Culture

Militant Atheists Are Going After College Football Coaches

Mark Richt

They’re at it again. Those super-tolerant folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation are going after Christian believers who share their faith with others. This time, their target is college football and the coaches who use their belief in Jesus Christ as a springboard to improving the lives of their players.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has issued a report entitled “Pray to Play” in which they outline the…um…abuses from coaches at 25 different universities. Some of the alleged dastardly deeds these coaches engage in include hiring chaplains to pray with student athletes, baptizing players who are new believers, and raising funds for Christian charities. (Where’s my fainting couch?) If you’re a Christian, I’d urge you not to read this report, unless you want your blood pressure to go up.

I first became aware of this attack on Christian coaches when I found out that Mark Richt, the head coach at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, is part of this list of coaches under attack. Coach Richt is beloved by most true Georgia Bulldog fans (not the ones who call for his dismissal when we only win ten games in a season) for his honest approach to faith and for being a positive role model for his players and for the community at large.

But to the atheist busybodies, Coach Richt is a terrible man because one of the chaplains for the UGA Athletic Association is his brother-in-law, Kevin “Chappy” Hines.

Kevin “Chappy” Hynes, UGA’s chaplain and brother-in-law to head coach Mark Richt, is on a mission to win souls, FFRF charges. Championships are great, but souls are better: “Our message at Georgia doesn’t change, and that’s to preach Christ and Him crucified, it’s to win championships for the state of Georgia and win souls for the Kingdom of God, so we’re going to continue down that path.” He also “tr[ies] to get these guys plugged in to church…”

Hynes admits he seeks to convert non-Christians. “I tell people … that come to Georgia that are not Christians and allow me to speak in their lives, I encourage them to walk with Jesus,” Hynes said. “I encourage them to get into Bible study. I encourage them to get in the Word. I encourage them to memorize Scripture.” Hynes regularly prays with players.

Here’s a newsflash to the Godless Gestapo: Hynes wants to convert people to Christianity because that’s what Jesus charged His followers to do. Disciples are supposed to make disciples. In the words of Jesus:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

But wait, there’s more. The Georgia Bulldogs’ in-state rivals, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, don’t escape the wrath of the hopeless haters either. The FFRF aim their guns at the Yellow Jackets’ chaplain Derrick Moore:

Chaplain Derrick Moore is treated like a member of the coaching staff of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, leading pre-game prayers that blend football with religion, FFRF charges. His prayer before a 2011 game against Clemson begins: “As we get ready to go into attack mode, God, be with these boys.” At the conclusion of the prayer, Moore wields his signature sledgehammer.

[…]

Chaplain Derrick Moore was paid $7,500 under his chaplain contract for the 2014 football season. His first task under the contract is to: “Provide Spiritual and Personal Development for Student Athletes (primarily the football program).” Moore has contracts with Georgia Tech dating back to at least 2011. According to school records, Georgia Tech paid him more than $14,000 in 2011 and 2012. Based on those school records, it appears that Georgia Tech has paid him more than $43,000 total.

Now, there are a lot of math majors at Georgia Tech, and I’m pretty sure that all of them would tell you that Moore can’t live off  $7,500 a year alone, so I’ll wager a guess that Georgia Tech isn’t Moore’s primary source of income. And “prayers that blend football with religion”? Moore isn’t unusual there — he’s a red-blooded Southern boy!

The FFRF actually sent letters to the Georgia Tech players “to inform them of their constitutional rights.” I can’t help but point out, all rivalries aside, that the Tech players’ rights include the right to practice religion if they want to.

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Another one of my Bulldogs’ rivals under the scrutiny of militant atheism is Auburn University. The Georgia-Auburn rivalry is the oldest in the Deep South, and although I may rail against them all season long, I’m on their side here.

In this case, the FFRF goes after Auburn’s beloved chaplain, Rev. Chette Williams.

Former head coach Tommy Tuberville appointed Williams in 1999, one of his “first moves” as head coach, claiming the team experienced a “tremendous spiritual revival … moved on the Auburn team since his arrival. … players are getting baptized, carrying around Bibles and wearing wooden cross necklaces.”

About 10 years ago Williams claimed that he had baptized 20 players during his first six years as chaplain. Williams continues to dunk Auburn players, including Sammie Coates and Trovon Reed in 2013 and Jeff Whitaker in 2012. Today, the number of Auburn football players baptized by Williams could easily exceed 50.

Fifty players baptized? You won’t catch me saying, “War Damn Eagle,” so I’ll just reply with, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

AL.com has courageously taken pains to poke some holes in the FFRF report:

Auburn University released a short statement Thursday.

“Chaplains are common in many public institutions, including the US Congress. The football team chaplain isn’t an Auburn employee, and participation in activities he leads are voluntary.”

[…]

The organization claims Williams works inside an office at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, which is incorrect. Williams operates in an office within the athletics department’s student development center, which is connected to the adjacent athletics complex housing the football program.

These are just three examples of the ridiculousness of the attacks on college football programs at the hands of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Here’s the thing: these coaches are not forcing their religion on the players. In the case of the University of Georgia, Musa Smith, a Muslim, did not have to attend team Bible studies or chapels in the early 2000s, and Brandon Kublanow, a current Bulldogs player who is Jewish, remarked about the Christian influence throughout the UGA football program in an article last year:

Georgia holds an optional chapel service at the team hotel before games.

“I go sometimes,” Brandon Kublanow said. “I just like to see what it’s like. They don’t ever put any pressure on me or anything like that. Everyone knows I’m the only Jewish kid on the team.”

Kublanow said he never felt with any school recruiting him that there was “any pressure like we do a lot of Christian stuff.”

In the same article, Mark Richt says of players from other faiths, “We don’t care about all that. We just like them to have that ‘G’ on their hat and play hard.”

And here’s the other thing: nobody is forcing the players to commit to one school or another. The FFRF report quotes Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney as saying, “I’m a Christian. If you have a problem with that, you don’t have to be here.” I was talking with a friend of mine last night about this report, and he remarked that the players don’t have to choose one school or another. And it’s true — no one is forcing these young men to do anything they don’t want to do.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to paint college football as some sort of proselyte factory with a “convert or lose your scholarship” mentality, and that’s just not the case. The truth is that these faith-filled coaches and chaplains often speak truth and hope into the lives of young student athletes who desperately need it. They’re fulfilling their obligations as believers to reflect and share the light of Jesus with those with whom they come in contact.

In my new book Football, Faith, & Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter To The South, I point out the influences that both Christianity and sports have over the South. In fact, as you can see from the title, the two go hand in hand! Both Christianity and college football have had positive effects on this region, and they will continue to do so. I stand with these coaches and chaplains and pray for boldness and strength in the midst of this attack from militant atheism. I hope my fellow Christian believers and lovers of religious freedom will do the same.

Images via AP Images.