#ClemsonStrong Just Proves My Point: There’s No Room on the Football Team for Non-Religious Players

I really don’t understand how anyone could look at the situation taking place on the Clemson University football team — where the coach’s Christianity is allowed to run rampant and players are pressured to attend religious events even if it’s outside of practice — and think it’s okay.

My theory is that they don’t think it’s a big deal because it’s the faith of the majority. “Everyone” in South Carolina is Christian, so what’s the big deal if it seeps onto the football field?

But that’s precisely the problem. Everyone on the team, Coach Dabo Swinney included, can practice their faith as they wish, but when you’re in uniform representing a public university, there’s no room for proselytizing. No non-Christian player should have to choose between pretending to be religious to curry favor with the coach and being true to their own beliefs. There’s plenty of opportunity to hold religious events off the field — so why not just leave it there?. (I’d say the same thing if we were talking about an atheist coach pressuring players to stop believing in God. As if that would ever happen.)

Ellen Meny wrote an article for The Tiger News, the school’s newspaper, that’s downright hilarious. Meny wants to say that there’s no proselytizing problem and groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation are making a big deal out of nothing:

I truly don’t mind if the football team participates in religious events. I’m happy a player can be baptized with his friends around him — so as long as those who opt out aren’t ostracized or judged. Multiple former and current players have attested to the fact that they’ve always felt comfortable on the team, so I have no evidence to argue against it. I believe that the FFRF jumped on a supposed opportunity that turned out to be a bust. They are at fault.

But she doesn’t get it: In that sort of hostile religious environment, anyone who speaks out against the faith practices is almost guaranteed to be judged and ostracized.

Anyway, here’s where it gets good. Meny mentions a Twitter hashtag #ClemsonStrong that students were using the wake of this controversy to proclaim “that Clemson doesn’t force their personal beliefs on them”… and you can guess what happened after that:

The response morphed from defending the football program itself to defending the religious aspects of the football program and insulting atheists. What is extremely strange about this response is it actually proves half of FFRF’s point. I don’t see Clemson football itself heavily affected by religion, but it’s clear that almost all Clemson fans, or at least the ones who use Twitter, connect their religion to football. Obviously Clemson has a massive religious presence, and the FFRF believed this religious presence was leaking into the football program. Technically, they are correct. The football team is influenced by religion, and the Twitter response was defending this religious connection, not denying that there was one.

[One social media post said:] “I dont understand why it matters if WE want to have God in OUR football. It’s the south, we love Jesus and he is present in everything we do. If you dont like it then leave, we don’t need you anyways.”

I could pause to explain all the things wrong with this status, but it would be a waste of words. All I can say is that according to this post, I’ll be losing many Jewish, Atheist and Muslim friends after they leave Clemson because they don’t love Jesus enough. But it’s fine, because I really didn’t need them anyway.

She just proved what we’ve been saying this whole time.

The Clemson defenders keep saying that no one’s forcing faith on anybody who doesn’t want it and there’s no pressure on non-Christian football players.

Reality says otherwise. Even if the pressure Meny mentions is coming from students who aren’t on the football team, it’s not hard to extrapolate. As bad as it is outside the stadium, players and coaches could easily argue that an athlete who doesn’t participate in the religious rituals isn’t a team player and that he’s bad for team cohesion. Even if Swinney promises otherwise, that could limit a player’s minutes and jeopardize his own future prospects.

Meny doesn’t bring herself to come to FFRF’s side after writing this, but her own experience implies that what she wants to be true really isn’t.

I wish I could ask her: Would she feel comfortable being a non-religious player on this football team after seeing what the Christian pressure is like?

The answer seems obvious to me.

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.


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