Challenge Grant: Our Boosters will match donations up to $45,000. We have $41,060 to go. Please donate!
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

religious illiteracy, meet NFL coverage

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 17, 2011

If you're a Catholic who follows NFL football, you've probably heard that Troy Polamalu, the safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a devout Roman Catholic. 

It makes for a good story. But it's not true. He's devout, yes; and it is a good story. But he's not Catholic. Polamalu is Orthodox. 

Did you ever see him making the Sign of the Cross during a game-- which he does with some regularity? If you watched carefully-- and if a nervous cameraman didn't swing quickly away, fearful of offending secular sensibilities-- you might have noticed something a bit odd. He touched his right shoulder first, then left, as the Orthodox (and Byzantine Catholic) faithful always do.

It's easy to miss the right-left hand movement when it's done quickly, especially when you're not expecting it to be done at all. But at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly observes that inaccurate references to Polamalu's faith are common. One reporter refers to Polamalu's icons as "religious items," causing the reader to wonder whether the reporter knows what an icon is. Another reporter calls them "photos," which is just plain wrong, and causes the reader to realize that the reporter doesn't have a clue. 

When it comes to matters of faith, reporters usually don't have clues. For those who are interested, Mattingly explains why it's wrong to say that Polamalu is a "devoted follower of the Greek Orthodox religion." 

This isn't a matter of life-and-death urgency. Not many people expect to get their religious education from NFL coverage. But these little inaccuracies reveal a wider ignorance. If a reporter writing a human-interest story on Polamalu described him as a "running back"-- since he does line up in the backfield, and spends much of the game running-- the editors would guffaw and correct it. If a novice reporter described his uniform top as a "sweater," it would be changed to "jersey."

When it comes to football, the reading public is demanding; journalists had better get their facts straight and use the proper terms. When the subject is religion, not so much.

 

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Our Fall Campaign
Progress toward our year-end goal ($128,907 to go):
$150,000.00 $21,092.70
86% 14%
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Feb. 08, 2011 6:55 PM ET USA

    Some Orthodox jurisdictions do not recognize our Catholic Baptism but others do and to make matters more difficult even some hardliners in the same jurisdiction have differing opinions. The Greek Orthodox monks in my town rebaptize but the local Greek Orthodox church only requires "Chrismation" which is what Latin Catholics call "Confirmation" Since there is no real unity in Orthodoxy there are differing opinions.

  • Posted by: loumiamo7154 - Jan. 23, 2011 11:46 AM ET USA

    I followed the link to the Mattingly piece, and found it interesting that Polamalu felt the need to get re-baptized in the Orthodox church. The article says that Polamalu was Catholic at first, and then switched to Orthodoxy. Is the Orthodox church requiring Catholics to forswear their previous baptism, the same way protestants do?

Fall 2014 Campaign
Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

Recent Catholic Commentary

Cardinal Kasper's nose is growing again October 18
Challenge Grant Begins as Synod Ends October 17
What's wrong with this Synod, IV: Unprepared for marriage October 17
No, mainstream religious orders aren't attracting vocations as fast as younger traditional orders October 17
The Synod: Is the sky falling? October 17

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Key synod report calls for 'gradualism' in Church response to irregular family situations CWN - October 13
Cardinal Parolin: UN must protect innocents from Islamic State CWN - September 30
Synod of Bishops opens with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica CWN - October 6