SBC Life Articles

The Cost of Conviction

Saying "No" To Busch

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 one of very few 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 so few have held out.

"I really figured thirty or forty guys would refuse [to carry the endorsement]," Houston noted. "I could have written down twenty.

"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 that 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 fifteen 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 collaborator 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 ten 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."



Principles in Practice

When Jimmy Houston heard the news that the BASS pro fishing circuit would require its anglers to promote Busch beer on boats and clothing apparel during official events, he thought of the twelve-year-old boy he'd led to Christ in spring of last year.

First Southern Baptist Church in Keys, Okla. — Houston's home church — helped sponsor a youth rally featuring Christian musicians Audio Adrenaline, with the young man among dozens responding to an invitation to accept Christ.

After Houston prayed with the boy, he asked the famed fisherman for a favor.

"Will you talk to my dad about his drinking problem?"

Reluctantly, Houston agreed.

The boy's dad, a Vietnam veteran, was receptive but said he didn't have a drinking problem.

Houston told him, "If what you're telling me is true, it doesn't sound to me like you have a drinking problem, either. However, if your son thinks it's a problem, then it's a problem."

Houston asked the man if he wished for his son to drink and the man replied he did not.

"Well, sir, he's going to do what you do," Houston told him.

"I've got grandsons, thirteen and sixteen, and a five-year-old granddaughter," Houston said. "But the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard [about the Busch sponsorship] was that little boy."

In addition to fishing, Houston has several retail outlets that bear his name — including one on Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma.

"Someone asked me about being ineligible for the $100,000 Angler of the Year prize and I told them that it already costs me $50,000 a year in pure profit not to sell beer at my store near Tenkiller."



Three More Say "No"

Fishing legend Jimmy Houston said that since the story broke of his opting 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, he has received phone calls from "all over the country" supporting his decision.

Meanwhile, additional active angling competitors are joining Houston 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 said 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.

The forty-nine-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 has 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.

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.'"



Contact BASS or its parent company, ESPN, to express your opinion:

[email protected]

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    About the Author

  • Jerry Pierce