During a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, revered feature writer Gay Talese noted that when reading a newspaper he often flips to the sports page first. “It’s the only part of the paper you can believe,” he explained.
But what about the believability of sports coverage appearing elsewhere in the paper? Like, say, on the front page of USA Today?
That question arose Wednesday, as various members of the Colorado Rockies baseball team disputed the accuracy of an A-1 article about the club, published earlier in the day.
The piece in question had less to do with the athleticism of the team, and more to do with the players’ religion. Specifically, USA Today singled out the Rockies as an unusually Christian-minded sports organization.
“On the field, the Rockies are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons and only the second time in their 14-year history,” noted USA Today. “Behind the scenes, they quietly have become an organization guided by Christianity — open to other religious beliefs but embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success.”
That Christian-based code of conduct, according to USA Today, permeates the organization, affecting everything from the magazines popular in the locker room (read: no smut) to the types of players targeted by the front office (read: no devil-worshippers).
When informed by USA Today of the Rockies’ supposedly unusual observance of Christ, various members of the baseball community expressed their surprise, including Rockies season ticket holder Tim Boettcher. Said Boettcher: “I had no idea they were a Christian team.”
Apparently, neither did the Rockies.
Yesterday, in an article in Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, various team members responded to the USA Today story and essentially accused the paper of exaggerating their Christian bona fides.
“I thought the story was over the top,” pitcher Jason Jennings told the News.
“I don’t think being part of this team has anything to do with faith or belief,” said Garrett Atkins, the third baseman.
“The story was overblown,” said first baseman Todd Helton. “We’re dirtbags, like 99 percent of the world. Maybe worse, because we are baseball players. Some guys are Christians and some guys aren’t.”
After reading both articles, we can’t help sympathizing with the Rockies players for feeling a bit annoyed with USA Today. Granted, the story’s editors did toss in about nine innings’ worth of disclaimers. Throughout, they conveyed the sense that not all the Rockies were hard-core Christians, that management didn’t discriminate against players of other faiths, and that lots of sports teams, not just the Rockies, use faith to motivate players.
All of which raises the question: Why was it a front-page story?
After all, singling out a sports team for professing a strong belief in “good character” is like singling out a sports team for professing a strong belief in winning. And the fact that some of the team members believe God has a role in their good season hardly amounts to news; in professional sports, thanking God for victory is roughly as unusual as drinking water for hydration.
That said, we’re not entirely disinterested in the subject of religion and American sports. To be sure, if the editors of USA Today ever find a story about a professional sports organization seeking out players of dubious character who profess a strong faith in Satan, we’ll happily encourage them to put that story on the front page.