Four months ago, Ron Brown stood in the middle of a firestorm in State College, PA, and calmed the situation. In the wake of the revelations of child abuse by a former assistant coach, turmoil seemed to take over Penn State's campus. Legendary coach Joe Paterno had been fired, the campus was in an uproar, and the nation looked on, wondering what was going to happen. It was the soothing words of Ron Brown that refocused the nation on what was important.
"God, there are a lot of little boys around the country today watching this game and they’re trying to figure out what the definition of manhood is all about. Father, this is it right here. I pray that this game will be a training ground for what manhood looks like."
Earlier this week, Brown was one of many people who participated in over five hours of debate over a proposed expansion of Omaha's anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation. That Brown, a fervent Christian, would find homosexuality to be contrary to his beliefs should not be a surprise. That he drove to Omaha to oppose the proposed ordinance was both a surprise and a disappointment. Thursday, UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman called out Brown for his comments, specifically by not explicitly clarifying that his views were not the views of the University.Not that any clarification was necessary. Anybody who knows what Ron Brown and the University are all about should automatically realize that Brown was speaking for himself. But in this situation, Brown shouldn't have been speaking in the first place. Not because Brown is wrong for believing that homosexuality is morally wrong. That's a theological issue with it's origins in the Bible. It's the legal side that's disconcerting to me. Religious freedom has been a fundamental part of American society, dating even prior to this country's independence. People came to this country in search of a place where they could be free to believe what they wanted without the government dictating it to you.
It's called respect...or at least tolerance for opposing ideas and beliefs. It's something that's been in short supply in our society in recent days. Nationally, we've seen an uproar over a mandate that would require religious organizations to provide contraception, in violation of their religious beliefs. Both sides of this debate claim intolerance and seemingly ignore the concerns of the other side. Catholic institutions decry the loss of religious freedom as they are mandated to pay for services they find morally objectionable. Women's groups, on the other hand, decry the intrusion of outside forces in determining what their health care should be. It's a true conundrum, as both sides have valid points. It's not a simple solution. The problem is exacerbated when Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown student a "slut" and "prostitute" for three days straight, all because she went in front of a Congressional committee to call for contraception to be covered as part of their health care plan.
Polarizing statements like that do nothing to help us bring consensus or unify society. Everybody should have a moral compass that steers us in the direction of right and wrong, but not everybody has the same moral compass. And that's why Brown's statements are so disappointing to me. Nobody is telling Brown that he needs to change his sexual orientation. But at some point, Brown will almost assuredly coach a player who's orientation runs counter to what's in the Bible. It may have already occurred, for all we know.
And it's not like Brown hasn't had players who have beliefs contrary to Christianity. I-back Ameer Abdullah is a devout Muslim, yet Brown and Abdullah look for common ground. Neither has to change. Nobody is telling Ron Brown that his church has to sanction, let alone embrace, homosexual acts. That would be even more wrong. We should be looking for opportunities to bring our country together and respect everybody for who they are. It shouldn't matter what religion they profess or what their ethnic background is. And it shouldn't matter what a person's orientation is either. Judge people on their individual merits.
That's the opportunity that Brown missed this week. Ron Brown's strong faith is one of his most positive traits. Some people have a problem with that, but that's their problem. He is legally entitled to have those beliefs and share those beliefs. Contrary to what some people might think, he typically doesn't force his beliefs on others. He forthright in sharing his beliefs, and that is something that should be celebrated, not criticized. In fact, it's others who try to force their beliefs on him by calling for him to be silenced. That's downright wrong. But this week, the roles were reversed. It was Brown trying to force his beliefs on others. That's downright wrong as well.
Ron Brown showed us a lot of good last football season. He was a uniter. This week, not so much. He was a divider.