Friday, February 17, 2012


David Brooks is getting a lot of flak, particularly on Twitter (where he's trending), for his column about Jeremy Lin's Christian beliefs. Brooks is being mocked primarily for writing this:

Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He's a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn't neglect the biggest anomaly. He's a religious person in professional sports.

Ta-Nehisi Coates responds:

Did David Brooks just claim Lin is an anomaly because "he's a religious person in professional sports?" Are there no black people in sports?

To which I'd add: or whites from the South?

Or, y'know, Tim Tebow? But Brooks does seem to be aware of the existence of religious athletes:

We’ve become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach, from Billy Sunday to Tim Tebow.

So what is his point? (Felix Gilman has a thought: "I think problem here is that Brooks is misusing 'anomaly' when really all he means is 'thing' or 'column hook.'")

NPR's Steve Inskeep wants to cut Brooks a little slack:

... in re: D.Brooks: religion not "anomaly" in sports, but rest of column provocative: contradiction btwn faith & act

And that's not completely off base. The point Brooks goes on to make is that religion is about selflessness, as Lin himself has put it, while sports is about the opposite. Brooks writes:

The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy....

The modern sports hero is competitive and ambitious....

He is assertive, proud and intimidating....

But there's no use denying -- though many do deny it -- that this ethos violates the religious ethos on many levels. The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God....

Jeremy Lin has wrestled with this tension quite openly. In a 2010 interview with the Web site Patheos, Lin recalled, "I wanted to do well for myself and my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God?" ...

The odds are that Lin will never figure it out because the two moral universes are not reconcilable....

OK, fine -- but, David, why write this column now? Why write it about Lin and not, say, Tebow, or one of the many other athletes who wear their religion on their sleeves?

Well, of course, this is Brooks being precisely what he accuses liberals of being: someone who's unable to give serious consideration to people who aren't part of his sociocultural subgroup. Non-white athletes who regularly thank God in post-game interviews don't count because, well, they're non-white -- who cares? Tebow isn't relevant to Brooks, either because Brooks doesn't want to critique a hero of the Applebee's salad bar or because Brooks barely noticed Tebow's existence all last year, even as he was scolding us liberals for effete contempt directed at heartlanders. (Um, we sure noticed Tebow.) Or maybe Brooks just thinks Tebow is a noble savage whose simple faith is charming to observe but isn't worth analyzing. Lin, on the other hand, is (based on his educational attainments) one of us -- so what he thinks about God actually matters.

And there's Brooks in a nutshell: the guy who mocks us for our dismissal of the heartland embodies what he denounces.

1 comment:

Bob Blah Blog said...

or maybe david brooks follows sports about as closely as I follow the quarterly cycles of the top 7 hedge funds...which is to say never. The difference of course being I don't have the nerve to pontificate on matters I know nothing about.