Retro Post: Remember Rick Reilly at the 2008 Home Run Derby?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Former Seattle RB Shaun Alexander is a born again Christian; his children are named Heaven, Trinity, and Eden; he's publically credited the power of prayer for injury recovery, and in his book, Touchdown Alexander, he wrote "Everyone has been given gifts that can be used to bring glory to God," he writes. "And when we bring glory to God through the gifts He has given us, we are blessed. For me, the gift was athletic ability."

And Shaun Alexander had a terrible season in 2007. In fact, he's been below 4.0 ypc in each of the last two seasons, and just two years after his 1800+yd season in which he was first team All-Pro and led the Seahawks within a couple of crummy referees calls to winning their first ever Super Bowl - he got released and as of this writing - he is out of the league. It is a freefall of historic proportion and one which should squarely be blamed on his religious faith.

Or so Rick Reilly would have you believe.

Monday night, in the midst of Josh Hamilton's 28 home run round at the All Star Game Home Run Derby, Rick Reilly, making, I think, his live event debut for ESPN after years of writing for Sports Illustrated, punctuated a story about Hamilton's Christian conversion deserving the credit for his comeback from heroin and crack addiction with the following:

"It's a lousy night to be an atheist."


ESPN's had a little controversy recently; a columnist from their website, Jemele Hill, recently took a suspension for making a joke about how rooting for the Celtics was like rooting for Hitler.
It was a joke, in the context of jokes, but ESPN made a corporate judgment that it wasn't the type of joke permissible on its website. My suggestion is that people stop using Hitler references entirely and instead focus on former Indonesia dictator Suharto. He was a bad dude too.
Rick Reilly made a joke on Monday, "It's a lousy night to be an atheist." Interestingly, that comment was following several in which Reilly noted the lack of racial diversity in the home run hitting contest; a fair, if provocative, observation that couldn't have resounded with a bigger thud from the other analysts. You could almost hear in Karl Ravitch's voice that expression of panic Mike Myers had on the Katrina special when Kanye said that George Bush didn't care about black people. Maybe that's what we can blame for The Love Guru. Kanye scared the funny clean of out Myers.

A discussion of politics in the context of sports is not only appropriate, it's needed; politics are everywhere, embedded in everything we do - that baseball has embraced a former heroin user while Barry Bonds cannot get a job for the minimum salary is a political issue; that the percentage of major leaguers who are African-American (8.2) is the lowest its been in 20 years is a political issue; the domination of sports clubhouses and corporate suites by conservative Christians is a political issue.

Ideally, that's the purpose for this space, to discuss those issues (at least, when I'm not making a list...I love me some lists). My main thought about Rick Reilly's comment is that gas is 4 bucks a gallon, I don't care if he makes a bad joke about atheists; it reflects, more than adds to, the status of atheists as incredibly marginalized minority group in ChristianAmerica.
Reilly couldn't have gotten away with saying the things I wrote about Shaun Alexander. Even if it were a joke, he would have lost his ESPN job more quickly than did Rush Limbaugh. When we talk about religion in sports - it's almost always conservative Christianity, and almost always in glowing terms. Not only do we not ever hear the equivalent of the old punchline "Jesus made me fumble," but a non-believing athlete has as much chance of getting a positive airing for his belief that a lack of reliance on Jesus or Allah or Zeus or any other mythological being makes him mentally strong as a gay athlete does of coming out of the closet to thunderous acceptance.

All credit to Josh Hamilton for being able to salvage his career. He can certainly pass that credit on to his religion; that's his choice.

But Rick Reilly was wrong - Monday night wasn't a bad night to be an atheist.

I had a helluva night. I bet on Justin Morneau.

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