Don’t Bench Jesus, UConn


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.

3 Responses to “Don’t Bench Jesus, UConn”

  1. on 28 Jan 2014 at 11:03 amMA

    On this issue, i actually agree with the critics. Here is why – I worry that if a coach can put Jesus at the center of a huddle, then a Muslim coach, Jewish coach or satan-worshipping coach could do the same.

  2. on 04 Feb 2014 at 10:35 amNicole

    I understand that, and I tried to address it a little bit in the second and in the last paragraph. But much of the controversy centers around his specific handling of things and his poor choice of words — the wording you used, yourself — while my post uses it to make a broader point about Christianity and the state of society (and be honest: out of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Satanism, which one of the options above do you find the most alarming? Because that’s not an equal playing field, so to speak).

    Thanks for visiting.

  3. on 15 Feb 2014 at 1:52 pmMA

    I do see that you tried to address it.

    As for your question, I would find any other than Christianity alarming because I would not want to be subject to or have my kids subject (even indirectly) an idea that they must believe a certain way to participate. For example, even if no one is being actually forced to pray to Allah, if everyone else is doing it, it would make it at least feel that you should go along with it.

    When I flip the situation around, I empathize with the critics.

Leave a Reply