February 14, 2005

Don't Dis Jackson; Reggie White, Karaite

Considering today's SportsCenter: disrespect and secret scripture vaults.

Carl Bialik

Two noteworthy moments from this morning's SportsCenter:

1. ESPN analyst Mark Jackson (notable in the aftermath of the Pistons-Pacers brawl for his staunch defense of Ron Artest and for the primacy of "respect" as a factor in adult-male motivation) showed again what's foremost on his mind. Asked by anchor Steve Berthiaume if LeBron James is better than Kobe Bryant, Jackson said, "That's not fair to Kobe Bryant." Next question: Will the Cavaliers win their division? "Let's not disrespect" the Detroit Pistons. Berthiaume, not missing a beat, responds, "No disrespecting, please."

Even questions connote disrespect to the guy. Jackson must have had a bad experience with disrespect as a child.

2. A feature on former NFL defensive end Reggie White, in keeping with the network's coverage of White's death in December, bordered on the hagiographic. No mention of his antigay comments ('s Cyd Zeigler Jr. went far further than Gelf would, in a piece entitled "Not So Sad Reggie White is Dead") nor his attempts at good works that went sour (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Alan J. Borsuk covered this well). White was a complex man with many admirable traits and some bad ones, which apparently doesn't make for good TV. Nor do hokey background chant music and the saccharine Andrea Kremer, yet these, too, are fixtures of ESPN features. The piece ended with a shot of White's widow crying.

But in this instance, all is excusable because the feature focused on fascinating aspects of White's final years. The minister turned increasingly sour on conventional church practices after retirement from football—according to ESPN, White never attended church after 2000—and turned to the original scripture for guidance. In 2003, White went to Israel to meet Karaite scholar Nehemia Gordon and afterwards he studied Hebrew with him by phone twice a week, for two hours; and did much studying on his own. (The ESPN report may have been inspired, so to speak, by a channel called Shy Angel, which aired an exclusive interview with White recently.)

It's not surprising that White turned to a Karaite scholar, since Karaites—literally, "People of the Scripture"—reject post-Biblical interpretation. As indicated on his site, Gordon is highly critical of modern Christianity: "Yeshua's teachings, which supposedly form the basis for Western Christianity, are now filtered through 2000 years of traditions born in ignorance of the land, language, and culture of the Bible." That may be why White's widow told Kremer that Reggie was accused of forsaking Christianity in his final years.

Gelf will endeavor to follow up this story by interviewing Dr. Gordon about his beliefs and his time with White. We'll also ask Gordon what White's widow meant when she told Kremer (in response to a question about an experience White told Kremer he'd had in Israel that was "even better than the Super Bowl"): "He got to see the original Hebrew scriptures, the archives. He got into this vault that nobody, nobody could get into." Gelf never knew such a vault existed.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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