Sports and games

Friday Five: March for Life, Protestant prodigals, dementia and faith, Tiffany Rivers' child No. 9

Friday Five: March for Life, Protestant prodigals, dementia and faith, Tiffany Rivers' child No. 9

It’s another busy week in the world of religion reporting. Once again, I’m having trouble keeping up with all the headlines.

Today is the March for Life, and the Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer had an interesting preview piece, exploring how political polarization is leading some to view the anti-abortion gathering as a Republican event.

Meanwhile, The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer offered insightful coverage of a Lifeway Research survey. Gannett flagship USA Today picked up the story. The key finding: Large numbers of young adults who frequently attended Protestant worship services in high school are dropping out of church. 

And with those headlines, we’re just getting started.

Look dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Religion News Service published an important, compelling three-part series on dementia and religion by national reporter Adelle M. Banks.

You really need to check it out.

Also, read my GetReligion commentary on the project.

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'Born-again' baseball star's arrest on child sexual assault charge raises a journalistic question

'Born-again' baseball star's arrest on child sexual assault charge raises a journalistic question

"This is truly, truly an awful story to report,” tweeted a Dallas Morning News sportswriter involved in the coverage of a child sexual abuse charge against former baseball star John Wetteland.

Actually, it’s beyond awful.

It’s sickening, especially for a diehard Texas Rangers fan like myself who remembers cheering for Wetteland and appreciating his focus on his Christian faith.

According to the Dallas newspaper, the former closer is accused of sexually abusing a young child:

Wetteland, 52, is accused of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14, according to Denton County jail records. The Trophy Club resident posted $25,000 bond and was released from custody the same day as his arrest.

He had forced a young relative to perform a sex act on him, according to the arrest warrant affidavit, beginning in 2004 when the child was just four years old.

The abuse occurred at Wetteland's home in Bartonville, the affidavit stated. It happened twice more over a two-year period, the victim said.

And sadly, there is a strong and absolutely relevant religion angle as Wetteland — who was the 1996 World Series MVP while pitching for the New York Yankees — is well-known for touting his Christian beliefs.

“Wetteland Is Just a Closer Who Walks With the Lord,” declared a 1995 New York Times sports column.

That column opened this way:

John Wetteland is drinking coffee from a large mug with the words "Jesus Lives" emblazoned across it in big, black letters. He grins and nods when someone comments on the mug. His Bible is resting on a shelf in his locker and he has a personal computer at his disposal so he can retrieve morning devotionals from an on-line program and pray before the Yankees begin another day of baseball.

"I honestly try and walk with Jesus Christ every day," he said, describing his most important relationship, more important than his relationship with his wife.

Obviously, the facts of the criminal case are the most important element of the news reports on Wetteland’s arrest.

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Forget Tim Tebow for a moment: Why not chase a religion ghost or two linked to his fiancée?

Forget Tim Tebow for a moment: Why not chase a religion ghost or two linked to his fiancée?

Yes, we saw the snarky Deadspin headline about You Know Who getting engaged.

You know, the headline that proclaimed: “Tim Tebow To Have Sex Soon.”

The only shock there was that The New York Post didn’t have something wild to compete with it. However, the tabloid’s short story about the engagement of Tebow and Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, a South Africa native who was Miss Universe in 2017, did feature the following essential information at the very end.

Tebow confirmed his relationship with Nel-Peters in July.

“She is a really special girl and I am very lucky and blessed for her coming into my life,” he told ESPN over the summer. “I am usually very private with these things but I am very thankful.”

Tebow, a devout Christian, has long planned to remain a virgin until marriage.

I do remember reading a thing or two about that in the past.

However, let’s pause for a moment. I want you to try to forget Tebow. Just push that musclebound ESPN commentator, baseball player and evangelical philanthropist off to the side, for a minute.

I’m trying to find out some additional information about Nel-Peters. I think it’s safe to assume that Christian faith may have had something to do with their relationship, but I am having trouble finding out any information about that angle of this story.

For example: See this hollow USA Today mini-feature. Or this faith-free offering from ESPN, Tebow’s own home in the world of sports broadcasting.

Now, our own Bobby Ross, Jr., noted that the People magazine exclusive on the engagement did contain a bite of information about religious faith. Describing his future wife, Tebow said:

“They have to really love God,” he continued. “My faith is important to me — it’s the most important thing — and I need to be with someone who also shares that faith.”

Tebow tells PEOPLE, now, that Nel-Peters is exactly what he has been looking for.

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Friday Five: What Wuerl knew, Opus Dei, Tim Tebow fiancee, Cyntoia Brown, Knights of Columbus

Friday Five: What Wuerl knew, Opus Dei, Tim Tebow fiancee, Cyntoia Brown, Knights of Columbus

Once again, the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal dominates the headlines.

From the Washington Post to the New York Times to Commonwealth, the story that won't go away keeps making mainstream news.

And yes, various angles show up in this week's Friday Five.

Let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein reported Thursday that despite past denials, D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and reported them to the Vatican.

Catholic News Agency, which broke the news, includes a name that is crucial to the wider story: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Look for more GetReligion analysis of this important development in the coming days.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Yet another Washington Post story on a major angle in the scandal was the focus of our No. 1 most-clicked commentary of the week.

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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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