Public Religious Displays by Professional Athletes
BY Conrad Goeringer
Ad Calls Packers Defense Whiz a "Role Model for Youth..
They call him the "Minister of Defense." NFL great Reggie White may
not be returning for another season with the Green Bay Packers, but he
is staying in the media spotlight thanks to his outspoken views on
religion, homosexuality and the role of faith in American society.
Peruse the sports section of the current USA TODAY, and you will
encounter a 3/4 page ad complete with a photo of The Minister and the
caption "In Tribute to Reggie White -- A man of God needs but one
White, an ordained Baptist minister as well as a high profile NFL
superstar, has become increasingly vocal in enunciating his religious
views. Last March, White condemned gays, sex outside of
church-sanctioned marriage and secularism in general during a rambling
address to a somewhat embarrassed Wisconsin Assembly. He told the
state representatives that "we as a people need to come together, and
this nation needs to submit under God and his authority and denounce
sin." AANEWS covered the event, observing "White's outspoken opinions
have attracted coverage from news sources for several years, and there
was plenty of it recently when he justified 'prayer circles' of beefy
Packers kneeling on the turf at the end of each game." White took aim
at a pantheon of targets and even fellow athletes like Michael Jordan.
"Condom sales," declared White, were "a real money maker."
"You got young people today that's (sic) buying PLAYBOY magazine.
That's a moneymaker. Hugh Hefner's making a whole lot of money off a
whole lot of people from buying his magazine. Then there's sex. You
get pregnant. You get a disease. You catch AIDS."
White's offensive description of homosexuals as sinners offended
Packer management sufficiently that team coach Mike Holmgren nixed a
group interview which was to include Reggie last July. The Minister
of Defense had already developed a reputation for mixing sports,
complaints about his back, and his opinions on religion especially
whenever a microphone was close by. What broke the camel's back,
though, for the front office guys was when White appeared in a
full-page ad that included an unauthorized photo of White in his
Packers uniform, which was headlined "Toward an open debate on
homosexual behavior." Underneath was the caption: "In defense of free
The ad cost $63,000 according to Sports Illustrated, and was paid for
by a coalition of 15 different Christian groups. Unable to muzzle
White, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told media, "The only issue was over
the use of the uniform in the ad," adding that "Reggie White (is)
speaking as an individual and he's certainly free to express his
The Monday USA TODAY ad includes a bible quote, and declares "For 14
year, with little success, the strongest men in the NFL have tried to
outsmart, out-muscle and outmaneuver Reggie White on the field. Off
the field, the world has often tested the strength of his character
and his commitment to Godly principles of behavior..."
The ad praises white, suggesting "There is no finer role model for
youth today than this committed husband, father and Christian." In
bolder type, readers are then belligerently warned: "So get ready
America, because we're standing with Reggie to defend the gospel."
About 150 signatories are listed. At the very bottom, the ad reads:
"As a tribute to Reggie White this ad has been graciously
underwritten by..." The logos of the Family Research Council,
Christian Athletes United For Spiritual Empowerment (CAUSE) and
Athletes in Action then follow.
White has also been appearing in ads for a read-the-bible promotion
funded by the Arthur DeMoss Foundation. Founded by insurance magnate
Arthur DeMoss, the Foundation ranks as the 48th largest philanthropic
grantor in the United States according to a study done by The
Foundation Center. Total giving on various projects last year,
including slick "pro-life" ads on the national media, exceeded $31
million. Assets for the DeMoss Foundation exceed $400 million.
Antiabortion maven Nancy DeMoss received the annual "Proudly Pro Life
Award" from the National Right-To-Life Committee. The DeMoss name is
linked to other important religious and political groups including the
Republican GOPAC machine, and the Christian Reconstructionist group
Coalition on Revival. (Reconstructionists advocate the death penalty
for a number of offenses including "sodomy," witchcraft, blasphemy and
adultery.) Mark DeMoss, a director of the Foundation's board has
worked for televangelist Jerry Falwell, and Deborah DeMoss (ADF) was a
staffer for Sen. Jesse Helms; she was mentioned in the Iran-Contra
hearings as "the world's living, breathing expert" in covert arms
dealings according to a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family
Foundation, a group which studies reproductive health issues.
Arthur DeMoss was a key figure in the consolidation of the modern
religious right as a political force dating back to the 1970s and the
so-called "Third Century" movement. In 1974, DeMoss, Bill Bright of
Campus Crusade for Christ, Richard DeVos of Amway and Rep. John
Conlan of Arizona founded "Third Century Publishers," a focus for
educating Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals in political
activism. Sociologists like Sarah Diamond have traced the origins of
many religious right groups back to the "Third Century" group. Then,
as now, DeMoss was a key player. As for Bill Bright, he has continued
to play an important role in religious politics as founder of Campus
Crusade. Athletes in Action, one of the sponsors of today's ad
featuring Reggie White, is an affiliate for Bright's outreach
The link between White, a phalanx of "spirit filled" Christian
Athletes, and the overt sponsorship of groups like Family Research
Council and the DeMoss Foundation suggests that talking about "Godly
principles" has a distinctly political component. White and other
athletes are, increasingly, using their status as sportsworld super
heroes to evangelize and promote a religious agenda which many find
offensive, homophobic, intolerant and exclusionary. Sports fans
already witness the spectacle of "prayer huddles," genuflections and
other outbursts of religious enthusiasm on the field or court. How
would they feel if their favorite players suddenly began taking
equally pugnacious positions on politics, telling them which
candidates to vote for?
In the meantime, Reggie White -- admittedly an ace defensive player --
trades on the goodwill of his team and his many fans to insult racial
and sexual groups and promote a sectarian religious agenda.
ABOUT THIS POLL...
- The Need to be Seen - Public Piety in Sports. Ron Barrier, American Atheists National Spokesman, discusses the apparent need for Christians to be seen in acts of public religious piety.
- "Godmercials" on the Field -- Fans Paying for Sport or Religious Display?
- "Minister of Defense" -- Submit to Jesus
This poll is now closed. The final results and reader comments are linked below.
Remember to come back and participate in the next poll!
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- The final results
- Read selected readers' comments
to Magazine Index.
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Blasphemy and the law
Church bulletin Discounts
Boy Scout Discrimination
The Religious Freedom Amendment
The execution of Karla Faye Tucker.
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