Immediately after reading the Greenville News' take on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's criticism of Dabo Swinney and the Clemson program for being too religious, my mind immediately went to every pre- and post-game prayer circle from youth programs, to high school teams, to college programs across the country.
If you haven't read it yet, you should, regardless of your take.
Even though religious participation in the Clemson program is voluntary, the foundation claims that Dabo crosses ethical lines because he is a government employee. According to the foundation, even though participation in religious events is voluntary, it crosses an ethical line because Swinney is technically a government employee.
"He doesn't have the right to do that as a part of his university coaching position," explained foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliott. :There needs to be a complete separation between his religious views and demonstrating that and encouraging that with people under his charge.
"It violates their constitutional rights," he continued. "Coaches have tremendous influence over players. They make decisions on who has scholarships and who plays and what they do."
In broad terms, the foundation (who says that they are the largest association of atheists and agnostics in the nation) ultimately accuses Dabo of "promoting a culture in the program that violates constitutional stipulations of the separation of church and state." To remedy the situation, the organization has recommended that the program get rid of their team chaplain and that the staff and players stop participating in voluntary Bible studies and devotionals.
Does all of this sound absolutely ridiculous to anyone but me? The part that really got me going was the comment from the foundation's lawyer about religion playing a role in who plays and who doesn't in an FBS program. People that actually believe that simply don't have a clue of how things work outside of their small bubble.
I understand there is a fine line between being a coach to a bunch of impressionable 18-23 year old kids and also being their pastor, don't get me wrong, but I highly doubt that Dabo is handing out pocket Bibles in the same hand he's handing out their playbooks.
Clemson's chief public affairs officer, Cathy Sams, has issued a rebuttal by stating what the vast majority of coaches already understand.
"No one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program," Sams said. "It's purely voluntary. Religion and faith is a big part of Coach Swinney's personal beliefs, but it is in no way required. There is no mandatory participation."
As coaches we can clearly see her viewpoint because her statement embodies how most of us run our programs, conscious of the diverse group of beliefs that make up our team.
Dabo is a smart man - and an excellent coach - who has no issues being vocal about where he stands on the religious spectrum. Players and families understand that during the recruiting process and accept it as a small part of the Clemson program. If he were truly pushing religion as hard as the organization believes that he is we'd see a mass exodus of players transferring from there every year, and that's obviously not the case.
There will obviously be parties in the coaching community passionate about each side of this controversy, but here at The Scoop, we just felt like this was an issue that our audience should be aware of. It's not far fetched to think that something like this could ultimately happen to your program, in one form or another.