UConn football coach Ernest Jones is in hot water for telling an interviewer, “We’re going to make sure [players] understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle.”
As someone who once had a painfully awkward brush with aggressive atheism at work, we’re all too aware that this is a two-way street; there’s evangelization, and then there’s abuse of authority, and I wouldn’t want someone to feel coerced to embrace my faith under those circumstances.
That said, we can’t help being amused by UConn’s hurry to put the kibosh on Jesus talk – even putting aside obvious comparisons between football and religion. President Susan Herbst says,
employees can’t appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work or in their interactions with students. This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field.
If I were faculty, ambiguous language like “appear to endorse,” “spiritual philosophy,” and “interactions” would not make it easy to know where I stood with Herbst. What exactly is the appearance of endorsement? If I wear a cross or carry a Bible, do I appear to endorse Christianity? What constitutes a spiritual philosophy, and how many kinds of interactions or activity are we talking about, here? Personal, one-on-one conversations?
Would it be the worst thing to impress upon students – including, and perhaps especially those on sports teams – that there is ultimately a higher court and more perfect judge than the UConn Office of Community Standards? That even the most talented among us is not a god? At least two of the young women filing suit against the university say that they were raped by athletes. I’m not the biggest fan of the popular expression “What Would Jesus Do,” but I am confident enough to say that kicking the alleged victim off the hockey team, as she claims, is not a good answer. The other student told the press, “I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone or reporting because of the overwhelming privilege of athletes on this campus.”
There is an almost-palpable contrast with what Herbst insists in her letter to the Courant regarding Coach Jones:
At public universities we value everyone in our community, and treat each person with the same degree of respect, regardless of who they are, what their background is or what their beliefs may be. Every student, including student-athletes, must know they are accepted and welcomed at UConn.
We would like to be fair and not make unqualified assumptions, but in light of the allegations it would seem that some student athletes may feel entirely too welcome. It also looks like Herbst’s campus culture of equal respect, desirable though it is, has a very long way to go. Maybe a little more (appropriate) Jesus talk wouldn’t hurt.