After Basketball Coach Gets Fired, a Former Player Speaks Out About the Coach’s Excessive Proselytizing

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?”

Jenna Bachrouche

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:

Coach Beckie Francis

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)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • name

    “christian basketball team”

    what does that even mean?

  • eric

    On road trips Francis made the players attend church services.

    How much clearer of a fireable offense can there be?

  • Sven2547

    we’re a Christian basketball team

    No, you’re a Christian basketball coach. And if you can’t tell the difference between a coach and a team, you have no business coaching a team.

  • WallofSleep

    “There were times when I only saw one set of sneaker prints on the court, and those were the toughest times in my life. What’s up with that, Jesus?”

    “Those times when you only saw one set of sneaker prints are the times I was dunking on your punk ass. You got no skills, son!”

  • Adicus Ryan Garton

    they only play with baptised basketballs.

  • islandbrewer

    Well, she could tie her players to a stake and torture them until they convert. That might be arguably clearer.

  • Spuddie

    I bet it was considered but she was afraid they would outnumber her and run away too easily.

  • JKPS

    Kudos to the athletic director on this. Apologizing and helping the student? Very nice.

  • C Peterson

    A Muslim with white skin? Without an accent? An American citizen? This sounds like the worst nightmare of quite a few American Christians.

  • Rain

    In October 2011, Francis told the team it was going to watch film.

    They had us watch The Robe in church when I was a kid. I don’t remember much about it except that it seemed oddly out of place for a church service and the people in the movie seemed way too “dramatic”. I had no clue at the time that the people in it were all famous people.

  • 7Footpiper

    Not sure how to preface this one so I’m just going to spit it out. How can she be a Muslim Woman and play basketball dressed like that? I mean, all of that exposed skin, while I am pleased (and not for pervy reasons) that she can integrate into western society in such a way. The only thing I can think is that her family are very liberal indeed.

    Hope that didn’t make me sound like a prick, it certainly isn’t meant that way.

  • baal

    While islam isn’t quite as fractured as christianity, they do have more and less moderate sects.

  • baal

    The Lord wants their team to put the round ball into the steel hole with a net more than he wants the other team to put the round ball into the steel hole with a net.

  • 7Footpiper

    True enough. I worked with a guy who drank beer and was known to attend strip clubs and I had completely forgotten that he is Muslim until we received a list of rules for attending his Fathers funeral.

  • Free

    As a Christian, the coach was and is out of line. This is illegal activity and a poor representation of Christian responsibility. I am happy she feels inclined to share her faith but as the Bible makes clear, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven.” The examples stated, if true, and I can not see how they are not, is not the way to share your faith. If a player on their own time approached the coach in a neutral location and asked questions about the coaches faith, then go for it. It is easier to proselytize than to just live our what you believe and make the most of the opportunities within the law to share.

  • Stealth Avenue

    ” They would be doing themselves a favor by openly condemning any sort of proselytizing by a public school coach toward her athletes.”

    Dream on. rofl

  • onamission5

    You are on a roll lately, I must say.

  • Anna

    According to the article, her father is Muslim, her mother is Christian, and Jenna and her two siblings were raised as Muslims. There are plenty of liberal and non-religious Muslims out there. They just don’t make the news.

  • C Peterson

    I guess it’s like a Christian pharmacy. Or a Christian hospital. Or a Christian flower shop. You know… one where discrimination is practiced.

  • tron

    There is even more to this story that will come to light. I have a friend who graduated from Oakland and was a sports marketing intern his last couple years there. He said the open proselytizing should come has no surprise as the questionnaires this coach sent out to recruits specifically asked what their faith was, even tho that is against NCAA regulations. He also mentioned that this coach was less then fair when dealing with gay athletes. To the point that one of girls who transferred schools after her freshman year. I believe he is attempting to help the person who wrote the article for the freep track down some of the girls for a follow up.

  • closetatheist

    Is it normal for parents to approach their child’s coach and say, “hey, just wanted you to know that my child belongs to a different religion than you.”? Now, I’m NOT saying that that means the coach had a right to do what she did, she was dead wrong. But, that strikes me as weird, like they were asking for the attention? Probably more likely though is that they already knew the coach had a penchant for Christian evangelism…

  • Feminerd

    Actually, yes it is normal for any religious minority. I can’t count the number of times my parents (or in high school, I) told a teacher, coach, or sponsor that I was Jewish and asked if it was going to be a problem. It’s just standard practice, really. I never knew the religion of any of these teachers or coaches and it didn’t matter, because living as a religious minority in this majority-Christian nation means taking proactive steps to head off problems.

    It puts the person on notice that if they said it wasn’t going to be a problem, it damn well better not be. It also says they should maybe moderate any of their normal Christianese that they don’t even think about. It makes it something to think about, instead of just how things are.

  • WallofSleep

    Why thank you. I just do what I can.

  • The Captain

    ” she can integrate into western society in such a way.” ahh not all muslims are from some middle eastern country and then immigrate here. I would be her family has been part of a western society for a long time.

  • Blacksheep

    “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.”

    Attendance should not have been mandatory. But reading the Christmas story is a tradition, not strange at Christmastime.

    Interestingly, The Qu’ran teaches the Jesus story as well, including an angel appearing to Mary to give her the news, Mary being a virgin, and the birth of Jesus.

  • Mario Strada

    Or maybe they drink holy gatorade during breaks?

  • Houndentenor

    They meant it wasn’t going to a problem for them and it wasn’t. They didn’t mean that they weren’t going to do things that were a problem for you. They don’t see their behavior as inappropriate or problematic. You’re the one with the problem.

  • Noelle

    Aww, I think you were downvoted too rashly. It is just a question, and we can’t all be from Michigan. Many American Muslims are plain old boring people with no hereditary link to the Middle East. Even a 1st generation immigrant who moves here young is easily enough melded into American society, but 2nd, 3rd, etc generation? Even more so. Not all Muslims adhere to a recognizable dress code, but wear the same jeans and T-shirt outfit as everybody else. Some are generic Americans whose ancestors came here over 200 years ago and they chose to convert. The African American community has embraced Islam as well.

  • UWIR

    The Koran just says that women should dress “modestly”; this stuff with the burqa et al is just how some Muslims have interpreted that.

  • UWIR

    “She’s also taking the hit for it; while she was allowed to transfer, NCAA rules forbade her from playing this past year. ”

    It would be nice if there were more details as to what rule it is that bars her from playing. Are players who transfer generally prohibited from playing during the year that they transfer?

    Also, I was a bit thrown by the coach as being described as reading the “Christmas” story from the Bible. Maybe it’s just me, but in my mind there is quite a difference between Christmas and the Nativity. “Christmas” is the collection of Western traditions, of which the Nativity is just one part. There isn’t anything in the Bible about shooting one’s eye out with a BB gun, is there?

  • WallofSleep

    “And I say unto you, do not be as the hypocrites who shoot their eyes out with a BB gun and then cast blame at the icicle. The Father will see your deception and punish you for it. Instead, accept your poor gunmanship and own up to your fault, and take that shit like a man.”

    Clark 6:14-15

  • Beth

    It doesn’t matter if this girl was devout to her religion or if she was just a casual believer: The coach is in a place of authority and she abused that authority to push religion.

  • McAtheist

    Amadiyah Muslim perhaps, for sure not Wahabi or Salafist. Just like Christianity there are different sects with different rules within Islam. Methinks you may have a preconceived notion as to what it means to be Muslim woman.

    Also, she seems to be born and bred in the ‘good old you-ess-of-A’, maybe that helped her “integrate into western society”.

    And no, it didn’t make you sound like a prick but exposed a hole in your understanding of Muslim women.

  • McAtheist

    Lol………reminds me of being a kid in a christian society watching Ben Hur and that other movie with Chuck Heston as Moses at easter. I didn’t pick up any religious education but I sure became a fan of chariot racing and gladiators.

  • Nox

    Reading the christmas story (as told in the christian new testament) on christmas is a specifically christian tradition. One this christian coach decided a muslim should be coerced into participating in.

  • flyb

    Reminds me of one of my old friends back in college. He was Muslim and would read his Arabic Quran quite often. He also smoked tons of weed and drank lots of beer. But when we ordered a pizza… “NO F’ING PEPPERONI!! No f’ing way, man! Can’t eat that abominable crap!” Miss that guy.

  • compl3x

    You mean Muslim and Islam isn’t a race and criticisms of the belief shouldn’t be construed as racism in order to silence critics of the belief? Great. Now if only everyone else would recognise that.

    “her parents asked coach Beckie Francis an important question: “Is Jenna being Muslim going to be an issue?””

    Why is it an important question? It’s entirely irrelevant what religion a player is. They should be chosen on ability, teamwork, skills etc. Or were you being sarcastic about the “important” part?

  • Lagerbaer

    Apart from all the religions baloney going on in this story, what baffles me as a European is that people make their choice of university dependent on that university’s sports team.

  • 7Footpiper

    Yeah, like I said I may sound like a dick on this one…… I am so used to seeing and hearing negative media about Muslims that when I see, hear about or meet one that doesn’t fit the media stereotype it breaks my mind a little.

  • smrnda

    Sometimes it can help to speak up, so you don’t get religion forced on you. Many Christians forget that they aren’t the whole country. Growing up, I got sick of getting asked what I was getting for Christmas, and at the time I didn’t feel like going “well, I get some Hanukkah geld about this time of year.” It can be nice when parents take the initiative, since it reminds clueless teachers and coaches that they can’t just treat school like it’s their house- there are people who aren’t part of their religion who are guaranteed equal access by the Constitution.

  • smrnda

    I laughed so hard the gin came out my nose.

  • WallofSleep

    Thanks, but…

    Pro tip: Don’t store gin in your nose. The fridge or even the cupboard is a much better storage space.

  • WallofSleep

    Edit: Wrong friggin’ post.

  • DavidMHart

    Muslim dad, Christian mum? Sounds like they ought to have been able to reach a compromise.

  • Rain

    Well waddyaknow it’s on youtube. Now I remember Jay Robinson the emperor dude. Best emperor dude ever!

  • allein

    Well I have to agree on the pepperoni, but for different reasons…

  • allein

    Well, if that sports team is what allows you to afford college, it’s understandable. If the school recruited her, that probably involved some sort of scholarship.

  • Anthony C. Okafor

    Do us all a favor and keep your shitty faith to yourself. (Matthew 6:6)

  • The Captain

    Just a bit of friendly advice then, perhaps you shouldn’t base your assumptions and expectations of people on stereotypes you have developed from the “media”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Are players who transfer generally prohibited from playing during the year that they transfer?

    Yes. NCAA Transfer Guide – 2012-13

  • Wren

    I’m guessing it was important because they were worried that what happened was going to happen. They were trying to head off any suffering by their daughter if they could.

  • Anna

    Maybe it depends on what circles you travel in, but I’ve been to dozens of Christmas parties over the years, hosted by people of many different religious backgrounds, and never has anyone whipped out a Bible! Do evangelicals normally read the Bible at parties? I can understand it being a family tradition on Christmas Eve, but I simply can’t imagine it at a party. Christmas carols, sure, but Bible reading strikes me as very odd.

  • Anna

    Interesting! I hadn’t heard of Chrislam before.

  • DavidMHart

    In fairness, I’m not surprised that it hasn’t taken off in a big way – the two religions just have too much in the way of non-negotiable differences. But I’m also not surprised that someone had a go, especially in a country as evenly split between Muslims and Christians as Nigeria.

  • compl3x

    And by doing so may have inadvertently drawn the attention of this bigoted coach to their daughter and her belief. The daughter shouldn’t have to conceal her religion but at the same time I am not sure why the parents even thought to ask this. Were they aware of the pro-Christian attitude of the coach or did they just randomly ask?

    Let’s be entirely honest: the question was kind of pointless anyway. The coach couldn’t have turned around and said “Actually, yeah, your daughters faith isn’t welcome on our team”. That’s blatant discrimination. There was only one answered that could have possibly been offered.

    Keep in mind I am not defending this coach; she seems entirely contemptible, I just find asking about faith like this strange and unnecessary.

  • Lagerbaer

    But this entire thing, about colleges sponsoring your college education because of you playing on their sports team, is completely alien to me. Our universities have sports teams too, but it’s much more a hobby rather than a higher calling.

  • midnight rambler

    Not in any place that I’ve lived in, but as the other replies show, that may not be typical for the whole country. Scary…

  • Timothy R Alexander

    Welcome to America, we dont care about what you learn as long as you can throw a ball in some kind of game

  • blah

    Wow. Way to put the “friendly” in friendly atheist. Oh wait……

  • Anthony C. Okafor

    I never said I was a friendly atheist, so what the fuck are you bitching about?