Is there a War on Christians in today’s Sports World?

by Cameron Coyle

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Quarterback Drew Brees was under intense pressure this week.

Not so much from the Texans defense in the Saints opener, but from the LGBTQ community and the media following his video encouraging today’s youth to participate in “Bring Your Bible to School” day on October 3. 

Brees’s message for students of Christian values is “to share God’s love with friends” intended to be uplifting and inspiring, and at the same time, rather harmless for those who choose to live a non-christian lifestyle.

It wasn’t so much what Brees was promoting, but more so who he was promoting it for that has created an absolute uproar. His video was part of an initiative for the Conservative Christian non-profit group “Focus on the Family” – to which he has been affiliated with since 2010. You don’t have to dig too deep into the firm’s vision and values to disseminate where they stand on same-sex marriage.  

Brees should’ve anticipated the blowback he would receive from the hordes of progressives who have now labeled him as a bigot. Look at how they reacted at the grand opening of the christian-based Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Toronto by laying down in front of the entrance to the restaurant.

The public outcry forced Brees to issue a statement as it pertains to same-sex marriage, “I do not support any groups that discriminate or have their own agendas that are trying to promote inequality,” Brees said in a tweet.

Brees also  told reporters Thursday he “was not aware” that the Focus on the Family group is associated with anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

The Brees backlash coincided with a feature story Sports Illustrated ran on Dabo Swinney’s faith-based football program at Clemson University.

It starts off with the story of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins getting baptized on the field following one of the team’s practices and the religious culture surrounding the Tigers’ program has been under fire ever since. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed an investigation and even sent the Clemson football program a letter asking them to put a halt to team prayers, Bible studies and organized church excursions.

In the 10-plus years Swinney has guided Clemson football team he has cultivated an environment based entirely around Christian values and principles. Sports Illustrated may object to this deep-rooted culture of theology, but it doesn’t appear one of Swinney’s current or former players feel coerced into joining the coach’s religious sanctum.

At least, SI couldn’t find one detractor who spoke out against Swinney’s Christian culture. In fact, the magazine even acknowledged as much: If any player has felt uncomfortable playing under Swinney, they have not yet come forward. 

“[Swinney] is not smashing Christianity in anyone’s face,” says former wide receiver Sammy Watkins now with the Kansas City Chiefs, “He’s just trying to help us be better men. He’s not saying, ‘You’ve got to be Christian.’ He wants you to be a good person, a good man.”

Despite the beliefs of many, the separation of church and state is not spelled out in the Constitution. The Establishment Clause together with the Free Exercise Clause prohibits Congress from elevating one form of religion over another or prohibiting the free exercise to practice religion, but the notion of a separation is widely considered as an interpretation.

It’s understandable, although you may not agree, how the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Virginia Military Institute in 2003 after it determined the team had coerced its players in participating in a dinner prayer.

As long as Swinney is impartial to his players and doesn’t exercise any form of religious coercion that would affect their playing time or their scholarship, then it’s hard to determine what legal ramifications the FFRF would have against the Clemson program. The Tigers football program is certainly not alone as it pertains to college athletes and team who incorporate some sort of religious ideology. 

All you have to do is turn your attention to midfield at the end of a football game to see players from both teams engaging in a prayer circle.  

But if you disagree that Swinney shouldn’t be allowed to mold his program based on Anglo-Christian values, then that same argument certainly wouldn’t stand up as it pertains to the Fordson High School football team – a public high school in Dearborn, Michigan, a city with one of the highest concentration of Muslim-Americans in the country.

For years, Fordson coaches have altered their practice schedules to accommodate the Muslim players within the football team during the time of Ramadan when its followers are prohibited from eating or drinking during hours of sunlight. At times, they have held workouts well after midnight hours. 

The head coach believes “it’s more of a safety issue than a religious issue,” but without the religious element there’s no reason to have the necessary safety guidelines. Fordson rival Dearborn High School has taken the same precautions even though they have a smaller percentage of Muslim athletes.

As an expanding society, we should be more tolerant of religious diversity, but what’s taking place in today’s culture is more of a growing intolerance towards Christianity while forcing a belief system that doesn’t conform to Christian values.

A month ago, llinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker passed a law that guarantees the history and contributions of LGBTQ people will be taught in the state’s public school system. State Sen. Heather Steans sponsored the bill said, “One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints.”

The problem with Illinois’s new LGBTQ history curriculum that goes into effect in July 2020 is that it will become mandatory learning and not elective, and poses a fundamental contradiction to those who hold a strict Christian ideology. It’s almost certain that Illinois’s new education requirement eventually will be challenged in court.

But as it relates to sports and religion is it possible to have tolerance without conformity? No one should have to adopt or accept the belief system of someone else, and certainly not have it imposed on the rest of us.

Otherwise, freedom and liberty quickly become dying concepts.

Recently, the USWNT led us to believe it can’t happen when sports and religion collide, and today’s ever-increasing progressive movement seems to be following suit.