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Take expletives, not religion, out of football


September 03, 2015

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As the Freedom From Religion Foundation continues the important business of butting into other peoples’ business, it has again found fertile ground. This time it largely involves the southeastern United States, where football and religion are king — and sometimes indistinguishable.

It’s hard to find a Southerner who doesn’t pray for the local college football team.

Thus the FFRF, with nearly 23,000 members, recently issued a news release condemning about two dozen public universities for “allowing football coaches to impose their personal religion on players by hiring Christian chaplains.”

There are far worse things. For instance, hiring lowlife coaches. That’s another story. But there is some reasoning behind the FFRF’s point about chaplains being hired by universities. Before long, the schools might need to hire a rabbi, a Tibetan monk, an astrologer, a shaman and a warlock to make everyone comfortable.

If a player wants spiritual advice, it’s easy to find a local minister. Or he can try for a private religious school.

At the same time, demanding that coaches “remain neutral on matters of religion” is overstepping. If a coach is a practicing Christian — think Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Georgia’s Mark Richt, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier or Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville — that would mean changing who they are.

Nobody ever told Nick Saban, Mike Leach or Urban Meyer — who think four-letter words are illuminating — to stop being themselves. That doesn’t mean they don’t foster character, but nobody’s telling them to dial down the rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the FFRF never sleeps. Among it’s recent victories are removal of a portrait of Jesus in a Jackson, Mississippi, middle school, banning a monument of the Ten Commandments in a Wisconsin park and nixing team prayers. The latest came in a release entitled “Pray to Play” with a summary deck saying, “Christian coaches and chaplains are converting football fields into mission fields.”

It rejects the defense that players are free to decline participation, claiming the pressure is still there.

Publicly funded payments to support hiring and/or travel expenses for chaplains might be debatable. But coaches shouldn’t have to hide religious beliefs that define them. Why change their life philosophy to accommodate an outside party’s objections?

Being “openly” Christian is part of being Christian.

Everyone recruited to Clemson knows Swinney is a faith-based man; the same applies with Richt at Georgia.

“I can’t come to work and not be a Christian,” Swinney told The Charlotte Observer in 2014.

The FFRF says coaches shouldn’t use religion as a recruiting tool. But apparently sex appeal is OK. (Hello, warm weather colleges.)

Nobody made anyone sign a letter of intent. The FFRF claims universities are “bankrolling Christian ministers.” In that case, they should jettison half the faculty at many colleges. They too are being bankrolled to preach their own brand of religion.

The complaint includes such items as paying Georgia Tech chaplain Derrick Moore $7,500 and South Carolina’s Adrian Despres $4,500. The football coaches make that much money during a timeout.

So this is about principle.

John Wooden, a devout Christian, would have laughed about this.

Anyone who has attended college knows making choices is part of the experience. Students are smart enough to decide whether they want to buy into the religious aspects. The FFRF’s proposed policy suggests schools hire a “character coach” because that’s a way to foster values such as humility, perseverance, respect, sportsmanship and teamwork.

Sounds a lot like the traits a Christian coach (gasp!) and his chaplain would teach.

I don’t mind team chaplains. Most do considerable good, in my mind, regardless of what the FFRF thinks. But I can see it could get out of hand as demands for other religious representations pop up. As for changing how coaches teach, the handwringers need to butt out. If universities started screening coaches based on religious neutrality, that would be discrimination.

Maybe the FFRF should work on figuring that out.

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