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Religion and sports don't mix well, never have and never will

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published January 16. 2014 4:00AM

News item: UConn president Susan Herbst has reprimanded assistant football coach Ernest Jones, who told the Hartford Courant recently that "we're going to make sure (the players) understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle, and that that's something that is important."

Herbst issued a statement via a letter to the Courant, saying, "It should go without saying that our employees cannot appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work at the university, or in their interactions with our students. This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field. Our athletic director and Coach (Bob) Diaco agree wholeheartedly with me, and have made this clear to their staff."

Kudos to Herbst for a quick, appropriate, measured response.

But I'm still dumbfounded.

What would have ever possessed Mr. Jones, an employee of a state university, to say that publicly? Could he be that naïve, given the tenor of the times?

I understand that Mr. Jones used to work at Notre Dame, where they get more mileage from "Touchdown Jesus" than the rest of the world could get from a Toyota Corolla. But this is a different forum.

Plus, such issues rarely produce a measured reaction. It's always an overreaction. Like one letter writer to the Courant: "It sounds like football players who are not Christian might not be welcome at UConn, and would not feel a part of that huddle."

Dear letter-writer: You might try decaf. You know. The green can. Athletics has always been among the most welcoming, tolerant endeavors. Mr. Jones didn't insult anyone here. Some might even view his spirituality refreshing, given that college sports are a cesspool. But that's the problem with espousing such spirituality at a public university. The easily offended get their 15 minutes.

Religion and sports should have barely a passing relationship, aside from the old joke about what Billy Graham and the football Giants have in common: The only two things that can fill a stadium and make people yell "Jesus!"

But then, I bet some of you were offended by that.

You'll be offended by this, too. You know whose stance I adopt on this topic? Archie Bunker's. Don't laugh. I know it's not normally smart practice to use Archie as a moral compass. But one of his best lines applies, still on point almost 45 years later.

Archie apparently witnessed the mugging of Tony Vicino, a shoemaker, but wouldn't tell the whole story. The repartee:

Vicino: "You saw! You and I know you saw!"

Archie: "You ain't got no witnesses to that."

Vicino (pointing to God): "He knows you saw!"

Archie: "Aw, what are you dragging Him into it for?"

Vicino: "He sees everything! He knows everything we do!"

Archie: "Get outta here. You don't really believe that."

Vicino: "Yes I do."

"Archie: "Then how come youse people are always running to confession telling Him what's happening?"

It should be noted that the studio audience applauded after Archie said that.

The point: God is everywhere. Think we can leave it at that? If we accept that God — your God, my God, your neighbor's God — is everywhere, there would be no reason to invoke His name unnecessarily. Like on a football field. Because he is presumed to be there. He is everywhere.

The concept of an omnipresent God would help us all practice our own individual spiritualities privately. Where they belong. As in: You don't lord your Lord over me and I won't lord mine over you. That way, we don't broadcast whatever relationship we want with our God.

And we'd sure hear less from the easily offended. Although I'm sure they'll be on to their next cause célèbre, once their current 15 minutes expires.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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