New England Patriots

Yo, Super Bowl scribes: You missed another chance to explore Tom Brady’s complicated faith

Yo, Super Bowl scribes: You missed another chance to explore Tom Brady’s complicated faith

I never waste an opportunity to write about sports and religion when there is a natural connection.

That happens all the time. Sports and religion are often intertwined by our culture and society. My trip to Moscow last summer for soccer’s World Cup led me to do a feature on St. Basil’s Cathedral and how it had come to become one of the tournament’s biggest symbols alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

This takes us to this coming Sunday. With America preparing for another Super Bowl — and yet another appearance by quarterback Tom Brady — this great athlete (and his faith) are worth another look.

In Brady’s case, let’s just say it’s complicated.

It’s true that two weeks of Brady storylines since the conference championships didn’t do sportswriters a lot of good. Brady’s been here (nine Super Bowl appearances to be exact) and done that (in the form of five titles). The bigger story was the bad officiating in the NFC Championship Game, how the New Orleans Saints were wronged and the fallout that has ensued.

Super Bowl LIII festivities officially kicked off on Monday with Opening Night — previously known as Media Day — at the State Farm Arena. The media circus that has descended upon Atlanta for Sunday’s big game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams means hundreds of hours of TV coverage and lots of articles and feature stories.

Lost in all the Brady quotes, news stories and features over the past week was any focus or mention of Brady’s faith. For any athlete who has won so much, religion can often play a central role. Is that the case here?

In a January 2015 piece, Deseret News writer Herb Scribner explored the very question of Brady’s spiritual life, piecing together what was known about his faith from past interviews and feature stories.   

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Football Sunday: This year, a revival (literally) in Philly locker room makes lots of headlines

Football Sunday: This year, a revival (literally) in Philly locker room makes lots of headlines

I know that I have told this story before, but I really don't care.

It's Super Bowl Sunday and, as everyone knows, that is one of the high holy days of the America's secular liturgical calendar -- even in a year in which life in the National Football League has been just as screwed up and tense and divided as everything else in this land of ours. (Well, I mean other than the fact that nearly 90 percent of all Americans don't want the Team That Must Not be Named to win.)

However, there is another interesting journalism that almost always shows up during the days that precede the Super Bowl -- the almost inevitable religion-beat hook.

So here is my story from the past, before we get to God and Super Bowl LII.

Long ago, in my Rocky Mountain News days, the Denver Broncos made a couple of trips to the Super Bowl. As you would imagine, newsrooms in Denver rolled out the heavy artillery to cover these events.
Well, I turned in memos arguing that -- as religion writer -- I should be included in the teams sent to cover these festivals of civil religion.
I never got my wish, but an editor later confessed that I had a point. Religion stories kept popping up, such as the issue of whether it was acceptable for members of these two gladiator squads to share a prayer meeting and/or Bible study before the kickoff? Would that be contrary to the spirit of the event? The NFL was worried.

So with that in mind, let's turn to these 2018 headlines:

* "In a tough sports town, baptisms and Bible studies fuel many of the Eagles’ stars," an Acts of Faith feature at The Washington Post (written by freelancer Bob Smietana).

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See any valid Super Bowl religion stories today? Here's one linked to the ultimate sin

See any valid Super Bowl religion stories today? Here's one linked to the ultimate sin

Ah, Super Bowl Sunday. Another one of those days on the liturgical calendar of American civil religion when reporters have to stretch and stretch in an attempt to find valid story angles to fill niches in the inevitable wave of coverage.

Religion-beat pros can get sucked into this whirlpool, as well. The traditional Super Bowl religion-angle story is, of course, the whole "Does God care who wins a football game" story. As I have noted many times, the more devout the believer who is actually involved in the game (classic example would have been the great Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry), the less likely they are to believe in some kind of cause-and-effect prayer equation here.

Thus, most believers simply say that athletes should pray to play their best and for participants to avoid injuries.

But this is not the kind of theological problem that devout Christians actually think about, when faced with something like the Super Bowl. So, if reporters are looking for a valid story linked to The Big Game, what might that look like?

This year, let me point readers toward a feature by a former student of mine, Tim Ellsworth, a communications pro at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., who also writes sports features for Baptist Press. What's his angle this year?

Clue: It comes before a fall.

HOUSTON (BP) -- They work at a job where millions of people watch them. They are cheered, admired, lauded and pampered. People recognize them, hound them for autographs and care what they have to say.
Falcons' long snapper Josh Harris and Patriots' wide receiver Matthew Slater share how professional athletes often struggle with pride.

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Concerning that strange, lost Sports Illustrated Tebow epic

We are running out of football Sundays in this National Football League season, so I had better dig deep into my tmatt file of GetReligion guilt and write as short a post as possible about that amazing Tim Tebow feature that Sports Illustrated ran back before Christmas. Are there any GetReligion readers out there who subscribe to Sports Illustrated these days?

If so, then you surely saw that massive piece entitled “The Book of Tebow.” I mean, this was a long-reader deluxe — a full 12,600-plus words with tons of photos and graphics.

And the thesis statement — focusing on Tebow’s future after being cut by the New England Patriots — was oh, so, newsworthy and screamed out for attention:

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Tim Tebow meets the fans in liberal New England

Man, that Tim Tebow is way more popular than he should be, in light of his third-string quarterback status. Why is that?

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On Tim Tebow, 'spirituality' and stating the obvious

Now, I live in the land of purple and black here in Maryland, home of the World Champion Baltimore Ravens (it’s still fun to say that), where if anyone asked the local faithful to nominate a few candidates for the role of Antichrist, New England coach Bill Belichick would be right near the top of the list. Thus, the announcement that You Know Who had signed with the Patriots (Tim Tebow plus Patriots; get ready for an IRS audit) created quite a bit of amazement.

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