THERE IS ANOTHER PROBLEM WITH THAT AUBURN STORY

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

LET'S TALK ABOUT EASY SHORTCUTS, LIKE CALLING AN ATHLETE "SPIRITUAL"

One quick note on the Selena Roberts story about Auburn. There are at least two references to how religious the McNeil family is, a crutch of the worst sportswriting in that it grants some kind of granted, loaded, and positive meaning to the word.

We live in the most religious portion of the country, a place where a lot of people who self-identify as "spiritual" routinely have irresponsible sex with disastrous consequences, shoot each other over absolutely nothing, cheat on their spouses, stump for openly fraudulent businesses, write medieval gibberish into the legal code, and demand it be granted some kind of face value on the basis that someone goes to church. The best people we have ever known go to church. The worst people we have ever known went to church. Pardon us if the term has an ambiguous value at best with a data set showing little correlation between practice and theory.

We're fine if you're openly religious, or if you're not, but for anyone writing accurately about a situation this is a descriptor that contains no demonstrable value. She simply wants you to take it for granted that being religious means something, just as half the sportswriters in the world took Ray Lewis' religiosity as a given unit of virtue without pointing out that Ray Lewis doesn't give a dime to charity. It is the same press that hasn't ever asked a single question about the Tebow family's work in the Philippines, and instead just assumes missionary work is a net good. (This is far from accurate: there's great missionary work, and disastrous missionary work, and a lot that falls in between. In Tebow's case, no one has ever bothered to look, or even ask. It's just taken prima facie.) This is the same press that bought the greased sainthood of Manti Te'o in some part due to his Mormon faith and Notre Dame's god-haunted mystique.

A critical reader should not assume the word means anything. I grew up Catholic. In no way shape or form can you call me religious in any sense, but it does stick with us in a few ways. The most consistent one is an emphasis on action, and that belief without action is just pissing into a stiff wind and calling it a sunshower. Another is a lifelong focus on blood, violence, and the Old Testament, since that was the part we really enjoyed asking CCD teachers about. We were the worst CCD student ever, and apologize to our teachers for ever being there.

The point is this: that if you want to demonstrate how good someone's character is, don't just give them a sticker. Show it, illustrate it, and give examples. Telling me someone has good church attendance tells the reader they can show up to meetings. Showing them doing something--like, say, adopting two orphaned children because they didn't want to split up siblings--means something to the reader. That's not even a matter of religion. It's good writing, and the difference between painting a portrait and scrawling out a caricature of a subject.

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