O.J. Brigance

NFL star's tragic loss: It's hard to talk about family-man Todd Heap without mentioning the obvious ...

NFL star's tragic loss: It's hard to talk about family-man Todd Heap without mentioning the obvious ...

It was hard to avoid the faith element of a story when almost everyone involved in talking about a family tragedy kept mentioning it.

However, some top-flight journalists tried really hard to keep the faith talk at a generic level when covering the tragic accident that claimed the life of the 3-year-old daughter of a former National Football League star. Tight end Todd Heap was a Pro Bowl-level performer for years with the Baltimore Ravens, but finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals -- a career move that was completely logical for reporters who understood his Mormon heritage and his faith.

I thought the best feature about this accident -- a mix of tweets, URLs, material from other news sources and reporting -- ran in The Washington Post, obviously not that far from Baltimore. Let's start there, in material near the top.

Heap, the 37-year-old former Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals tight end, accidentally drove over his 3-year-old daughter, killing her as he moved his truck in the driveway of the family’s Mesa, Ariz., home. She was pronounced dead at a Phoenix-area hospital and, although authorities are investigating, they indicated there was no sign that Heap was impaired or that what happened was anything other than a parent’s worst nightmare.
What happened to Heap, a popular player who retired in 2013, moved people in and out of sports, mostly because so many understand how easily such an accident could happen to anyone. Social media reactions often carried emoji of broken hearts and hands folded in prayer. The Ravens may have put the magnitude of what happened best, calling the accident “knee-buckling news” for Heap, his wife, Ashley, and their other four children in a statement.

In quote after quote, players and friends make it clear that faith was and is a key element of the Heap family story. This angle was simply impossible to avoid.

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Baltimore Sun ignores religion ghosts in Maryland debates on 'death with dignity' bill

Baltimore Sun ignores religion ghosts in Maryland debates on 'death with dignity' bill

Baltimore is the kind of place where a Super Bowl ring does grant someone a certain level of moral and cultural authority.

Thus, I was not surprised that Baltimore Ravens executive O.J. Brigance, a linebacker and special-teams star in the team's first Super Bowl win, was asked to testify during the legislative hearings on a proposed "death with dignity" law in Maryland. Also, I was not surprised that The Baltimore Sun decided to lead its report on these hearings with this unique man's testimony.

However, I was surprised that Brigance -- one of the most outspoken Christians on the Raven's staff (click here for previous GetReligion posts on this) -- did not say anything about his faith during his testimony. Or, perhaps, the members of the Sun team were anxious to avoid the Godtalk during the debates about this hot-button moral issue?

First, here is what readers were told about Brigance:

On Tuesday, testifying with a machine that replaced the voice taken from him by ALS, the former linebacker told Maryland lawmakers that his most significant feat came after he grieved over his degenerative condition and decided to live.
"Because I decided to live life the best I could, there has been a ripple effect of goodness in the world," Brigance said. "Since being diagnosed, I have done a greater good for society in eight years than in my previous 37 years on earth."
His testimony came during an emotional hearing in Annapolis on a proposed "death with dignity" law, a measure that is named in honor of Richard E. "Dick" Israel, another prominent Marylander with a neurodegenerative disease. While Israel is spending his final months fighting for the right to end his life, Brigance says his terminal disease brought meaning to his.

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