Heavy subject

O, BY THE WAY

Coaches need not keep political views silent

On Rick Majerus and free speech

January 24, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Rick Majerus, the first-year basketball coach at Saint Louis University who built his reputation by winning three out of every four games in 15 seasons at Utah and with one-liners that poked fun at his considerable girth, is in hot water with the Catholic Church. Or at least an archbishop.

We seem to be going through a period of ill-chosen words in the sports world. Going back a bit, there was radio talker Don Imus' unconscionable reference to the Rutgers women's basketball team (he was fired). More recently, TV golf analyst Kelly Tilghman made an inappropriate remark regarding lynching and Tiger Woods (Tilghman was suspended for two weeks).

And yesterday, news came out that ESPN's Dana Jacobson was disciplined (a reported one-week suspension) for her salty references to Notre Dame during a roast of Golden Dome graduate Mike Golic and broadcast partner Mike Greenberg earlier this month.

Majerus' situation is considerably different in tone and substance, but it also involved words that some folks might argue would have been better left unuttered.

The rotund coach - who is credited with once observing, "Nothing good happens around a salad bar" - was at a political rally for presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in suburban St. Louis over the weekend. While there, he was interviewed for a TV report and said he is pro-choice and supports stem cell research. He is also Catholic and happens to coach at a Jesuit school.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke - who has been at loggerheads similarly with Sen. John Kerry, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and singer Sheryl Crow in the past - was upset that Majerus expressed his views on the topics and wants the university to do something about it. Exactly what that discipline should be, Burke hasn't specified. The archbishop does not have direct control over the Jesuit school.

The university has said Majerus did not attend the rally as a representative of the school, and it hasn't said yet what it intends to do, if anything.

So it opens the question: Exactly what is required of a coach who represents any institution that has explicit points of views and policies on social and occasionally political issues?

What if a coach says he favors capital punishment when the group behind an institution believes otherwise? Or expresses an opinion on creationism? Or merely supports a political candidate whose positions are at odds with the underlying institution behind a university?

Should a person be expected to give up First Amendment rights when he or she signs on to coach football, basketball, tennis?

The opinion here is: No, not if it doesn't have a direct effect on his or her duties, which are to teach the game and insist on good sportsmanship and good academics.

Yes, a coach is supposed to represent the college in a way that brings credit (or at least avoids discredit) to the school, but that means doing those things described above as earnestly and honorably as possible. It should not require self-censorship on legitimate societal issues.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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