Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Coaching and Preaching: When the Football Field Becomes A Church

Ron Brown, an assistant football coach at the University of Nebraska, has been on the public hot seat since he spoke against a proposed Omaha city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  In his testimony, Brown listed his address as Memorial Stadium and lectured the city council about their lack of adherence to Biblical principles and the dangers of protecting people that he believes God says are an abomination.  Brown has received lots of media criticism for his public rant and has prompted several LGBT sports advocates and mainstream sports commentators to call for his firing. In response to criticism, Brown self-righteously proclaimed that it would be an honor to be fired for his religious principles. 
First, is there any question in anyone’s mind whether anyone would give a rat’s patoot what Ron Brown thinks if he were not a University of Nebraska football coach?  Is there anyone who seriously believes that Ron Brown is not using his position as a football coach as a platform to publicly express his personal beliefs?
The question is not whether Ron Brown has a right hold and to express his personal religious and political views. Of course he does. Ron Brown and others who try to turn this into an issue of religious discrimination are completely missing the point here.  The issues at the heart of this controversy are twofold:  One, where do we draw the line when a public employee, such as a football coach at a state university, holds personal views that are in conflict with the policies of the public institution where he is employed. Two, what are the expectations with regard to a public employee’s expression of personal religious beliefs in her or his professional role.
The University of Nebraska has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation.  Public school employees, which Ron Brown is as a coach at a public university, are subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution meaning that as a public employee he is required to be neutral with regard to religion in the carrying out of his professional duties.  The university President has publicly distanced himself and the university from Brown’s statements while acknowledging Brown’s right as a private citizen to express his views as he chooses. Fair enough, but that is not what is going on here.
It seems there is some confusion at Nebraska about what “religious neutrality” means: Ron Brown’s outgoing voice message on his university office phone includes a liberal dose of his religious beliefs. He listed the university football stadium as his home address when he spoke before the Omaha city council.  His bio on the Huskers football web site includes the following:
“Off the field, Brown and former Husker Stan Parker are co-founders and co-directors of a statewide Christian ministry called Mission Nebraska. This ministry stewards MY BRIDGE RADIO, which consists of numerous Christian radio stations and translators across Nebraska. Mission Nebraska also facilitates a statewide Christian endeavor called FreedMen, which challenges and inspires men and boys to take a strong courageous Christian stand in the public square. The 54-year-old Brown spent the four years prior to his return to coaching serving as the Nebraska State Director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. While he relinquished that duty to return to the Cornhuskers, he continues as a regular columnist for FCA's National Magazine "Sharing the Victory." Through Mission Nebraska, Brown also hosts a weekly statewide cable TV show called "Truth Vision", along with daily radio spots…He has authored several books on Christian character and growth. He is an outspoken advocate on many issues, including adoption, abstinence and drug and alcohol education, race relations and anti-pornography, to name a few.”
Brown freely acknowledges that he routinely sprinkles in Biblical references in his coaching and conversations with his players. He claims that his religious talk does not bother his athletes. Really?  How would he know? What does he expect them to say to their coach, someone who has power over their access to playing time?  What about the Jews or Muslims or atheists on his team, how do they feel about his open promotion of Christianity on the football field?  How free do they feel to challenge the coach?
Brown is also now vowing that he would not discriminate against a gay player on the football team despite his opposition to homosexuality and laws that protect them from discrimination.  Am I missing something? He publicly condemns anti-discrimination laws, yet he expects us to believe he would have no problem coaching a gay player?
This is not the first time Ron Brown has been accused of violating his position as a prominent public employee.  He has also come under fire in the past from the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting Christianity in speeches at public schools. Ron Brown is not the first and certainly won’t be the last coach to be so public about his private religious views.  Coaches mixing religion and sports in public educational institutions is a common practice despite the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Athletes have long tolerated coach-led team prayers; team prayer breakfasts; coaches urging athletes to attend Bible studies; coaches using Biblical quotes mixed in with the motivational speeches; unlimited access of sports ministries, like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to athletes on school teams; as well as outright discrimination against or condemnation of lesbian and gay coaches and athletes – all in the guise of “saving” souls.
Ron Brown is a fervent Christian who believes he and others who believe exactly what he does have a direct line to God.  He has somehow confused the football field with a church and his position as a coach with that of a pastor.  The problem is that we are wasting too much outrage on Ron Brown for this.  We should be spending a lot more attention focused on the head football coach and the university president at the University of Nebraska.  The head coach’s silence and the university president’s bland assurances that Ron Brown has a right to his personal views even if the university does not agree with them ignore the blatant disregard for federally mandated expectations that Ron Brown’s actions exemplify. 
Brown was mixing Cornhusker football and Christianity in clear violation of his obligations as a public employee before he decided to testify against city ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination.  The evidence is there on his office phone voice message, in this coaching bio, in his own acknowledgment of his use of Biblical quotes in coaching.  What more do Nebraska officials need?  What does it take for them to demand that their employees, including assistant football coaches, adhere to the requirements and expectations of religious neutrality?   Clearly, if the rights of students of all religious and all sexual orientations are to be protected in public schools, administrators need to make clear what is expected and take action if any employee violates the principle that every student, athlete or not, has the right to attend a public school free of religious influence from their professors and their coaches.
Other Christian coaches may believe homosexuality is a sin, but also believe that everyone on their team should be treated with respect.  They live their faith, but they do not shove it in the faces of their athletes. They do not advocate against legal protection for those they see as sinners or use their position as coaches as a pulpit from which to preach their religious beliefs. They live their faith, especially the part about treating others with love and respect, without proselytizing. 
Ron Brown does not understand this distinction and his employers have failed to insist that, in order to abide by the law, he must.


Wyman Stewart said...

Nice rant.

Do you own a Bible? Have you read the Bible? Do you still read the Bible?

(I hope you own, have read, and still read the Bible. In no way does that mean you have to believe the Bible or believe in the Bible.)

When I first saw your topic, I was going to mention that sports and religion have shared a long history with each other. If you go back into history you will find many churches sponsored church baseball teams. I believe Dr. Naismith invented basketball, either while working for or in assisting the YMCA or whatever it might have been called at the time. I say this off the top of my head based on memory of books and articles I've read in my lifetime, so I admit my memory is a little fuzzy on the details. Still, I think I am being fairly accurate.

So, without RELIGION, chances are, there would be NO Major League Baseball, NO NFL, and NO WNBA, because there would not be an NBA. That does not say that secular business organizations didn't set up professional sports, but I think you would find most of these men were known to be religious or publicly acknowledged their religious beliefs, implying this had a positive effect on their ownership of their team.

PART of why I am HERE posting, communicating, if you will, is to advocate the need for compromise between the Gay Community and the larger Straight Community on various issues. No doubt after hearing the rant of Dan Savage at the NSPA convention and reading your rant, COMMUNICATION IS NEEDED, I would say "required," except you can lead both horses to the water, but you can't make them drink from the same river.

Your point of view (along with others, I suspect), is deeply flawed. You can CHOOSE to destroy this country, if you wish (that seems to be an odd inherent right tucked into the Constitution, which maybe only I believe, but I think it is so) or you can CHOOSE to work toward true compromise to hold the country together. We once fought a Civil War, so the dissolution of the country has been tried before.

This rant begs this question to be asked: Which do you wish to do, destroy this country in the name of homosexuality or unite this country to the best of your ability in the name of ALL the citizens of this country?

It currently appears that one of your major goals is to shove all religious people into the closet you came out of many years ago, then set that closet on fire, destroying all you shoved into it, then call that a proper compromise. That's a poor choice, if that is your choice. That has NO connection to CIVIL RIGHTS, except it is the denial of civil rights to a class of people of your choosing. Not very moral.

Wyman Stewart said...

In ignorance we all walk.

I accept this sad fact of life, yet strive to find knowledge and wisdom, when and where I can. If a man/woman/homosexual claims to be a Christian, I accept their word at face value, for I assume this is the person's true belief. Then, I am left to observe whether they live by and act in ways that appear to me, to be Christian. If not, then I conclude they are not Christian. If acting true to their claim, I conclude I have found nothing counter to what they say, yet I know, only God knows if that person is Christian. A Jew, a Muslim, name the religion, my view remains the same. (I view one God, but all people live in ignorance.)

However, my main point is, not every person who claims to be Christian or religious, is in fact so. Even if the person is, that person will be unable to practice perfection in their faith, so why ask it of the person? From a religious perspective and a personal perspective, I accept the rise of homosexuality was predicted long before we were born, along with many other things. YOU, homosexuals, appear to have "arrived" in my lifetime (unexpected, I admit), although predicted. It brings to bear a number of religious and moral questions. It means, learning about the Gay Community and learning to ask hard questions. Some questions, there are no answers for (at least at this date and there may never be). Others may have answers, but require both (all) sides to find agreement.

I believe in any group, there is a small, but significant set of radical thinkers, there is a large (majority) set of civilized, less expressive thinkers, and there is a small set of "status-quo forever" thinkers. This is my view of the Gay Community and the Straight Community. If the radicals of either side win out, there will be great personal destruction for all.

I am myself. I am straight. I hope I will always live the courage of my convictions. I would not have any person lock their lives in a closet. I would ask each of you to live the courage of your convictions. Be who you are born to be. Pat likes to say "Freedom of Speech" does not mean free speech has no consequences. That's true on the face of it. Without the protection of your fellow citizens, the consequences can be destructive. So, "Freedom of Speech" has a broader meaning and broader implications than Pat Griffin ever mentions.

Even though safe passage can not be guaranteed to all, it seems time to call everyone out of their closet. This, so civilized people can prevent radicals from both sides from not only setting the agenda, but dictating the results of that agenda.

We have arrived at a historic time. Your, and my perspective, of that time likely are different. I will share a little of my view in the next comment.

Wyman Stewart said...

I believe, but I cannot prove, that we are fast approaching a juncture in America, which can lead to a reasonably quick destruction of this country or a longer, more open-ended extension of the life of this country. I can only address here the Gay Communities small part in this, as I understand it, from self-study.

I said I feel this time is predicted, and yes, this comes out of my Biblical belief. However, I arrive at a more nuanced understanding than some religious people, I think. If I believe in God, then I believe God knows all Gay people, for who you are. Therefore, you should be yourself. You will argue to be yourself, you must have rights.

Without getting into all the disputes that simple language can arouse, I will say this, rights should not disenfranchise the rights of others, which is part of what Pat Griffin expounds. I have little doubt you will win various constitutional battles, which may appear to improve the Gay Communities life.

Yet, at what price to the soul of a whole country and with what destruction; at first hidden, then revealed too late to prevent?

This leads me to believe there is a need for compromise; compromise, which requires great minds, coming from all sides. I don't think a person has to be religious to see this. If you take a long, objective look, you will see this.

I came here looking for exactly that kind of advocacy, but have not found it. If it continues to go unfound, on a larger national scale, then I see the destruction of this country, as the world has known it, for close to 300 years.

(Not only because of the Gay Community and an over-zealous, not always righteous Christian Community, but other things, as well.)

I would ask everyone to take time for much deeper thought. If, when I leave here in the near future, I leave hearing only the radical side of the Gay Community (which seems to want to stab everyone in the back, who is declared an enemy), then it is the hate I will remember, not the sense of fellowship and compromise, found in a civil society.

You see, the details of Pat Griffin's post today, weren't even worth attempting to comment on. Why point out she did not name any Nebraska player who was Jewish, Muslim, or atheist, who is on the Nebraska football team. As she well knows as a college educated person, that is setting up a "straw man" to knock down in logic and is often employed by people to mislead. Mislead on prayer, in this case.

Maybe her own Gay Community fears to contradict her potentially destructive comments. It's a sorry thing, if everyone agrees with her destructive comments. Perhaps some of those who claim to be out of the closet, remain deeper in the closet than you realize.

I can't give you a full, complete explanation of my views, but I came here with hope. Each passing week, I leave with less hope. At least you can't say I did not come. You can't say I did not listen. You can't say I did not try to communicate.

To those who have communicated with me, I thank you. Has been quite interesting at times; very intelligent too. For the vast majority, who don't communicate, I think Pat Griffin deserves better from you. Without a willingness to find agreeable compromise, I see a bleak future for all.

Pat Griffin, you have to be a better person. If not, I hope one day you will be.

Anonymous said...

Hey Wyman - As you have seen the LGBT Crew is in take no prisoners mode. They don't care what others think nor about any potential impact to society.

They're willing to figuratively "burn the house down" if they don't get their way and they don't care who is inside when it burns.

To say they hate organized religion would be the understatement of the century. They feel organized religion is the only formal organization left in society that hasn't embraced their deal. They're integrated, out and aggressive in business, academia, the media and now the military. They're pushing for the gay marriage thing to be legally formalized on a national basis with mixed results. Organized religion is the final hill they have to climb. It is what it is.

I guess we'll see what happens.

sportatlet said...

Awaisome post. Thanks a lot. You do right work for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody else out there had enough of whining Wyman Stewart. Closet case just drop it already. You're not communicating. You are ranting ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Actually Wyman has been commenting here for a while and it's pretty clear he puts some serious thought into his posts.

I don't remember Pat responding to many of his opinions. If Wyman's perspectives are so distasteful Pat should filter the posts to protect the sensitive nature of her LGBT crew. If she decides to let them through then it is what it is.

Frankly the lack of any effort to respond in a meaningful way to any dissenting opinion on this blog appears to indicate you folks are either incapable of doing so or too lazy to put the effort in. Either way it doesn't reflect too positively on you.

Anonymous said...

You really flatter yourself! I don't care what you think homophobe! That's what you don't get. You think I'm looking for your approval? NOT! Don't want it. Don't need it. Bye Bye closet case!

Wyman Stewart said...

Anon, intelligent discourse would be to explain what points of mine are ignorant (in your opinion), then share your enlightened thoughts with me. I will listen to you, if I see your comment. I am open to rational disagreement.

Keep in mind, when I read Pat's posts, I am listening to her. When I respond, it doesn't mean I expect her to agree with me, nor to respond most of the time. That's her choice. She may read my responses for laughs, for all I know. But, I don't think so.

I respect Pat for not filtering me out, nor deleting my comments. That is civil of her.

Anonymous, thank you for your response. Hope you will be more civil next time. I can see you are passionate.

Anonymous said...

Dear Happy LGBT Anon,

I don't need to flatter myself, rebutting goofs like you speaks for itself.

For future reference calling people homophobes for not agreeing with your eternally victimized world view is an old worn out tactic that doesn't actually work in the real world. Maybe it did twenty years ago.

Neither does trying to shame them by calling them a "closet case".

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

Pat Griffin said...

I do read the comments on my blog. I don't often respond to them. Maybe I should do that more often, but I rarely feel like a dialogue would change anyone's perspectives on what I write in my blog. I do leave comments up that disagree with what I write unless they are profane or rude beyond what I believe to be acceptable. It is fine to disagree and in a way I am glad you keep coming back to disagree.

My biggest disappointment is that what I write is perceived by some folks as an attack on heterosexuals or Christians or men or whomever. My vision of the best of all possible worlds would be one in which we were all accorded respect and equal access to sports and everything else in life regardless of our sexual orientation, religious perspectives, gender or political perspective.

We have a long way to go, but it is a goal worth fighting for.

Wyman Stewart said...

You leave me scratching my head sometimes with your views, Pat Griffin.

You have the most amusing Spammers I have seen on the internet.

As for your second paragraph, think we have to wait for Heaven to see that life.

Before I forget, I have been impressed by a few peoples' responses to my comments, which were intelligent and instructive to me. Those people contribute to my returning here.

Pay per head said...

It is impressive that now age. Religion and sport are tied together.