One more time.

For years, Bobby Ross, Jr., and I have written lots of posts about religion-shaped holes in mainstream sports coverage. Apparently, very few GetReligion readers were interested in this topic (as opposed to, let’s say, the American audience for a prime NFL game).

But we soldiered on. This brings me — one last time — to a curious case study involving my Baltimore Ravens (who are still in the Super Bowl hunt, at this point).

Recently, a commentator on one of the dozens of NFL commentary shows asked an interesting question: Why don’t we talk more about the ongoing success of John Harbaugh, the Ravens head coach since 2008? No one had a good answer.

But I will ask a related question: After the Raven’s 34-20 playoff victory over the Houston Texans, which video clip was easier to find? The one (a) with Harbaugh showing his dad-style dancing moves in the joyful locker room or the one (b) in which he opened his press conference, with a very serious tone of voice, with a favorite Bible quote?

Click those Google links and you will see that, once again, the role that Christian faith (Catholic, to be specific) plays in the life and work of this future Hall of Fame coach is a “conservative” news story. Period. The viral dancing moves are much more important.

Which element of these two elements of Harbaugh’s personality is the most important in his life and work? The most accurate answer is “BOTH.”

However, I suspect that Harbaugh would say that his faith is more important.

This brings me to the point that Ross and I have tried to make about the faith-shaped hole in most sports news coverage (and Clemente Lisi has noted this in global soccer coverage, as well). We are not stating that it is automatically news when sports personalities talk about their faith. It is new when they consistently cite their faith as a crucial factor how and why they do what they do in their career and life.

In this case, Fox News (naturally) went with the basic facts: “Ravens head coach John Harbaugh recites Bible verse to open press conference after playoff win.”

The Christian-market Sports Spectrum website noted:

All eyes were on Harbaugh as he celebrated the win by dancing in the locker room, yet he began his postgame press conference not by pointing to himself, or even to his team, but to God and His Word.

“This is something that was said to me before the game, and it just was meaningful to me, so I’m gonna share it with you because I think it’s the right thing to do,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a verse (from 1 Chronicles 29:11, ERV): ‘Greatness, power, glory, victory, and honor belong to you, because everything in heaven and on earth belongs to you. The kingdom belongs to you, Lord. You are the head, the Ruler over everything.’

“There’s an amazing spirit on this team, and I just want to give honor and glory where it’s due.”

The most interesting phrase in that, for me, is highlighted here: “This is something that was said to me before the game …”

When? By whom? Privately? To the team?

Meanwhile, read this feature — “The Ravens’ historical dominance, and what other coaches can learn from John Harbaugh” — by the excellent team at The Athletic and try to find a single hint that Harbaugh’s personality and skill set might, in some way, be influenced, even to a small degree, by his Christian beliefs.

I will end this sermon by noting that, bBefore Harbaugh did that thing that he did, I had already started a research file on another NFL case study linked to the sideline comments of one of the league’s fastest rising superstars.

To dig into this case, readers need to search for these terms — “C.J. Stroud,” Texans, Browns, “Jesus.”

Yes, there was the usual Fox News headline: “NBC faces backlash as Texans’ CJ Stroud’s Jesus mention cut from social media clip.”

However, this time around there was also a story at Sports Illustrated, a beleaguered publication that may be seeking additional Heartland readers these days. Here is that double-decker headline:

NBC Facing Social Media Heat For ‘Censoring’ C.J. Stroud After Win vs. Browns

NBC elected to cut C.J. Stroud’s postgame interview after the Wild Card round short on Sunday for social media

Here are the basic facts about why this controversial editing of the “J-word” ended up going viral in social media.

It’s safe to say that this was due to interest from (a) NFL fans, (b) religious viewers and (c) both.

… (As) one can imagine, following such a resounding win, Stroud’s emotions were running high. And as a result, he gave a passionate postgame interview with NBC’s Sunday Night Football. 

“First of all, I just want to give all glory and praise to my lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” Stroud said. “I mean, it’s been amazing being in this city for as short as I’ve been but the love that I’ve got. I’ve really just been doing it for Houston, man. The people back home, I’m blessed enough to be in the position that I’m in and blessed enough to be playing at a high level right now. We gotta just keep it going, but I’m super blessed.”

Pretty standard interview right? Well, maybe not for NBC.

Upon sharing the interview on social media, NBC oddly elected to cut Stroud’s comments short, removing his religious comments at the beginning. 

As always, the crucial word is “both.” No one is saying that journalists need to splash ink whenever athletes talk about God. The issue is whether it is out of bounds if and when they do. Is religious faith really that bad, that troubling, that “icky” for elite sports journalists?

Just asking. One last time.

FIRST IMAGE: Photo of John Harbaugh, with Bible quote, drawn from the X feed of Sports Spectrum.

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