Kaepernick and Christian athletes
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently filed a grievance against the National Football League, accusing all teams of colluding to deny him a place on a team because he kneeled during the national anthem. As was true with Michael Sam, the openly gay player and activist who claimed after he was drafted and released that owners didn’t want him, Kaepernick isn’t playing because he’s not worth signing. Period.
So what is it that keeps Kaepernick in the media spotlight? They like him. Multimillionaire celebrities who wear Che Guevara T-shirts and socks that depict the police as racist pigs are celebrated by reporters. They feel your pain about racist America.
But what if you’re an athlete with passionate beliefs about Jesus Christ? That, folks, is a bridge too far. Jesus Christ is a name that should probably be avoided in mixed company.
They made it almost toxic with Tim Tebow. Liberal radio host Bill Press told him to “STFU,” or “shut the f— up,” about his “Lord and savior.” He called Tebow a “disgrace.” Undeniably, he was voicing the opinion of many journalists — but not all.
Usually, reporters are just uncomfortable with the subject. Take a new ESPN profile of The Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and his remarkable decision to pass up a long-term contract for a year-by-year “franchise tag.” In Kevin Van Valkenburg’s article, faith didn’t bubble up until paragraph 17. Cousins said he told Redskins President Bruce Allen, “I prayed about it and said, ‘Lord, what do you want to do?'”
Faith is central to Cousins. In a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Cousins explained: “I just didn’t feel a peace about signing a long-term contract. I think the Lord communicates with us in many ways, and one of those ways is through his peace. And I just didn’t feel at peace. And in addition, I do believe that the Lord, at least in my life, he likes to use one-year contracts, not long-term contracts, if you will.”
Cousins’ ascent to a starting job in pro football is a dramatic story. ESPN also noted that when he couldn’t get a spot on a college football team, his pastor father asked him, “Are you going to try and control your future, or are you ready to surrender your future to the Lord and let him do as he pleases?”
ESPN can’t really handle the spin on this ball. The website GetReligion, which often notices clumsy reporting on religion, pointed out that this long article never included the words “church” or “Christian.”
Superstar Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has also spurred this awkwardness. An August story ran in the Los Angeles Times about his marriage to his wife, Ellen Kershaw. The writer wrote that their wedding was soon followed by a trip to Zambia to work with orphans. Why? “It was always on her heart,” he said. “It wasn’t on my radar and I knew when I married her that it was going to involve me, so we went over there the first time three weeks after we got married. And it does. It changes you.”
“It was on her heart” is Christian lingo. The Kershaws then co-authored a book with Ann Higginbottom titled “Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself.” They wrote, “The battle to maintain a Christ-centered identity is the most worthy fight we will face.” But you wouldn’t know that from the newspaper account, which just avoided the entire religion angle.
In the last year, journalists have lamented a lack of role models for youth, and rightly so. Why not then spotlight the athletes whose Christianity is their inspiration? There are many stories out there waiting to be told.
Bozell is president of the Media Research Center.