When Jenna Bachrouche was recruited to play basketball at Oakland University (in Rochester, Michigan) in 2010, her parents asked coach Beckie Francis an important question: “Is Jenna being Muslim going to be an issue?”
Francis said no, so Bachrouche enrolled at Oakland. And you’d think that would be the end of the story since Oakland is a public school and religion shouldn’t matter when you’re playing basketball.
But as things stand right now, Bachrouche is at Western Michigan University, and Francis has been fired for reasons that aren’t fully clear.
What the hell happened?
For starters, it looks like Francis spent a hell of lot of time making clear that her basketball team was a Christian basketball team and anyone who practiced the wrong faith was unwelcome:
In October 2011, Francis told the team it was going to watch film. Before the players entered the film room, Francis pulled Bachrouche aside and said: “Jenna, we’re going to be watching my testimony in church. I think it would be really, really, really good for you if you came in and watched it. But you don’t have to, but I think it would be a really, really, really good idea if you did.”
Bachrouche felt pressured to say yes.
Francis hosted a Christmas party at her home. Attendance was mandatory.
She had a player read “The Christmas Story” directly out of the Bible, which made Bachrouche feel uncomfortable.
On road trips Francis made the players attend church services.
On a trip to play Southern Utah, Bachrouche said Francis told a restaurant owner in Las Vegas that “we’re a Christian basketball team.”
Those aren’t all the infractions but, in a conversation that I imagine must have been nerve-wracking, Bachrouche eventually told the school’s athletic director about the situation. He apologized, helped her transfer into Western Michigan, and eventually fired Francis (though, again, the school hasn’t said that the two things are related).
If the Christian proselytizing was the reason for her dismissal, though, it’s well-deserved. It’s a complete violation of trust and her authority to demand that all of her athletes follow her religious rules — not to mention a violation of the law:
Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan [said:]
“(There’s) nothing wrong with a coach at a public university being outspoken about their faith,” he said. “The problem is when they impose that on players.
“Coaches in public schools violate the Constitution when they favor one religion over another.”
One of the other issues at play — a reason other students may not have spoken up earlier — was that Francis was married to the university’s president Gary Russi… and guess what? On the same day Francis got fired, Russi announced that he was going to retire. Total coincidence, I’m sure…
Bachrouche says she doesn’t want to sue the school (even though she has a pretty damn good case). She just wants to make other students aware of these sorts of issues:
“I just want people to be aware of what [Francis] did and has been doing and just to educate people that things like this do happen at the collegiate level”…
She’s incredibly brave for speaking up. She’s also taking the hit for it; while she was allowed to transfer, NCAA rules forbade her from playing this past year. She decided to speak out publicly only after Francis was fired.
As far as I can tell, no Christian organization has come out in support of or against Francis’ actions. They would be doing themselves a favor by openly condemning any sort of proselytizing by a public school coach toward her athletes.
(Thanks to Patrick for the link)