A Southern Baptist news service report quoting NFL quarterback Kurt Warner has the former MVP scrambling to deny he blamed being benched this season by the St. Louis Rams on his Christian faith.

Baptist Press on Monday carried a story headlined “Former MVP Kurt Warner counts blessings from season’s woes.” The story, about remarks Warner made in Houston just prior to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, included the following quote: “I actually had [Rams] coaches say I was reading the Bible too much and it was taking away from my play. It was OK when we were winning, but now I was [messing] this thing up? People were saying I had lost my job because of my faith.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch picked up the quote, adding this reaction by Rams Coach Mike Martz. “That’s so far off the wall, it’s incomprehensible,” he told the newspaper. “I can’t imagine Kurt saying that. Nothing could be further from the truth. If he said that, it’s a bald-faced lie. I’m just tired of dealing with this type of behavior.”

Warner quickly backtracked, saying reports of his remark were taken out of context. “Never did I make the statement that my faith was the reason I wasn’t playing,” he told St. Louis radio station KFNS on Thursday. “The statements I made over the weekend were just to bring up the fact that there were insinuations and speculation I heard from a number of people that things off the field could have had as much with this as things on the field.”

Some even suggested Warner orchestrated the controversy hoping it would prompt the Rams to trade him. He responded with a statement saying he wants to stay with the team. “I apologize that I made any mention of my relationship with my coaches in a public platform,” he said. “In no way, shape or form do I feel I lost my starting job because of my faith. I regret any controversy this has created. My intentions were to send a positive and uplifting message.”

Warner wouldn’t say whether or not he was quoted accurately in the original story by BP, though his radio interviewers asked him about it three times. “I don’t know what the exact quote is,” he said during the KFNS interview. “I’m just saying that I never made the statement that I believe this was the situation. I’ve said I heard speculation and there was speculation that off-the-field things, standing up for certain things, could have affected by position with this team.”

Both Baptist Press and the reporter who wrote the story stood by the quote but agreed it wasn’t a major focus of the story.

“Kurt did say it, I have it on tape and on transcript,” reporter Art Strickland told the Post-Dispatch. “But that was just a small portion of what the story was. The focus of our story was how to persevere in good times by using your personal faith in Jesus Christ to do that.”

Baptist Press Director Will Hall said in a statement: “Baptist Press published a report about the message of Kurt Warner presented at a Houston church. Mr. Warner underscored to this group the importance of being strong in your faith in good times as well as in adversity. Our reporter taped the message and I’m confident Mr. Warner’s intent was to inspire and encourage others with his remarks—this was the context of our report.”

The original BP story identified Strickland as “an award-winning Christian sportswriter and contributor to Baptist Press.” He reported from Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston “providing exclusive coverage from a spiritual perspective,” according to an editor’s note.

Warner, the NFL’s two-time MVP and MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV, has suffered from various injuries over the past couple of seasons. After a series of interceptions and fumbles on opening day 2003, he was permanently benched and replaced by Marc Bulger.

Warner said the adversity had taught him more about his faith than did his success.

“You want to say, ‘God, how could You allow this to happen?'” he said in the BP story. “I thought I was over the fact of being a backup. It was such a shock, but God allowed me to use this greater platform for Him.”

“If you can stand up for your faith when you’re on top, you can stand up for it now that you’re at the bottom,” he said.

Warner’s agent said the controversy was much ado about nothing. “It’s been blown so far out of proportion that it’s almost comical at this point,” agent Mark Bartelstein told the Associated Press. “It’s just unfortunate that everything he does just seems to be a lightning rod. It’s not right. He’s such a good guy.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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