For over 20 years, University of Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown has used his position in the university to preach his discriminatory anti-gay brand of Christianity. His latest crusade to fight for discrimination against the LGBT community finally warrantshis termination from the school’s football program.
The University has a clear, inclusive non-discrimination policy that contradicts the words and actions of Brown on various levels:
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a public university committed to providing a quality education to a diverse student body. One aspect of this commitment is to foster a climate of inclusion and mutual support that will enhance our ability to achieve our overall goals … while allowing all of us to focus our energies and talents on our important missions of education, research and service. To this end, it is the policy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln not to discriminate based upon age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, gender, sex, pregnancy, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran’s status marital status, religion and political affiliation.
This policy protects Brown’s religion as much as it protects my sexual orientation. But this isn’t about a man’s religion or his politics. This is about using that religion to discriminate against others and build an environment on the Cornhusker football team that prohibits gay athletes and allies from achieving their goals. Both of these contradict the university’s non-discrimination policy.
There are lots of things Brown could say that wouldn’t necessitate his firing. Isolated, general statements about homosexuality as a sin or opposing same-sex marriage would be hard to fire someone for.
The problem is, Brown has gone much further.
On March 6, he traveled to Omaha to argue against a bill that would protect gay people from discrimination. In his arguments, Brown suggested it is God’s will to discriminate against gay people, even saying those who voted to protect gay people bill would be held to “great accountability” by God.
Most importantly, he has linked these discriminatory views to his coaching job. When testifying before the Omaha City Council, some of the first words out of his mouth conveyed that he is a football coach at the University of Nebraska. Chancellor Harvey Perlman has publicly wagged his finger at Brown for making that connection, but that “reprimand” doesn’t undo the truth beneath the words: Brown brings his discrimination into his work at the university, and he uses his job to spread his anti-gay beliefs.
Brown has said his purpose in coaching football at Nebraska is to “bring honor and glory to God.” Notice he doesn’t say it’s to prepare young men for adulthood or win football games; Those are secondary to his religious goals.
From a 1997 interview:
I realize football enables me to do the two, in my opinion, most important things in my life, and that is one, to know Christ more intimately and number two, is to make him known. And that’s why I’m here in Nebraska, that’s why I’m a part of football.
Notice again he did not include any of the three stated missions from Nebraska’s non-discrimination policy: Education, research and service. He puts the University’s stated missions behind his own religious dogma.
Over the last week I’ve watched over two hours of Ron Brown speaking via YouTube videos. In many of them, Brown is seen on the field just after a Nebraska football game. He looks into the camera and uses his position as a coach to preach the gospel and promote FreedMen Nebraska, his organization dedicated to “making the God connection in every realm.” In almost all of his videos he connects his religious doctrine to his job in football at the University of Nebraska.
Last autumn he shot a video in a Nebraska sweatshirt at a Cornhusker indoor facility for FreedMen. He says in that video that God chose to expose the Penn State pedophilia scandal because Nebraska was Penn State’s next opponent, and Brown could lead a joint pre-game prayer with both teams “before America.”
“I believe that God wants the men of Nebraska, us, to stand before the world and to show the world the reality of Jesus Christ, to expose the evil deeds.”
Helen Carroll, who heads up the sports project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, agrees that it’s time for Nebraska to part ways with Brown.
“It’s evident that this coach does not fit the philosophy that Nebraska says they want to stand for,” Carroll said. “I think it’s detrimental to the athletic department and the football team to keep this man as a leader of their young men. If they do, it’s going to send a message that certainly gay athletes are not welcome on that campus.”
Brown might claim that he would welcome a gay athlete. But the paradox of his message is revealed when asked how a gay athlete in the locker room should be treated:
“I think Christians should love a homosexual teammate just like they would any other teammate,” Brown said. “Let me tell you what else is in that locker room. There are thieves, liars, people who lust, people addicted to pornography, even some players who are alcoholics. There are all kinds of sinners in that locker room.”
Ah, the age-old tactic of likening gay people to liars and alcoholics. Real welcoming, right?
“You put your arms around that person struggling with homosexuality and you help walk him or her to the truth of Jesus Christ, just as you would any other player involved in any other sin.”
So while saying he would welcome a gay athlete, he says he would attempt to change that person to fit his Christian vision. The kind of conversion therapy that Brown is advocating here, whether it’s to drive that gay person to a life of celibacy or a heterosexual life, is damaging to the victim and flies in the face of the university’s non-discrimination policy that aims to be a “climate of inclusion and mutual support.”
Pat Tetrault runs the LGBTQA resource center at the University of Nebraska. While speaking for herself and not for the University, she said it’s impossible to believe Brown’s views on anti-gay discrimination don’t affect his job with student-athletes:
“When you have a non-discrimination policy, and you make your views that a certain segment of the population should be singled out for discrimination, it really is hard to not believe it doesn’t impact the students and the staff who may not believe the same way he does.”
Roger Brigham, founder of the Equality Coaching Alliance, agreed with Tetrault, pointing out how Brown’s actions create an environment of intolerance.
“Ron Brown’s statement is a statement not of faith but of ignorance,” Brigham said. “It is contrary to the anti-discrimination policies at Nebraska. Such statements of ignorance create a hostile environment for young athletes, drive many would-be athletes away from sports, and engender an ongoing culture of bigotry and malice.”
Carroll, who has tackled anti-LGBT discriminatory practices at the University of Florida, Penn State, San Diego Mesa College and others, says Brown has put Nebraska on notice that he will discriminate against LGBT athletes. That, she says, leaves them susceptible to legal action:
“They’re leaving themselves wide open to a lawsuit from a gay athlete, or even a straight athlete if they feel it’s harming the atmosphere on the team and they’re not able to become successful because of this. We would look seriously at a case like that.”
One university has already rejected Brown’s discriminatory practices. In 2002 Brown was a candidate for the head coaching position at Stanford University. After Brown’s religious views on gay people came to light,Stanford terminated his candidacy. A Stanford athletic department official said “(His religion) was definitely something that had to be considered. We’re a very diverse community with a diverse alumni.” It defies logic that a public university with a non-discrimination policy like Nebraska would keep him as a coach.
Brown’s FreedMen organization will hold its annual “Conquest” eventthis weekend, March 24, just one mile from Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. The aim of the weekend is to inspire and train men in Nebraska to steward the state and its laws toward Christian doctrine. His advocacy against Omaha’s non-discrimination policy was part of his agenda.
Despite being an employee of the state of Nebraska, Brown has such contempt for the separation of church and state that last autumn helikened it to the evils of raping a child:
“If the ACLU in Nebraska seeks to slowly suppress the gospel message right out of where our kids spend most of their day, a school…is that any less of a sin than what may have happened at Penn State?”
It’s hard to believe anyone who would say this can be reasoned with; It’s impossible to believe they would ever put their personal religious beliefs on hold to comply with a pesky non-discrimination policy.
Some will say termination from his job is too severe. And if I thought there was any way to change this man’s perspective on anti-gay discrimination, I would agree. But to Brown, there is no questioning his interpretation of the Bible; No discussion or compromise can be had.
“What god says in his word is dominant,” he told his FreeMen disciples. “There is no question.”
There are lots of steps the University should take to combat the exclusionary, discriminatory practices of coach Brown:
Invite Athlete Ally’s Hudson Taylor and Changing the Game’s Pat Griffin to speak with the football coaching staff about how to foster a welcoming environment on the team.
Encourage the Cornhusker football team to take GLSEN’s Team Respect Challenge to demonstrate a commitment to equality.
Record an “It Gets Better” or “You Can Play” video featuring coaches, athletes and administrators taking a proactive step to make the football team inclusive of all people.
In addition to these steps, the University of Nebraska should fire coach Ron Brown immediately, based on his discriminatory policies and his efforts to make the University of Nebraska a climate of exclusion. Any action by the university short of removing Brown would be approval for him to continue using the university to espouse his discriminatory version of Christianity.