Please Stop Using Jeremy Lin to Illustrate Your Pet Theories

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If your writing file displays little interest in professional sports, Jeremy Lin is a really bad place to start. There are just too many trip-wires. From David Brooks:

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.

This is precisely backwards. The fact that Jeremy Lin is "a religious person in professional sports" may well be the least anomalous thing about him, short of him being an actual athlete. As any casual sports fan knows, America's major sports are overrun with God-thanking, Bible-study-convening, Christ-quoting athletes.

Brooks seems to be aware of this when he says "We've become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach," but that directly contradicts his original point. He then goes on to argue that "the moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith." A sympathetic reading says that the point about Lin being an anomaly was poor-wording on the way to this much more substantive argument.

Fair enough. But I don't really see why sports is any more in "tension" with the "moral ethos of faith" than a great variety of other human endeavors. I'm not even sure that it is. And if we agree that Lin is, in fact, not an anomaly, then why are we talking about this now? Why not with Tony Dungy? Or Charlie Ward? Or Kareem-Abdul Jabbar? Why now?

I think we need to clear about something: Jeremy Lin is a human being with the athletic capacity to play, and evidently, excel at professional basketball. That fact differentiates him from the vast majority of the population--regardless of ethnicity. As Stacy said in comments a few days ago--Jeremy Lin is a freak athlete. Like Michael Vick is a freak athlete. Like Wes Welker is a freak athlete. Like Peyton Hillis is a freak athlete.

Lin's religiosity, it turns out, tends to be fairly common among freak athletes. I'd push it further and (disagreeing with my label-mate Robert Wright) say that the fact that Lin's ability to see the floor in a way that most civilians don't, is also fairly common among freak athletes who excel at playing point-guard. There is a great significance in the fact that Lin is Asian-American--but that significance, I would argue, lies more in what we see, than in what he is.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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