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FIRST-PERSON: Coaches & profs should have equal rights

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Step into a classroom at Florida State University, or the University of Georgia — or any state university, for that matter — and you’ll likely find a professor who advocates abortion on demand.

You’ll also most assuredly find a professor who supports same-sex marriage. Or one who expresses outrage at evangelical Christians. Or one who thinks communism is the most effective form of government.

No big deal. Happens all the time.

But step into a football locker room with a coach who tells his players about his belief in Christ, and now all of a sudden someone is irate. How dare he impose his beliefs on those players, some will cry indignantly.

Throw Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State into that crowd. In a recent New York Times story about the religious beliefs and practices of Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Mark Richt at Georgia, Lynn offers his opinion about these coaches taking their players to church and providing team prayer and devotional services. These activities, by the way, are strictly voluntary.

“This is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and I believe university administrations are playing a game of chicken,” Lynn said in the story. “But eventually, you got to believe that one kid is going to say, ‘I’ve had enough,’ and step forward.”

Had enough of what, exactly? Of being taught to honor God and treat others well? Of being instructed on how to be a better person? Of learning how to excel in football?

Sounds to me like Lynn is poised to pounce should any college football player come forth and express offense because his coach believes in God. At places like Florida State and Georgia, he might be waiting a long time. Students who go to play for Bowden and Richt know what they’re getting themselves into.

Bowden and Richt are outspoken Christians, and they make no apology for that. Nor do they apologize for the spiritual content they infuse into their coaching.

“Most parents want their boys to go to church,” Bowden said in the article. “I’ve had atheists, Jews, Catholics and Muslims play for me, and I’ve never not started a boy because of his faith. I’m Christian, but all religions have some kind of commandments, and if kids would obey them, the world would be a better place.”

Bobby’s right, but the problem these days is that people don’t think the world will be better if people adhere to religious instruction. It used to be that parents who didn’t share a coach like Bowden’s Christian faith would still support his efforts because they thought their son would be better off because of it. He might not turn out to be a Christian, but maybe a coach like Bowden can make him a more moral, upstanding citizen.

That’s not the case anymore, as parents will quickly file a lawsuit — with the willing assistance of folks like Lynn — anytime their kids face a smidgeon of religious or moral instruction.

Fortunately for coaches like Bowden and Richt, at least so far, even players who disagree with their coaches’ religious beliefs have enough sense not to make a stink. Some of the players, even those of other religions, actually appreciate their efforts.

“At the end of the day, it was about strengthening your spiritual foundations and to walk in a righteous way in whatever you believe,” said Musa Smith, a rookie running back for the Baltimore Ravens and a Muslim who played under Richt at Georgia. “It reminded me of my fundamentals and made me a better person.”

Bowden’s not worried about any fallout over his Christian faith. He has the backing of his president and he’s a successful coach. He can also make a convincing argument for his side.

“You got 90 kids in a history or psychology classroom around here, and a professor can stand up and say anything he wants in creation,” Bowden said. “Why can’t I tell my boys what I believe?”

Good question, Bobby — and one for which I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer.
Tim Ellsworth writes a weekly column at BPSports, www.bpsports.net.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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