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“Jesus doesn’t belong in football” – The Ethics of Religion in Sports

By January 28, 2014 No Comments

There is probably no more incendiary ethical mixture than religion and Division I sports. The mixture is doubly inflammable when the Division I team is team plays for a state funded university. The issue is defined in an article for Fox News by Todd Starnes (January 16, 2014) entitled: “UConn rebukes coach, says Jesus doesn’t belong in football.”  Hence the discussion about the ethics of religion in sports.

UConn EthicsThe issue began when, Ernest Jones, the team’s new coach and director of player engagement was quoted in The Hartford Courant newspaper as saying:

 “Just because you come to the University of Connecticut doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to pursue your faith…No, you’re going to be able to come here and love the God that you love…We’re going to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle, that that’s something that is important. If you want to be successful and you want to win, get championships then you better understand that this didn’t happen because of you. This happened of our Lord and Savior.”

This prompted a response from the University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst:

“Our employees cannot appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work at the university… This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field.”

I might mention that Mr. Jones was at the University of Notre Dame prior to his coming to the University of Connecticut. I might also point out that angry letters have been written to the university saying that religion has no place at a public institution.

Not surprisingly, journalists are also firing shots at Mr. Jones, including the editorial team of The Hartford Courant:

“Mr. Diaco (the coach) and Mr. Jones come to UConn from the University of Notre Dame, one of the country’s premier Catholic institutions of higher learning, But they have left the cathedral for the public square…It is fine to impart good spiritual values – as Mr. Jones wants to do – but they must be values common to all. A secular humanist should be as welcome in the defensive backfield as a fundamentalist Christian, a Muslim, a Jew an agnostic. Right, coach?”

Alice and Ron

I need to take a quick breather from all this fire and Brimstone stuff and talk about horse manure. I know a couple named Alice and Ron who, when first married some 40 years ago, bought a farm out in the country. They are devoted and compassionate animal lovers and they owned several fine Morgan horses.

It is hard to hide a horse or seven or eight of them. The years passed, and to no one’s surprise, a sub-division of multi-million dollar homes was built next to Alice and Ron’s farm. The homeowners bought into the area presumably because they wanted the peace, quiet and status of country life.

This will probably not shock you, but before long a home-owner sent a letter of complaint through her lawyer to Alice and Ron objecting to the horse smell.

Alice and Ron may love their farm, but they are no hayseeds, and they too had a lawyer. Their lawyer pointed out that yes, horses can be aromatic, however in no way was there ever any deception. Anyone with a set of functioning eyes and a sense of olfaction probably could have seen that they were building next to a small farm located in a rural setting.

The issue somewhat amicably resolved itself. Alice and Ron are now down to two or three horses, and the new homeowners may be realizing horses are pretty nice creatures. And, surprisingly, the smell is kind of pleasant.

Back to the President

What got me to thinking about Alice and Ron was this final shot from the university president:

“At public universities we value everyone in our community, and treat each person with the same degree of respect, regardless of who they are, what their background is or what their beliefs may be. Every student, including student-athletes, must know they are accepted and welcomed at UConn.”

I get that. I also get that there are commentators, including columnist Todd Starnes who views the university as anti-Christian as he wrote in sharp response to the president’s statement:

Every student, that is, unless they happen to be a Christian. Based on the experience of Coach Jones, it seems to me that the administration of the University of Connecticut disrespects people of faith – specifically followers of Christ.”

So who is at fault?

In horse farm terms, it would have been Alice and Ron’s fault (or the coach’s fault)  IF the horse farm would have been disguised as a Yuppie Day Spa and Tennis Resort, and the horses made over to look and smell like Wisteria vines.

But they did no such thing. Alice and Ron were out in the open, and the homeowners knew they were out in the country.

Ethically, the blame goes to the university, but not in the way you might think.

The University of Connecticut, a state run university, went to a religious institution to hire their head coach and his assistant coach.

Did they think these men were atheists?

At any point in the long interview process did the people hiring the coaches discuss the differences between a state university and a religious institution? Did the university, even in the politically correct ways of the modern day, ever ask the coaches if they understood that any form of proselytizing was not going to be acceptable? Were rules, boundaries and expectations established in that regard?

The university, the local and national newspapers and all of the indignant individuals on all sides should open their collective eyes and see the farm for what it is. There is plenty of room for ethical and spiritual compromise and tolerance. However, the university must first understand their role in hiding the farm.


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