by Sandi Dolbee
Last month's bonehead burning of Islam's holy book by U.S. troops in Afghanistan has reporters scrambling to cover the violent aftermath, trust issues and the time-line for withdrawal. There's a sidebar story that Voice of America picked up, but that merits broader exploration: the etiquette for handling religious texts.
The story includes, of course, Islam's extensive list of prohibitions concerning Qurans. One of injunction: don't burn them. You might also discover that the U.S. Defense Department issued its own set of orders several years ago for handling the Quran at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Broadening the story to other religions, reporters will learn that Judaism also has rules for the disposal of damaged Torah scrolls. Don't burn them; bury them.
Catholic canon law lays out various options for disposing of blessed religious objects — including chalices that break, vestments that wear out and leftover Eucharist. Some seasonal trivia: Palms from Palm Sunday are to be burned and their ashes recycled, to be used for the next Ash Wednesday.
The news media serve as the continuing education classroom of the nation. Here's a chance to connect the dots to show the similarities — and not only the differences — of people of faith. The American landscape is painted with a rainbow of religions — including millions of Muslims, Jews and Christians. Which makes this a local story, whether you're in Los Angeles or Little Rock, Walla Walla or West Palm Beach.
High fives to the Huffington Post and Sports Illustrated for tackling a crucial question in the New Orleans Saints' bountygate scandal. Paying players to take out their opponents isn't just a violation of NFL rules and good sportsmanship; it's also a crime.
“The bounty system implicates at least two types of criminal charges: battery and conspiracy,” writes attorney Michael McCann in his SI.com column on sports law. “Battery, which under Louisiana law is punishable by up to six months in jail, refers to the intentional use of force upon another person without that person's consent.”
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has already apologized for his role in the bounty bonuses, “could be charged as a conspirator,” McCann adds.
Attorney Linda Kenney Baden, writing in the Huffington Post, added another allegation: organized crime. Her blistering rebuke pointed out that players and coaches alike were part of the hits-for-hire campaign. “Call the bounty program that allegedly sought to hurt, maim, destroy and purposely injure high-powered football players what it is: criminal,” she writes. “This is organized crime at its worse — nothing less.”
Sports Illustrated is doing a particularly good reporting on bountygate. In this week's cover story, Peter King writes that NFL officials have damning audio picked up during the NFC Championship game two years ago between the Saints and the Minnesota Vikings.
“Over four quarters that Sunday at the Superdome, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was hit repeatedly and hard,” King writes. “The league later fined Saints defensive linemen Bobby McCray and Anthony Hargrove a total of $25,000 for three separate improper hits, and NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said the Saints should have been flagged for a brutal high-low mashing by McCray and defensive lineman Remi Ayodele in the third quarter. Favre suffered a badly sprained left ankle on that play and had to be helped off the field. On the New Orleans sideline, Hargrove excitedly slapped hands with teammates, saying, 'Favre is out of the game! Favre is done! Favre is done!'”
“An on-field microphone directed toward the sideline caught an unidentified defender saying, 'Pay me my money!'”
Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irish statesman and writer, said something about our behavior that's lived on through the ages: “All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” Huddle up; there's a whole lot more locker-room reporting left to be done.
Sandi Dolbee is the former religion and ethics editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her beat coverage, she also is a two-time recipient of Religion Reporter of the Year, the Religion Newswriters Association's top award. She is a past president of the RNA, which represents reporters who cover religion in the secular media, and has received fellowships to study religion and ethics issues at USC, the University of Maryland, New York University and the University of Cambridge in England.