OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–America’s most famous fisherman won’t be hooking any year-end honors in 2003 because he won’t bend the knee to Busch.
Jimmy Houston, a deacon at First Southern Baptist Church in the eastern Oklahoma town of Keys, and host of the ESPN2 television series “Jimmy Houston Outdoors,” refused to wear a Busch beer apparel patch and add a Busch decal to his boat at three recent Bass Angler Sportsman Society (BASS) professional events.
Consequently, Houston has forfeited points needed to qualify for the prestigious BASS Master’s Classic tournament and a potential Angler of the Year prize worth $100,000.
Of 182 BASS anglers, Houston has been the only one to refuse the Busch logos.
BASS signed Busch as an official sponsor last summer. Houston said he learned of the requirement to carry Busch apparel and decals last fall and knew immediately he could not comply for “ethical, moral and scriptural reasons.”
Twice honored as Angler of the Year and a BASS competitor since 1968 — and the most veteran among active pros — Houston told the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger newsjournal that BASS is a good organization but is trying to increase visibility and revenue by aligning with a sponsor inappropriate with its family friendly history.
Ironically, BASS participants are prohibited from consuming alcohol on days preceding and during BASS events, Houston said.
He said he is “totally shocked” and disappointed that he is the only holdout.
One other angler, Lendell Martin of Texas, opted not to fish this year at all, Houston said.
“I really figured 30 or 40 guys would refuse [to carry the endorsement],”
Houston noted. “I could have written down 20.
“I think before the schedule is completed some of the guys will take that patch off.”
Houston was instrumental in developing a Fellowship of Christian Anglers group and counts many of those complying with the rule as Christian brothers and friends.
“One guy asked me, ‘Jimmy, didn’t you pray about this?’
“I told him, ‘No, I didn’t pray about it. There was nothing to pray about. I didn’t have a decision to make.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll fish and not get any points.’ I knew what I was supposed to do.”
Houston said the excuses he’s heard from fellow Christian anglers about the Busch endorsement are almost “word for word” of what he’s heard from some of his Christian friends on the NASCAR circuit who comply with similar alcohol sponsorships.
He said one young driver he knows, Hank Parker Jr., turned down a lucrative endorsement of Seagram’s Ice, a wine product.
“Consequently, he’s without a ride this year,” Houston said. “You can’t say at this price tag I’ll maintain what I believe, but at this price tag I won’t. It boils down to a lack of faith.”
Houston is eligible for money winnings at each event in which he fishes but cannot accumulate BASS points for honors or re-qualification for the 2004 tour. If he competes in 2004, he must qualify through other means, he said.
Houston has qualified for 15 BASS Master Classics — the granddaddy of fishing tournaments — and is an inductee into the Fishing Hall of Fame, Hall of Legendary Anglers and the Pro Bass Angler Association Hall of Fame.
“He’s basically on the outside looking in because of his Christian testimony,” said Andy Bowman, Houston’s pastor and collaborater with Houston on two books, “The Reel Line” and “Hooked for Life.”
Houston said God has validated his decision, however.
“I had to leave my truck and boat with a Chevrolet dealer in Tallahassee, Fla., for 10 days last month while I flew to Los Angeles. During that time, he moved my boat into the showroom for everyone to see. Can you imagine people seeing a Busch beer decal on my boat and thinking Jimmy Houston is endorsing Busch beer? What message would that send?”
Standing on principle is a faith exercise, Houston noted.
“It feels like a kick in the head. That’s what it feels like. I’ve been through this 1,000 times in business. But thankfully, I’m not running things — God is.”
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