Thomasville Times Enterprise


April 22, 2014

Finding success instead of failure

THOMASVILLE — Last week, an atheist organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, took Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney to task for what they described as “unconstitutional behavior" at the university.

 Among the concerns outlined in the complaint by the FFRF were Swinney naming a team chaplain who had access to the entire team for voluntary Bible studies, scheduling voluntary team devotionals and organizing transportation for coaches and players who wanted to attend "Church Days."

 Just so you know, this is the same organization that took Thomas County Central head coach Bill Shaver to task for being photographed during a prayer with his team last football season.

 The knee-jerk reaction is one of disgust and anger — disgust that someone would find something wrong with these things and anger that they actually made a point of complaining.

 To be sure, though, there is a fine line to be walked here. Coaches — and teachers, for that matter — cannot instigate any religious activities. As long as students initiate them, however, the coach/teacher can participate.

 I am a Christian, but I don’t want anyone trying to instill their particular belief system in my children. As I have said before, I firmly believe that every pot has to sit on its own bottom in regard to religion.

 But, with that said, I do think this organization is missing a few things that are vitally important.

 First off, in this situation, clearly no one is forcing participation in anything. A door being left open doesn’t mean a person has no choice but to walk through it. If participation in Christian-oriented things were mandatory to be included as part of the team, OK, point taken. But in this instance, if someone doesn’t want to do whatever it is then all they have to do is not, and clearly many of Clemson’s players did not.

 The hard fact of the matter is far too many of the young men and women who comprise the rosters of most collegiate (and sadly, many high school) athletic rosters come from little to nothing. To say they have very little foundation in their lives would be a massive understatement. Many of them come from broken homes with little to nothing to build their future on.

 There aren’t many men in the athletic arena today more respected on the field or off than University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt and much of that respect is garnered from the fact of his being so anchored in his Christian faith.

 But Richt wasn’t always the role model he is today. He was once a stud quarterback at the party-legendary University of Miami of the early 80’s, and lavishly debauched his way through college until he landed as a graduate assistant at Florida State.

 It was there that he was exposed to the steady Christian-based leadership of one Bobby Bowden, who never ‘forced’ any player to do anything — rather he simply walked the walk as well as he talked the talk, and of course a good example speaks louder than any spoken word any day.

 It was Bowden’s example that helped Richt find a place to build his own character on — a foundation, if you will — that he otherwise might’ve never found. Richt will be the first to tell you that there is no telling where he would’ve ended up if Bowden’s influence hadn’t found its way into his life.  

 Let’s be totally honest here. Even though I am a Christian, I don’t care if it’s through Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, or whatever, if a coach can help lead a young person to a place where they feel like they have some accountability system in place to make them better as a human being and that will give them a better than fighting chance of coming out into the real world after their athletic experience is long over with as a pack-leading dog instead of just another one of countless ticks on society, then I personally have a really hard time finding fault with it.

 I honestly believe that most coaches use their faith as a rallying point for their athletes, a place to start to bring the troops together in some kind of unity. I really don’t know that they are trying to ‘convert’ the souls of those athletes as much as they are trying to positively empower their spirits as human beings.

 I can’t help wonder if the Freedom From Religion Foundation is so quick to pounce upon Muslim student organizations that hold rallies on college campuses? Is that not ‘exposing’ students to a belief system that many of them clearly do not wish to be a part of?

 And isn’t the Freedom From Religion Foundation forcing their own belief system on a group of people within a college or university doing so in direct opposition to what they claim to espouse? Think about it — non-belief is in fact a belief, and therefore reflects a particular ideology.  

 Maybe I am alone in this, but if they aren’t as quick to jump in that direction, it smells predictably hypocritical to me.  

 Regardless, as long as these coaches aren’t forcing their ideology on young people, there really shouldn’t be an issue at all. In any case, I would hope all of us, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, would hope — even pray — that at least some of the young people who were destined for failure would find success through them.

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