Friday, August 5, 2011

The Separation Between Church and Sports

To many, sports, the act of participating or viewing, is a religion. It is a sanctum, a place where you retreat to find everlasting peace and divinity.

You don't have to look far to find religious references in sports (i.e "Touchdown Jesus", "The Hail Mary"), yet discussing the role of religion in sports is often thought of being taboo.

The rise of political correctness in America has caused sensitive subjects, like personal religious beliefs and political affiliation, to be stricken from the record. We live in a country where retail employees are no longer allowed to bid customers farewell with "Have a Merry Christmas". It would be more likely to learn the salary of a co-worker (Once thought to be taboo) than their opinion on stem-cell research.

In the late Spring of 2011, college basketball met religion head-on.

Brandon Davies, a power forward for Brigham Young University (A school affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), was suspended from the team for violating rules that adhere with the school's religious beliefs, despite not being a Mormon believer himself. This issue turned into a topic of public agenda, with people like Amare Stoudamire weighing in with his opinion.

Now, why do I bring up the topic of religion, seemingly out of left-field?

I will tell you why, after the jump

Dick Vitale, the voice of college basketball on ESPN, has been vacationing in Europe over the past couple of days, and recently had a chance to visit with Pope Benedict XVII in Italy. Vitale, a devout Catholic, tweeted about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he was given, and shared pictures with his followers.

In the age of social media we live in, where news broadcasts are headlined by twitpics of what athletes had for dinner, it would be somewhat reasonable to think that "Dickie-V meeting the Pope" would get get some face-time on SportsCenter (Or at a minimum, a reference on the bottom line).

But according to Deadspin, ESPN executives released a inter-office memo notifying employees not to air any audio, video or text involving Vitale's visit with the Pope.

Clearly, there is a reasonable explanation to this. the World Wide Leader does not want to to appear as though they, or any public figure associated with them, has a certain religious beliefs. After all, most fans don't care who a player worships, as long as that player limits turnovers, cleans up the glass and can convert his foul shots.

But ESPN's decision to not allow any news to circulate on their Family of Networks represents one of the many problems with the media today.

Didn't ESPN invest some quality airtime into the somewhat-religious remarks made by the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall?

We enabled people to provide updates on their everyday lives, then our news outlets started to report about these updates. Now, our news updaters have become news updates themselves.

Dick Vitale isn't just an ESPN employee. He's a college basketball fixture. You can love his passion, you can hate his questionable allegiance to traditional powerhouses, but he has become more than just an employee. He has become a story. 

Yet the largest sports media outlet in the world doesn't want to cover it.

Religion will always be a sticky subject, and even college hoops cannot avoid debating it's presence from time-to-time. 

Before the Brandon Davies situation, there was Tamir Goodman, aka "Jewish Jordan". Back in 1999, Goodman, a devote follower of Orthodox Judaism, averaged 38-ppg as a junior at Talmudical Academy in Rockville, Maryland. He became an overnight celebrity, and was recruited to play at Maryland. But Goodman never suited up for the Terps, because his religious beliefs restricted him from participating in athletic events on Saturday, the most important day of the week on the college basketball schedule.

But like every front-page news story, it came and went.

The problem is that at least the story was there. Even for a couple months, people talked about Goodman. For weeks, people referenced Stoudemire's quote and Mendenhall's tweets. Yes it's true, their shelf-life was no more than a week long, but at least they were given time on the shelf.

Is ESPN afraid of having to answer questions about religion? Hard to say, but in the world we live in, the anchors and talking heads don't just give us the news. They are the news.

And technically, doesn't "Dickie-V meeting the Pope" qualify as news?

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