Family values and the NCAA

If you’re part of an organization trying to get your message out, you usually have to spend money to place ads where people can see them. Communications shops usually prefer getting stories written about them. Not only is it free but you can communicate more thoroughly with your audience. So while Focus on the Family seems to have been running more advertisements as of late, they have to be taking note of all the earned media they’re getting.

First there was the Superbowl ad controversy. And now there’s this:

The National Collegiate Athletic Association removed a Focus on the Family banner ad from one of its Web sites this week, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said Wednesday.

The NCAA made the decision after some of its members – including faculty and athletic directors – expressed concern that the evangelical group’s stance against gay and lesbian relationships conflicted with the NCAA’s policy of inclusion regardless of sexual orientation, Williams said.

The ad in question was not about sexuality. It featured a father holding his son and the words, “All I want for my son is for him to grow up knowing how to do the right thing.” Like the Tebow ad, it included the address of Focus on the Family’s Web site and the slogan, “Celebrate Family. Celebrate Life.”

Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger said that if such material were “all of a sudden labeled hate speech, we have deeper problems in our country than we even know.”

It’s enough to make the conspiratorially minded among us wonder whether Focus is baiting its critics into appearing intolerant and histrionic.

The above excerpt comes from an Associated Press report written by none other than Eric Gorski. He had moved on to the higher education beat, about which I’m still terribly upset, a few weeks ago. But here he was able to blend his understanding of the religion beat, his longtime coverage of Focus from his days as a reporter in Colorado Springs, and his new beat. It works well and the story is very balanced and informative.

Inside Higher Ed ran a piece that reads like it comes from inside higher ed. It’s very sympathetic to the NCAA position. So, for instance, we learn that Focus on the Family (but not its critics) “created a stir” when the group announced it would run a pro-family ad during the Superbowl:

(When the Focus on the Family ad actually aired, some commentators suggested that critics had overreacted, because the conservative group soft pedaled its often strident message by featuring Tebow’s mother celebrating the fact that he had made it “into this world” despite her very rough pregnancy — before showing the former University of Florida star, an outspoken Christian, apparently tackling her.)

I’m not sure why that excerpt is in parentheses but I think the use of the word “strident” indicates the perspective of the reporter. (Strident: making or having a harsh sound; grating; or having a shrill, irritating quality or character.) As does this excerpt which comes after a brief description of the ad:

That message may seem innocuous, Pat Griffin, an emerita professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said in an interview Tuesday, “but if you have any awareness of what Focus on the Family is and their position on issues of family and life” — championing traditional definitions of marriage, deeming homosexuality to be immoral, and fighting to eliminate abortion — it’s very clear what their message is…. It’s very disingenuous to say, those are innocent messages, messages anyone can join in.”

The reporter doesn’t bother finding anyone to defend the ad (pictured below), defend free debate, or suggest that Pat Griffin’s views are in any way objectionable.

Now maybe the pulling of a small ad from a website isn’t big news. But one of the big reasons why I’ve developed an interest in media coverage of gay activism is because of the fact that so many stories about gay rights involve tension with religious organizations. I was reading this amazingly prescient 2006 story by traditional marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher that predicted quite a few legal, academic and civil rights struggles as they relate to the push for same-sex marriage. Here’s a brief excerpt from a portion dealing with scholarship on the topic:

Generally speaking the scholars most opposed to gay marriage were somewhat less likely than others to foresee large conflicts ahead–perhaps because they tended to find it “inconceivable,” as Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine law school put it, that “a successful analogy will be drawn in the public mind between irrational, and morally repugnant, racial discrimination and the rational, and at least morally debatable, differentiation of traditional and same-sex marriage.” That’s a key consideration. For if orientation is like race, then people who oppose gay marriage will be treated under law like bigots who opposed interracial marriage. Sure, we don’t arrest people for being racists, but the law does intervene in powerful ways to punish and discourage racial discrimination, not only by government but also by private entities. Doug Laycock, a religious liberty expert at the University of Texas law school, similarly told me we are a “long way” from equating orientation with race in the law.

By contrast, the scholars who favor gay marriage found it relatively easy to foresee looming legal pressures on faith-based organizations opposed to gay marriage, perhaps because many of these scholars live in social and intellectual circles where the shift Kmiec regards as inconceivable has already happened. They have less trouble imagining that people and groups who oppose gay marriage will soon be treated by society and the law the way we treat racists because that’s pretty close to the world in which they live now.

It’s safe to say that the values regarding marriage espoused my most religious groups are not shared by most people in newsrooms. And this is a really serious difference of opinion about what marriage is. I wonder if it’s not just scholars who live in social and intellectual circles where the shift has happened but for many journalists, too.

Print Friendly

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    I can say for an utter and absolute fact that for most journalists of my acquaintence, the relationship between race and sexual identification is completely equivalent, and they would not cavil at applying the same restrictions to people who expressed opposition to ”equal rights” for homosexuals as are now applied to those who favor racial discrimination. Indeed, homosexuals are seen as more worthy of such ”protections” because they are more ”discriminated against” under current law, and such measures are seen by many as a way to change, if not attitudes and beliefs, at least to suppress them as influences in public life. As an example, the recent ”gay marriage” campaign in Maine resulted in a professional ethics complaint filed against a high school guidance counselor by a professional peer because the counselor appeared in a TV ad supporting traditional marriage. To the best of my knowledge, no state newspaper has editorialized that the complaint was not appropriate.

  • Chaviv Cardoso

    I “like” your “use” of “scare” quotes “throughout” your comment, “Deacon” Michael “D.” Harmon.

  • MarkAA

    Without doubt it already has happened. I spent more than a decade in midsize newspapers in the heartland, and watched the change occur. These aren’t elite journalists in cosmopolitan areas; these are relatively small organizations (and now much smaller than they were) in the Midwest. 15 years ago, it would be been a debated question on a copy desk or among writers in their cubicles, but the current group of writers, editors and designers are totally in agreement that gay marriage should be allowed. The generation of journalists ahead of them also are very socially liberal, but there were some among them who at least remembered a more traditional upbringing and/or understood that social change of this magnitude had pros and cons, but they’ve mostly been bought-out or let go … from what I can see in the current crop, there’s nobody who thinks it through very deeply, and they can’t imagine it going any other way than that all of the U.S. should institute legal gay marriage as soon as possible. My prediction is that within five years gay marriage will be common in all the “blue” states, and within 10 it will be universal across the U.S.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Would not taking an ad for the Dianetics book mean critics of Scientology were “appearing intolerant and histrionic”?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Isn’t it true that religions already have some differences with ‘secular’ marriage? The Roman Catholic Church, for example, doesn’t recognize divorce, though the state does. The “Creativity Movement” (a white-supremacist church) presumably wouldn’t recognize the interracial marriages common today.

    Adding same-sex marriage to the state’s ‘menu’ would lead to a larger number of marriages not recognized by various churches, but that’s not a new kind of problem…

  • http://forestboar.wordpress.com Lincoln Winter

    We have the opposite debate in my small Wyoming community. The school board voted to remove “No Place For Hate” banners because they had a logo from the Gay and lesbian coalition of Colorado. The local newspaper has done a pretty good job of presenting it fairly. The editorials have been overwhelmingly against the board action, but also overwhelmingly from out-of-towners. The article is here :
    http://www.pcrecordtimes.com/v2_news_articles.php?heading=0&story_id=1540&page=72.
    Based on the reaction from “regular people” who live outside of Wheatland, I suggest that we are already almost to the point where sexual identity is considered orientation. The number of people who compared this incident to Matthew Shephard was surprising. Out of close to a dozen letters to the editor which spoke against the board action, only two failed to use the Matthew Shepard analogy – An analogy that breaks down because
    1) Removing a banner isn’t a hate crime and
    2) Neither was Matthew Shepard. It was a drug deal gone bad.

  • dalea

    Mollie says:

    It’s safe to say that the values regarding marriage espoused my most religious groups are not shared by most people in newsrooms.

    I suspect you meant to put by here but were mislead by spellcheck.

  • c3

    I can understand why the NCAA did this. Obviously many dangers involved. Among them:
    -I assume many of their member institutions are sponsored by organizations that don’t support gay marriage (i.e. BYU, Baylor) So does the NCAA exclude those typical, brief halftime commercials for the respective institutions?
    -How much work will they have to do to figure out what a particular organization’s stance is on a “hot button issue”
    -How will they keep track of how those of authority influence the decision because of “controversy”?

    And many more. The super bowl Tim Tebow ad “controversy” just ended up making certain groups (i.e. NOW) look foolish.

  • dalea

    Mollie says:

    It’s safe to say that the values regarding marriage espoused my most religious groups are not shared by most people in newsrooms. And this is a really serious difference of opinion about what marriage is. I wonder if it’s not just scholars who live in social and intellectual circles where the shift has happened but for many journalists, too.

    Proof that support of same sex marriage is integral to most religious groups? The opposite opinion is that those who are against same sex marriage are a minority, an ultra-right wing faction. Interesting to see which opinion wins out.

  • kristy

    … I will say, that the people I know reporting for small newspapers here in Wisconsin (in a ‘purple’ Zip Code), all think the same way, and equate equal rights for gays to struggles over race relations. I personally feel that the problem should be framed in definition of terms, (ie: gay people have as much right to marry as anyone else, but the definition of marriage only stretches to fit female and male partners.) rather than who’s discriminating against whom, but THAT’s a losing battle.

  • Dave

    Mollie, in the frame of reference Doug Kmiec found impossible to imagine, Focus on the Family may well be regarded as almost equivalent to the KKK. What you may think of as bias, the folks in that frame of reference may regard as so obvious as not needing explanation. This doesn’t mean such folks are any worse at getting religion than the bloke on the street; it’s a matter of world-view.

  • http://www.redletterbelievers.blogspot.com David

    … The media blackout on all things good that are also Christian is terribly indicative of our pulse.

    Thanks for the great article!
    David, Red Letter Believers, “Salt and Light”
    http://www.redletterbelievers.com

  • Jerry

    The media blackout on all things good that are also Christian is terribly indicative of our pulse.

    If you had said biased and referred to much of the MSM, I would have agreed. But since the “media” covers the left to the right (Fox), I don’t see this at all. Even in the media where the editorial department is liberal, I see positive stories all the time. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/02/27/us/AP-US-Bush-School-Speech.html http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/02/26/us/AP-US-REL-Dobsons-Farewell.html to name a couple of short stories I found via google pretty quickly.

  • http://tfhgodtalk.blogspot.com Jeff H

    There is, of course, an absurdity to professor Pat Griffin’s critique of the Focus ad, where he said, “It’s very disingenuous to say, those are innocent messages, messages anyone can join in.” There are no such messages in advertising–for instance, alcohol ads exclude minors, soda pop ads exclude diabetics, even juice and bottled water ads exclude the impoverished, who cannot afford them. If we can speak and write only of the things that “anyone” can join in, not only do “we have deeper problems in our country than we can even know” (Gary Schneeberger), but those problems strike first against those of us whose livelihood is free expression.

  • c3

    “It’s very disingenuous to say, those are innocent messages, messages anyone can join in.” There are no such messages in advertising—for instance, alcohol ads exclude minors, soda pop ads exclude diabetics, even juice and bottled water ads exclude the impoverished, who cannot afford them. If we can speak and write only of the things that “anyone” can join in, not only do “we have deeper problems in our country than we can even know”

    Then the NCAA should eschew all advertisement!

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    From what I have seen there has been very little–beyond some local or specialized (religious) coverage of how the Catholic Church has been and is being driven from its 2,000 year old ministry to orphans in adoption situations. And the issue isn’t money, but the use of licensing laws to crush opposition to what is becoming state tyranny.

  • http://tfhgodtalk.blogspot.com Jeff H

    C3, imagine, if you will, a world without advertising. Hmmm, not such a bad dream.

  • Lymis

    I wonder if you aren’t overlooking a fundamental point here.

    If the Ku Klux Klan ran an ad that simply showed a white family and had some warm and fuzzy ad text about “God loves our families” or – to be even more parallel “I want to raise my kids to know what’s right” would anyone accept a defense of the organization or claim that opponents were wrong to claim the group is racist simply because the ad is innocuous?

    There is a very big difference between an organization that has some mission (selling things, for example) that also has policies that might be controversial, and an organization that exists, in large part specifically to promote a controversial message. There can be no reasoned argument that Focus on the Family doesn’t have as a primary mission working against gay rights, gay marriage, and positive perceptions of gay people in the country.

    You can agree or disagree with whether that is a good thing. But it is disingenuous to point to their ads and claim that people aren’t allowed to include what they know about the organization as part of how they evaluate them.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X