You can say that on TV: What is right in free speech and higher learning?

- April 28th, 2012

I am an unabashed fan of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. And in my own little world, I also respect what the university and its athletics programs stand for — the fans are among the most hospitable you’ll find anywhere, and the face of Nebraska Athletics, Tom Osborne, is a man who has perhaps never had a bad word uttered about him.

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Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown has come under fire for controversial remarks regarding homosexuality.

So it’s been a bit disconcerting to me in the past few months as Nebraska has made national headlines because of an assistant coach. Running backs coach Ron Brown has had all the big publications typing his name of late, including the Washington Post, which otherwise would never be a place you’d turn to get your Cornhusker news. In short, Brown has publicly denounced homosexuality and, as a man of faith, cited scripture as a reason why homosexuality is a sin. This ESPN.com story sums the details up well enough for me to proceed with the point of this posting.

Friday, while all of the state of Nebraska had its focus on Huskers eligible for the three-day long NFL Draft, Omaha World Herald columnist Tom Shatel posted on his own blog an opinion piece on Brown and the sticky relationship his controversial public remarks create between himself and the university. That blog prompted me to email Shatel, a writer whom I respect and follow for his ability and experience in the field. Tom was kind enough during one of the busiest times of the year as a football writer to reply back to me.

For today, I am posting my letter to Tom here, so as to share my opinions on a divisive issue that just happens to involve the football team I’ve loved since I was an 8-year-old. As Tom said in his reply to me: “This is a complicated issue and I don’t profess to have any answers. But I do know coach Brown and I admire him, though don’t always agree.”

It is a complex issue. Freedom of speech is an unalienable right, but that freedom does not put someone beyond reproach, and it calls into question what is expected of a university when one of its employees exercises that freedom in a manner that puts the school in opposition to its own standards of equality.

Anyway, you can form your own opinion on what is right. I will provide my opinion via the letter I wrote to Tom Shatel.

Hi Tom

I am a sports reporter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a Nebraska fan since I’ve been a child. The story behind that fanship is a fairly extended one, so I’ll spike the details in favour of just saying: I’m not from Nebraska, nor have I ever lived there — but I always speak fondly of its people, and they have made being a fan all the more enjoyable.

I contact you in regard to your blog about Ron Brown. I already have my opinions on coach Brown but your piece did raise some very valid points that I took into consideration, some angles I hadn’t yet come at the story from, and I thought it was a fair and even-handed column.

My own opinion is that I struggle greatly to support Brown because of his very public stance on homosexuality. I can’t for a moment accept any human who would disseminate a viewpoint that promotes hatred, no matter what spiritual source out of which that viewpoint is borne. And in being anti-homosexuality, Brown is letting his religious leanings marginalize a segment of our population and, in so doing, is saying to all those hate-filled people who still wish ill on homosexuals that it’s OK to harbour those feelings. To every young kid who is being bullied, to every person ostracized by family because of archaic beliefs, to every kid who has committed suicide because they thought that was an easier answer than living with the pain — pain we as a society create with our intolerance — Brown says they are the ones who are wrong; that those human beings are deserving of admonishment.

You know Coach Brown much better than I ever will, and part of me knows he’s likely a fine man who just happens to possess some viewpoints I can’t possibly condone. I was struck by his speech at Penn State enough to tweet it and Facebook share it, despite my not having religious convictions of my own. I have always believed that the fans and the athletics department that I passionately follow at least wants to do the right thing and stand for things we can all be proud of.

We are in 2012 now, for heaven sake. We just saw a black man score the biggest goal of his NHL hockey career and, instead of sports fans and himself celebrating it unconditionally, we were instead discussing ignorance in the form of racist tweets, a sickening lesson that history isn’t all that far in the past after all. For as far as we have come on this continent in race issues, we are none of us naive enough to believe it’s been exterminated. So, if these issues are still prevailing in an area where we HAVE admittedly made strides, how far must we be away from giving equality to people whom we’ve been so slow-footed to accept?

For me, Tom, this is a cut and dry issue: No one in the University of Nebraska — in this day and age — should be standing alongside someone who wishes to spew hatred and tell millions of people in this world that their life is condemnable. In my opinion Brown should be fired because, as a leader of young men, he should never be spouting a viewpoint that tangentially teaches those young men to go forward in their own lives with a viewpoint of bigotry. Simply by percentages, Brown has undoubtedly coached a gay athlete at some point, and while that athlete was likely good enough on the football field, Brown publicly lets you know that person would not be good enough as a human being.

We should be beyond this. Right-minded people should know better. But we aren’t. And, often times, they don’t.

Coach Brown shows us how far away we really are. He speaks against equality. He speaks against harmony. He speaks against a world where everyone can feel comfortable in their own skin. He is a living, breathing double-negative: He speaks AGAINST anti-discrimination.

In the end, Nebraska can side with him and put out disclaimers that he doesn’t represent their viewpoints. Mr. Osborne can say there should be “clarity” between your speeches you give as an individual, and those that you give as an employee of the University of Nebraska. Everyone at UNL can say whatever they want in hopes of creating their own distance between church and state (so to speak), but the action is what matters.

And the University of Nebraska can never be taken seriously as an advocate of anti-discrimination so long as a very public figure of theirs continues to spread a message that flies in the face of equality and freedom. The messages he spreads are not education, they are myopic, hate-filled directives, and an institution of higher learning should know better than to be party to it and let it continue.

Thank you, Tom. I apologize for the long-windedness. Continue your good work. I will continue to read.

— feed —

Twitter: @LarkinsWSun

Categories: Sports

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2 comments

  1. JeyRome says:

    I’d like to tell you what sickens me-drama queens like you.
    I’ll support my stance by starting with your wildly over exaggerated statement about ‘spewing hate’-where do you get off coming up with vitriolic comments like this-essentially spewing the same hate you are so seemingly against?
    Secondly, you feel, & I’ll paraphrase, Mr. Brown should be fired for being a bigot. Definitively, a bigot is racist & extreme in nature so how can you claim such a thing when homosexuality is not a race, is not visible & is not an immutable state? Furthermore, how is voicing ones opinion that the gay ‘LIFESTYLE’ is wrong, an extreme action?

    Ron Brown denounced the action of being gay, not the gay people themselves which is something all you hazi sympathizers are too dim to comprehend. Because people with LGBT spectrum disorder cannot differentiate between being people & being gay, I guess I don’t blame you for being an intellectual bottom feeder & accepting their propaganda at face value so here’s a tip-they are in the extreme minority at ~5% of the population & by cold definition do not have normal desires.

    So you better be ready to live & die by the same sword, because you Mr. Drama Queen, are a bigot that is spewing hatred against a majority that does not condone this LIFESTYLE.

  2. rretch says:

    Wow JeyRome… You’re calling Mr. Larkins a bigot and accusing him of spewing hatred really sums up the ignorance of bigotry. Your definition of bigot is wrong by the way. Bigotry is not just racism. Someone who is demonstratively prejudiced against Italians would be a bigot and Italian is a culture, not a race.
    Your writing appears quite angry; as though your whole way of life were being attacked. Were you born narrow-minded and angry or is that a lifestyle choice you’ve made?
    The problem I see here is another University that will turn it’s head and say that their coaches opinions don’t reflect theirs while they turn their collective heads and allow him to continue in his behaviours. Wasn’t there another university that has done that recently? Oh, but this is nothing like Penn State. Mr. Brown isn’t a pedophile. But the ‘turn you head because he’s making us money’ attitude is the same.
    People cite the Bible for condemning homosexuals and promoting hatred toward them. My God… My Christ… did not promote hatred. Maybe I’m reading a different Bible than they are.
    But the university will be morally culpable if Mr. Brown’s behaviours lead to another ‘gay-bashing’ or another suicide by a gay student afraid to reveal his/her true self.
    And, not that I owe anyone an explanation, I am not gay and I don’t believe homosexuality is a natural way of being. However, I will not ostracize anyone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered… they have every right that I do to live a life without harrassment.

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