On April 22, Albert Pujols, a player for the baseball team Los Angeles Angels, hit his 500th career home run, only the 26th player of the game to attain this milestone. On the following day, April 23, the Washington Post struck out when it published its caption for a picture of Pujols on the front page of its Sports section. See the picture here, and the beginning of the caption:
Albert Pujols points to the sky after hitting his 500th career home run in the fifth inning…
Would any reader think that Pujols was pointing “to the sky”? The final editor of this caption knew that Pujols was not pointing “to the sky” yet deliberately chose this phrase. This was such a transparent lie that the Post struck out in any reasonable attempt to maintain journalistic objectivity.
Journalists who cover politics track every act and word of elected officials, appointed officials, and every aspect of the political and legislative processes. The same for journalists who cover business, entertainment, crime, foreign affairs, and gay rights. It’s their business to know everything -- including symbolic acts. The same is true for sports journalists.
How do sports journalists describe the actions of a catcher playing baseball moving his fingers between his thighs? Or a basketball referee pointing his or her two thumbs up?
Or a football player who has just scored a touchdown and places one knee on the ground while bowing?
Or a basketball player who, before attempting a free throw, moves his fingers from his forehead, to his abdomen, and to one and then the other shoulder?
The Post had many pictures from which to choose showing Pujols celebrating after hitting his 500th career homer. There were pictures of him rounding the bases. There were pictures of him surrounded by his excited teammates. The Post didn’t choose any of these; it chose this picture.
If we look simply at the picture, we must ask if there can be any reasonable ambiguity in what Pujols is expressing? We notice that Pujols is pointing with the index finger of both hands, whereas the customary expression is the index finger of just one hand. Furthermore, some players point skyward, or heavenward, in honor of a deceased person, usually a relative.
To resolve any ambiguity, the Post needed to look at the context. Certainly the Post is charged with knowledge of Pujols’ biography since the Post knew before the game started that Pujols had hit 498 homers and the Post had to be ready to write a story whenever he broke 500. Thus the Post knew that Pujols converted to Christianity in 1998, a data point now 16 years old, and that Pujols is serious and public about his faith, stating on his websites:
In the Pujols family, God is first. Everything else is a distant second.
My life’s goal is to bring glory to Jesus. My life is not mostly dedicated to the Lord, it is 100% committed to Jesus Christ and His will. God has given me the ability to succeed in the game of baseball. But baseball is not the end; baseball is the means by which my wife, Dee Dee, and I glorify God. Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.
Furthermore, USA Today reported in 2006, eight years ago, that Pujols started pointing heavenward after hitting homers only after he converted. And, finally, the Post may have been aware of Pujols’ tweet after the game in which he hit his 500th: “Thank you to all of my fans for the well wishes on my HR#500. I thank The Lord for you, & your support over the years. May God bless you all.”
Since the Post had the option of choosing a different picture, it would appear that the Post not only has a problem with an athlete’s public display of belief in, and affection for, God, but wanted to affirmatively refuse to articulate the athlete’s belief, to affirmatively refuse to give Pujols a “platform to elevate” Jesus Christ, by printing as the honest, objective caption: “Pujols points to God” or “Pujols acknowledges God.” Such a caption would imply that God exists. The Post can neither acknowledge this nor provide a disclaimer like the following: “This caption does not necessarily reflect the view the Washington Post, its editors, staff, management or its owner, Nash Holdings LLC.”
Maybe the Post could have employed the colloquial expression: “Pujols acknowledges his god” (in lower case). See my essay on these pages, Herman Cain’s God, Mormonism, and Christmas. Click here.
Would the Post have objectively described Pujols’ hands if Pujols were a cancer survivor? Or a Muslim? Or a Jew?
Would the Post today describe the following four works of art by the esteemed late Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) as including hands pointed “to the sky”?
The standard fashion today is to describe Thanksgiving Day as though God does not exist, as though the thanks being given on that day are being given to no one in particular. The history of the presidential proclamations for Thanksgiving Day, however, identify the Being to whom we are giving thanks. For some of us, for people like Albert Pujols, who know that we “live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28), for us every day is a day of thanksgiving, and every day is a day we are more than happy to give thanks in public. We agree with the lyrics of the Rod Stewart 1993 cover to the 1989 hymn “Have I Told You Lately”:
at the end of the day
we should give thanks and pray
to the One, to the One.
A priest-friend of mine once expressed his irritation at hearing people vocalize prayers about the most picayune things. I used to think this sometimes as well. But for those who acknowledge that they are always in the presence of God, for those who are in a constant conversation with God, nothing is too trivial, nothing too venial.
The late Saint Pio of Pietelcina (known as Padre Pio) (1887-1968) had a vision. You don’t have to believe in the vision to believe in the truth expressed, namely, Jesus told him, sorrowfully, “With what ingratitude is My love for men repaid!” Thank you, Mr. Pujols, for expressing gratitude to Jesus.
Spero columnist James Thunder is a Washington DC-based attorney. Thunder and his wife, Ann, have written a forthcoming work on the relations between priests and the laity on the model of Father Karol Wojtyla, Pope St. John Paul the Great. It will appear in multiple languages.