term: “Fecundophobia: The Growing Fear Of Children And Fertile Women.

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Deacon Greg 'CBS' Kandra vents: USA Today sports said WHAT about Brett Kavanaugh?!?

Deacon Greg 'CBS' Kandra vents: USA Today sports said WHAT about Brett Kavanaugh?!?

I truly appreciate people who have the ability to show restraint in today’s crazy, heated world of social media.

Take, for example Deacon Greg Kandra, a former CBS News writer with 26 years, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit. He is now a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, assigned to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, a 3,000-member parish in Forest Hills, a Queens neighborhood on the north end of New York City.

Kandra has a blog called “The Deacon’s Bench” and it’s a great site to bookmark, if you want insights into everything from good preaching to trends in pew-level Catholic life.

At the same time, he has been known to offer commentary on news coverage of church events and trends. His credentials speak for themselves. Frankly, I wish he wrote about news issues — television news, in particular — more often.

Kandra showed as much restraint as possible in a recent post that ran with this dry, biting headline: “Great moments in journalism: USA TODAY’s botched column on Kavanaugh.

What happened? Kandra quotes several summaries of this train wreck, including this material from The Daily Caller:

A Friday USA Today article stating that Judge Brett Kavanaugh “should stay off basketball courts for now when kids are around” was re-edited the next day and the original tweet to the piece was deleted.

“The U.S. Senate may yet confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, but he should stay off basketball courts for now when kids are around,” USA Today sports reporter Erik Brady wrote in the piece which has since been changed to an opinion column.

“A previous tweet contained a statement that has since been edited out of a sports column,” tweeted USA Today on Saturday. “That tweet has been deleted. The updated opinion column and editor’s clarification are here.”

The result was what Kandra called a “shouting match on social media.” So much for the deacon’s quiet weekend.

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SI glimpses a faith angle: The doubts, tears, anger and agony of slugger in an epic slump

SI glimpses a faith angle: The doubts, tears, anger and agony of slugger in an epic slump

If you’re a baseball fan, this is an amazing and historic day, with two extra games jammed into the National League schedule just to find out who plays where in the early stages of the playoffs.

Lots of people will be missing work today in Los Angeles, Denver, Milwaukee and Chicago. But the baseball fans here at GetReligion will have little to do with all of this, since Bobby Ross, Jr., is a Texas Rangers fan and my loyalties remain in Baltimore.

However, the sad, sad story of the Orioles and their journey into the shadow land called “rebuilding” did inspire a striking story the other day in Sports Illustrated, focusing on the epic disaster that the 2018 season was for slugger Chris “Crush” Davis. The headline: “Crushed Davis: Nobody Is Struggling With the Modern Game More Than Chris Davis.”

This is a story with two levels — sports and a man’s crushed spirit.

The baseball part is pretty easy to describe: No one has been affected more than Davis by the strategy called “the shift” (infielders move into shallow right field to frustrate left-handed batters). Davis has, like many who bat on the left side of the plate, spent his career molding a swing designed to produce hard contact pulling the ball. The shift has stolen a stunning number of his hits and RBIs.

Why not just change your swing to push the ball to left field or bloop it over the “shift” defenders?

This is where the baseball theme in this story morphs into matters of the mind, heart and soul. Trying to tinker with a player’s grooved swing messes with his mind. Here is the overture:

Baseball’s shortest walk feels like its longest. As Chris Davis trudges the 70 feet from home plate to the dugout, he has plenty of time to consider the people he has just let down. There are his fellow Orioles, of course, who will greet him with pats on the backside that feel more like condolences than encouragement. The coaches who sat on buckets to flip him thousands of balls over the years. His father, who coached him harder than anyone else. The organization that writes his paychecks and strings his likeness up on lampposts and sells dolls featuring grotesquely oversized representations of his head. His wife, who gave up her dream job without complaint when he got traded. His three kids, who seem to have grown two inches every time he returns from a 10-game road trip.

Davis, who has struck out 178 times through Sept. 13, knows baseball's walk of shame better than just about everyone else in the majors.

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In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

Even without a religion angle, this would be an incredible story.

I'm talking about ESPN's in-depth narrative on an NFL coach's long search for his birth parents.

"Absolutely amazing." "Unbelievable." "Just astounding." That's how various readers have described the piece.

Others have seen God at work in the outcome.

"Wow Just, wow," said one reader. "This story has all the feels. The God of Heaven watches over us all. No, that doesnt mean life is all roses & picnics. But His hand can be seen...for those who have 'eyes that they might see..'" 

"This ESPN story about @coachdmc finding his birth parents is absolutely worth the read," said another. "Someone recently said to me that God is doing more behind your back than in front of your face. This story says yes and amen to that."

Intrigued yet?

I'm doing my best not to give away any spoilers, in case you haven't read the story yet and would like to check it out before I offer a few hints.

Basic storyline: A young mother gives up her baby for adoption. The baby grows up to become a football player and later a coach. All the while, although he loves his adoptive mother, he searches for his birth parents. He eventually finds them — and it turns out he had known his birth father almost his entire life. 

But yes, faith makes various cameo appearances as the ESPN writer, Sarah Spain, allows the spiritual angle to unfold naturally.

Early in the story, the adoptive mother references God:

By March of that year, Jon Kenneth Briggs had been renamed Deland Scott McCullough, and he was living at home with his new parents, Adelle and A.C.

"We were still in love, a good couple," Comer says. "We went to church, partied, went to cookouts. We were working together and doing this together and wanting to make a home for our children. We knew that God's hand was in it. Deland came so fast to us. We knew that it was meant to be. Both of us."

But things changed quickly. Comer's father had a stroke, and though A.C. wanted to put him in a nursing home, Comer brought her dad to live with the family in Youngstown. Their marriage deteriorated, and when Deland was just 2 years old, A.C. moved out.

"They went through a lot of hurt and disappointment, but they took it," Comer says of her sons. "I said, 'God gives you an example of what to be and what not to be. You have to make the choice.' And that's all I had to say, and they got it."

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