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Three other anglers also avoid Busch beer logos

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–A promotional agreement between Busch beer and BASS (Bass Angler Sportsman Society) will keep America’s most famous fisherman from vying for top prize money in 2003, but it will also bring more money and visibility to the sport, a BASS spokesman told Baptist Press March 12.

Baptist Press reported March 10 that fishing legend Jimmy Houston, a deacon at First Southern Baptist Church in the eastern Oklahoma town of Keys, opted out of the running for the Busch BASS Angler of the Year competition rather than wear a Busch jacket patch and use a Busch logo on his boat. Consequently, Houston is ineligible for points needed to qualify for the coveted $100,000 prize, which he has twice won.

Houston said since the story broke he has received phone calls from “all over the country” supporting his decision.

Meanwhile, Baptist Press learned March 13 that Houston is not alone among active competitors in his refusal to promote Busch. Georgia angler Paul Hanley and Mark Rose of Arkansas also have forfeited Busch BASS Angler of the Year points for not donning the Busch logo. Previously, Houston believed he was the lone holdout among active BASS anglers.

A fourth fishing pro, Lendell Martin, a member of Highway 259 Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, chose not to compete in any BASS events in 2003. Martin told Baptist Press he withdrew his entry fee after he learned in the fall that BASS would require its anglers to use the Busch logos in its Angler of the Year program. Meanwhile, Martin is trying to earn qualification on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, the other major bass fishing circuit. Wal-Mart FLW has no alcohol or tobacco sponsors, Martin said.

Four other BASS competitors have opted out of the Angler of the Year program for apparent business reasons. BASS spokesman Christopher Murray said he thinks contractual conflicts involving their personal endorsements and the Busch-BASS agreement forced their decisions.

Murray said Busch and BASS — along with parent company ESPN, which bought BASS in 2001 — agreed to an undisclosed multi-year deal for sponsorship of the BASS Angler of the Year program.

That multi-year deal might send some anglers to exclusively fish the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, said Hanley, who speaks often to youngsters about the dangers of substance abuse.

Murray said the Busch partnership is BASS’ first such venture and has helped raise the Angler of the Year prize from $25,000 last year to $100,000 in 2003 plus another $100,000 to be split among the remaining top nine finishers.

“We respect everybody’s personal beliefs,” Murray said. “Anheuser-Busch has been on the sports landscape a long time as a sponsor and we are trying to increase revenue for our anglers and increase visibility for our sport.”

Murray noted BASS’ strict rules against alcohol use during competition and Anheuser-Busch’s safe boating education program. He added, “We’re not telling people to drink. We’re saying if you’re going to drink, choose Busch.”

The 49-year-old Martin, a BASS veteran who has qualified for five BASSMaster Classics — arguably the most prestigious of bass fishing tournaments — said he withdrew his entry fee last fall after learning of the Busch logo requirement. Martin said he struggled with alcohol abuse as a young man and wanted no part of BASS after the Busch logo agreement was mandated.

“They changed the rules on us in mid-stream. I already had sponsors lined up. It was a slap in the face,” Martin said. “I laid awake several nights trying to decide what to do. I’m living for the Lord, not for BASS. It’s ended up costing me a lot of money. But I don’t ever want to lose my Christian testimony.”

In fact, Martin said he had to gain new sponsors because of some he lost when he withdrew from BASS competition.

“[BASS] kept talking about NASCAR and how beer sponsors have elevated its status. I told them, ‘Hey, I’m a bass fisherman. I’m not a NASCAR driver.'”

Martin said it is hypocritical of BASS, which tells kids to “get hooked on fishing, not drugs,” to promote alcohol.

“I’ve never seen anything good come out of a can of beer,” Martin said. The money issue is the only thing good that came out of (the Busch-BASS agreement), and I feel they could have gotten another sponsor and done just as well.”

This is not new ground for Houston, said his marketing director, Ken Conlee, also a pastor at Proctor (Okla.) Baptist Church and president of the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society (FOCAS).

Conlee said the Miller Brewing Co. contacted him about five years ago about using Houston in an ad spoofing baseball and bass fishing using major league baseball star Ken Griffey Jr., Houston and several other well-known sports figures. When Conlee told the Miller representative no, the man was not convinced.

“You don’t understand,” the man told Conlee. “We’ll pay [more than $175,000] to shoot a commercial.”

“I said, ‘You don’t understand. That’s not what we’re about.'”

Houston and his wife, Chris, were instrumental in founding FOCAS (www.focas.org) in 1983. It boasts a membership of more than 2,500 anglers with 40 chapters nationwide. He said the BASS tour includes many FOCAS members and he said he counts many of those complying with the Busch logo rule as Christian brothers and friends.

Houston has qualified for 15 BASS Master Classics and is an inductee into the Fishing Hall of Fame, Hall of Legendary Anglers and the Pro Bass Angler Association Hall of Fame. He is host of the ESPN2 television show “Jimmy Houston Outdoors.”
The Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society is on the Web at www.focas.org. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: WON’T FISH FOR BEER and PAYING THE PRICE.

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  • Jerry Pierce