Give me a break. Because the NCAA pulled the Focus on the Family ads on NCAA.com, FOTF and its sister organization, the American Family Association are now claiming that yanking the ads constitutes discrimination against Christians. Give me a freaking break.
Since when do right-wing Christian political organizations have a right to advertise with a non-religious sport organization? I always thought that the freedom of religion in the U.S. included the right to be free of religion in the secular, public arena. The NCAA is not a religious affiliated organization and is under no obligation to accept ads from any religious organizations from any part of the religious spectrum. This is not discrimination, it is called respect for diversity and valuing inclusion which is part of the NCAA mission.
Discrimination against Christians? Puleeze! Do you know how embedded evangelical Christian sport ministries are in sport at all levels in the United States? From the Baseball Chapels that are affiliated with every MLB team to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) prayer breakfast held at most national coaches association meetings to the Athletes in Action (AIA) exhibition teams that play against college teams and proselytize the fans at half-time to the local chapters of FCA that have gained semi-official status in many public school athletic departments to the gospel nights at WNBA games, evangelical Christian organizations are part of the fabric of interscholastic, intercollegiate and professional sport. Their mission is to bring athletes, fans and coaches to Christ. Read their web pages. They make it very clear that is their goal and they are accepted with open arms by sport organizations and schools across the U.S. As far as I know no other religious groups have the kind of open access to sport that these Christian organizations do. I’ve never heard of a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Wiccan sport ministry, have you? Discrimination, my patootie!
I am not anti-religion. I fully support individual religious freedom in sport, even if I do not agree with the basic tenets of a particular religion. Athletes have a right to express their faith though I admit that the endless images of championship winners on TV thanking God for their victories has become annoying and that seeing groups of athletes on bended knee praying in the middle of field feels like more of a calculated exhibition than a genuine spontaneous expression of faith. Wouldn’t you, just for fun, love to hear a victorious athlete thank Satan for victory once, just to shake things up a little? (For readers with no sense of humor, this is a joke, ok?)
I believe that athletes and coaches of all faiths or none should respect each other. It means we have to agree to disagree on some points, but it doesn’t mean we can’t treat each other with dignity and respect. I’ve built some great relationships with some Christian women who work for FCA and AIA over the last few years. We focus on our common ground, not our differences, and we’ve led some successful workshop session together on this topic at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Our relationships are built on mutual respect for the truth that we each bring to the table, even though that truth is not the same. We’ve learned from each other and expanded our points of view. We still do not see eye to eye on many things, but we can live with that because we respect each other’s truth even if we don’t agree.
Where I draw the line is when coaches suggest, pressure or require their teams to pray or attend Christian prayer meetings or Bible studies, or read or recite Christian scripture to teams. Or when sport organizations affiliate themselves with a particular religious point of view by providing exclusive access to athletes and coaches or accepting advertising from religiously affiliated groups. This is wrong. It is a violation of the principle of the separation of church and state which, ironically, has protected freedom of religion for over two hundred years. It seems to me that the Christian point of view has had unprecedented access in sport for years already so, please, don’t cry discrimination just because the NCAA isn’t accepting your ads.
The NCAA is made up of people and institutions representing many political, religious, sexual, racial differences. It only creates division and disrespect for the NCAA to affiliate with messages of exclusion or exclusivity, no matter how blandly they are couched in advertising slogans. To FOTF and AFA, don’t cheapen the cause of social justice by claiming that you are being discriminated against here. I’m embarrassed for you.