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Win one for Joel

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Dec. 14 will be the 100th anniversary of the death of college student George Gipp, nicknamed “The Gipper.” He was a halfback, quarterback, and punter on the 1920 Notre Dame football team coached by Knute Rockne. Cause of death: a streptococcal throat infection and pneumonia. Cause of his being remembered: Ronald Reagan played him in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American and ran for president with “The Gipper” as his nickname.

In God’s kindness, we now have penicillin and amoxicillin: They weren’t around in 1920. We don’t have, though, an antibiotic that can take care of a broken hip, which Joel Belz suffered on Oct. 24. Coming back from one is particularly hard for a 79-year-old with Parkinson’s disease. Each of the past few years I’ve written a fundraising column, so I had thought out one several months ago. But Joel’s distress is more important than any cleverness I could throw at you.

A few words about Joel: I’ve met some extraordinary Christians throughout the years, but Joel is the godliest man I’ve had the privilege of interacting with for a third of a century. He encouraged me to be bold and courageous, but he also told me once, “Don’t lead with your chin,” advice I’ve sometimes forgotten. If you’ve written a critical letter and received a kind response from me, it’s first because of Christ but second because of Joel, who modeled for me leadership that could be forthright but also gentle. That I’m retiring from editing in 2022 instead of clinging to my position is because Joel did the same for me in the 1990s. The errors I’ve made are my own, but the good stuff is because of Jesus and Joel.

Joel is the godliest man I’ve had the privilege of interacting with for a third of a century.

Because I esteem Joel not from just my brain but my heart, I don’t think it’s over the top to quote a line from the 1940 movie version of Coach Rockne’s “Win One for the Gipper” speech to the Notre Dame players who trailed at halftime of their 1928 game against Army. In the Notre Dame locker room Rockne (played by Pat O’Brien) looks at the players, sitting silent and dejected with blankets around their shoulders. Rockne, with misty eyes, recites Gipp’s dying words: “When the team is up against it—and the breaks are beating the boys—tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper.” Following a hushed silence, the players look at each other. One says, “What are we waiting for?” The players throw off their blankets and, with a unified roar, rush out to the field—and win the game.

Joel started WORLD in 1986. The following year I mentioned in my book about journalism, Prodigal Press, how news would soon arrive via personal computers: That would mean less newspaper advertising but an open door for Christians to compete. I criticized the defeatist moan regarding media heard in some churches, and wrote, “Christians will not succeed by offering readers and viewers more of the same, slightly cleaned up.”

Joel was already on the way to offering something different as he pioneered the most important innovation in Christian journalism in 150 years: a magazine forthright in offering a Biblical approach to all stories and refusing to become an evangelical public relations organ. That might mean at times running stories unpopular among some readers and even our own board of directors—but Joel recruited a board that valued WORLD’s independence and refusal to have sacred cows. Although we irritated just about every major evangelical leader at some point, Joel never told us to back off, and his successor as CEO, Kevin Martin, has been equally supportive.

Joel’s been active in fundraising throughout the years, but as he recovers he needs to take a break. Could you fill in for him by giving online at To work off Knute Rockne, All American, please rush onto the field yelling, “What are we waiting for? Let’s win one for Joel!”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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