Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"It's a bad night to be an atheist!"

If you're not aware of the origin of that quote, it's from ESPN's Rick Reilly, gushing over the 28-home-run performance of Josh Hamilton in the Home Run Derby last night. (And it's a borrowed quote, too: Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest used it to describe Ben Crenshaw's inspiring 1995 Masters win a week after the death of his beloved teacher, Harvey Pennick).

Of course, Hamilton lost in the finals to Justin Morneau, but nobody on the field really cared, because the story was all about the movie-star handsome Hamilton, who has turned his life around from heroin addiction and made it back to the majors. Hamilton credits dedicating his life to Jesus for the comeback.

I'm sure Hamilton's a nice guy, and--let's be honest--whatever keeps him off the smack, I'm not going to criticize it (if I was a smack-head, and Druidism would keep me clean, I'd be getting Celtic knot tattoos, myself). Nor am I going to, as others have, dog the guy for losing in the finals or make any cracks about Jesus staying in the dugout: truth be told, after hitting 28 home runs, I'm surprised he could lift the bat. Pro hitters aren't used to that much exertion like that in a short time span: they're sprinters, not distance athletes.

But I'm disappointed in Reilly. Come on, Rick, you're better than this.

You're the same Rick Reilly who slammed NFL players back in 1991 for showboating prayer displays at midfield at the end of the games. You castigated Isaac Bruce of the St. Louis Rams a few years back for his holier-than-thou attitude. Remember?

Long story short: Bruce had been in a car accident before his lone Super Bowl win, had called out to Jesus, and had emerged unscathed. Linebacker Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs had been in a similar accident, and had been paralyzed for life (which turned out to be short, as Thomas passed away several months later).

Bruce openly implied that had Thomas called out to Jesus, he would have been spared injury as well; and, when prompted by Reilly, had stated that if golfer Payne Stewart had called out to Jesus in the airplane over Iowa in '99, he'd still be amazing us with that perfect swing. Reilly pointed out that the one girl from Columbine High School had refused to renounce her faith in the face of death, and had been shot by one of the two killer kids, anyway. Bruce parried by saying Reilly didn't know that for sure, Reilly countered that there were witnesses, Bruce pointed out that Reilly hadn't been there to see it happen personally. Reilly left the sanctimony unspoken, encouraging readers to "pray" for Bruce (and, in a different vein, Thomas, who was still alive at the time).

Riles, you're a terrific writer on serious, inspirational issues (the corny metaphors aside). You've broken my heart more than once over the years. But you swung and missed on this one. Not because you made a smart remark about atheists, but because you've come down on taunters of all kinds over the years, religious and otherwise, and made much of the people who actually show their faith or humanity through deeds rather than words. I respect that. Please stick to that in the future.

No comments: