Sports Should Not Offer Bigotry A Pulpit


Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown can say what he wishes about other Americans, so long as it does not incite violence. Such is the protection of the First Amendment, a right that makes the United States such a great nation. Likewise, I have the freedom to come onto this blog and write that Brown is likely a good person whose players love and respect him, but his stance here is wrongheaded and backwards.

Brown appeared at an Omaha City Council meeting last month to decry an ordinance. As Ron Brown: Taxpaying and Law Abiding Citizen, that’s his right. And he did not go in as Ron Brown: Nebraska Football Coach. At least, not explicitly. But that’s a designation a coach wears in any avenue, fairly or not. His actions are representative of the university and its athletic department, particularly in a community as intertwined with the sport as Nebraska is with football. When a Cornhusker coach condemns something, it will inevitability be associated with the football program.

The ordinance Brown opposed was not marriage for gay people, or civil union, or any such hot button debate. It was a measure preventing local businesses from denying service to someone because of who are they — a measure akin to practices on the books at the university that employs Brown. An implicit crux of his argument is that private business can (and should) refuse service to whomever it chooses. Well ironically, Nebraska is not a privately owned institution, but can exercise similar judgment in deciding to fire and who to retain in its employment.

And indeed, there are those who would want Brown fired for his remarks. I am not among them. He should be made a martyr for a discriminatory cause, something he already set the wheels in motion for when he told the Associated Press:

"To be fired for my faith would be a greater honor than to be fired because we didn’t win enough games."

Brown preached to the City Council it would reap what he sowed. Let Brown do likewise. He can have his opinions and vocalize him, and they will be accessible to millions — including would-be Cornhusker recruits and their families. Let them dictate with their letters of intent, and thus results on the field, if discrimination has a place in football.

Disappointing in this matter is that sports have often been ahead of the society’s curve when it comes to integration. Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut predated the Civil Rights movement by nearly two decades. Running back Fritz Pollard powered an integrated Brown team’s run to the Rose Bowl in 1916. Five years later in 1921, he was a player-coach in the early incarnation of the NFL, during an era known as The Age of Intolerance.

There is still much work to be done in erasing anti-gay sentiment in sports, something retired NBA player John Amaechi works for. But Wednesday night, it became apparent how long the road still is in racial discrimination when the Washington Capitals’ Joel Ward scored the series winning goal against the Boston Bruins. A firestorm of hate on Twitter was documented here. Fair warning, the language is vile, but something everyone should read because it’s proof positive of how much hate still exists.

Losers like @fishcakeACE and @brendmaitland may represent a minority, but it’s still too large and emboldened a group if they feel comfortable using a public forum to spread such disgusting sentiment. The First Amendment does not protect this kind of speech; not with the historical connotations of violence behind it* (Editor’s note: Read the comments for more discussion on this topic.) Those of us who represent the majority need to work together to quash it.

My hope is that college football fans will unite in the coming season to end bigotry. There’s enough of us that we can make a difference. Next time you’re at a stadium and a knucklehead is using such language of hate against any group, be the one to speak up.