August 30, 2010

Bowden Used Coaching to 'Witness' to Players: Former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden told a Baptist newspaper that it was his duty as coach to share his Christian faith with all his players. "I'd rather be spiritually correct than governmentally correct," said Bowden. "I felt like it was my job to witness to every player I coached."

posted by rcade to football at 05:39 PM - 22 comments

Then he should have taken his 'call to coaching' to a private christian university...just sayin'.

posted by Tinman at 05:35 PM on August 30, 2010

Like I needed another reason to dislike this bubba.

posted by scully at 05:37 PM on August 30, 2010

I've got no problem with this. Three reasons: a) Things were a lot less "politically correct" when he started coaching; b) He didn't force anyone to do anything, nor reward or punish anyone based on it; and c) Nobody seems to have complained about it. There's no reason anyone should have to be ashamed of being a Christian in this country, and if that aspect of him helped him become closer to his players in any way without causing any harm, then good.

posted by TheQatarian at 05:49 PM on August 30, 2010

It's inappropriate for a coach at a public university to hold his own "devotions, prayer or services" where it's expected of players to attend. Bowden said that in his 31 years only two players opted out, which suggests to me that it was hardly optional at all. What he does in his private time is one thing, but he made it an official part of his job. Taking every new player on his team to church twice a year was proselytizing.

Additionally, as mores changed and young people were less likely to be faithful, perhaps Bowden's aggressive push of Christianity is one reason FSU's teams began to suck. Any player who doesn't want to be force-fed the coach's religion would have signed somewhere else.

posted by rcade at 05:56 PM on August 30, 2010

He didn't force anyone to do anything

I think you're being naive. You have 18 year old students being preached to by a guy that controls much of their future in his hands. That would be incredibly intimidating. I doubt many would have the guts to refuse, much less complain over a coach that is pretty much a god at the university.

nor reward or punish anyone based on it

You have no way of being sure of that. If you take two players of equal talent and one is more receptive to your 'life message' then you might favor one over the other without even being aware of it.

You're right, no reason to be ashamed to be christian. Just don't preach to me about it.

posted by justgary at 06:06 PM on August 30, 2010

Keeping in mind of course that Bowden was also in charge of recruiting, which means that a) the players more than likely knew full well of his religious beliefs when they signed up to play for him (he doesn't strike me as the type that would be ashamed to tell anyone about it), and b) he was likely recruiting kids who were at least somewhat in line with that view as it was, especially given the region in which he coached and recruited.

Personally, I only vaguely qualify as a Christian, and I haven't been to church in years other than for weddings and funerals, but if all a guy was asking me to do was join him in a prayer once in a while, then fine. It's ultimately harmless. If he was preaching that I should smite the non-believers, then I'd have more of a problem with it.

And once again I'll note, times have changed since he started coaching. Nobody would have batted an eye at this when he started.

posted by TheQatarian at 06:47 PM on August 30, 2010

Did any of the players have a problem with it? If so, then they should say so, because they certainly could not suffer any adverse affects now with him gone, or for that matter with the vast majority of them having left the university long ago.

If not, then who cares? Primarily those who want to dictate what others think and how others should act.

posted by graymatters at 07:00 PM on August 30, 2010

That's a pretty funny thing to say, Graymatters, given that Bowden is the one making this a story by talking about it and putting it in his book. He's also the one who said it was his obligation as coach to sell players on his religion. The linked story is from a Baptist news site, which presumably agrees with him.

posted by rcade at 07:22 PM on August 30, 2010

Yes, I see both points, but aren't proselytizers mostly just paid lip service to? I think Bowden thinks he's probably saving souls, but I just can't see it being all that harmful or effective. I'm not saying to institutionalize it, but sometimes coach is just a vocal Christian. If it was a big problem - poof! No coach.

I went to a religious school for six years where we went to Chapel everyday for 30 minutes first thing in the morning, and I just don't remember being all that brainwashed. It was a good school. Great sports. Good teachers and we just had to go to Chapel every morning. There were Indian kids at that school, too. They weren't the least bit Christian. Come to think of it, in retrospect the whole thing seemed like a bit of a farce. $10,000 bucks a year in farce. I also remember the priest, who was also the junior basketball coach, telling me to "fucking follow through" on my jump shot.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 07:46 PM on August 30, 2010

One way of looking at it is that, with all the off the field trouble his players got into over the years, things might have been doubly bad if he hadn't been carrying a message in there.

Another way of looking at it is, with all the institutional problems relating to the program, it's unfortunate that he put a significant bit of effort into making sure the religious part got done right (in his eyes) while letting the academic and support services parts go to hell.

The whole thing does not add up to a picture of a balanced and well-prioritized collegiate athletic experience.

posted by beaverboard at 08:28 PM on August 30, 2010

"I'd rather be spiritually correct than governmentally correct,"

That's a slippery slope.

posted by owlhouse at 09:28 PM on August 30, 2010

Things were a lot less "politically correct" when he started coaching

Oh, no doubt. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if there were white-only and colored-only water fountains when he started coaching. Does that mean he's got a license to be a peckerwood while taking a tax-funded paycheck for the rest of his life? Times change. Pour yourself a bourbon and reminisce all you like about the good old days when every boy on the football team was a God-fearing Christian boy who welcomed a little witnessing in the locker room, but don't expect the modern world to be your personal nostalgia theme park.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 09:42 PM on August 30, 2010

If not, then who cares? Primarily those who want to dictate what others think and how others should act.

That's an interesting statement to make, considering as head coach it was Bowden's job to tell the players how to think and how to act.

Bowden suspends players

Bowden suspends players

Bowden suspends players

Bowden suspends player

posted by grum@work at 10:06 PM on August 30, 2010

Well, g@w's links certainly suggest that the Testifying didn't really take.

posted by Joey Michaels at 11:15 PM on August 30, 2010

If not, then who cares? Primarily those who want to dictate what others think and how others should act.

I think you've got the two sides mixed up.

posted by justgary at 01:51 AM on August 31, 2010

Well, g@w's links certainly suggest that the Testifying didn't really take.

You're looking at it wrong. How bad would his players have acted if he wasn't testifying :)

posted by justgary at 07:38 AM on August 31, 2010

I think you've got the two sides mixed up.

Not really; I am just not good at explaining myself. If any players had a problem, then they should have reported it and the school should have made a decision to stop it if they considered it a problem or a violation of school rules.

Otherwise: who cares? An old coach and his supporters who think he is saving the world. Or those who think he is corrupting the minds and lives of young men by dictating his own beliefs. As to those who do not fall in either camp, if it does not cause a problem, then who cares?

posted by graymatters at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2010

It should be evident at this point who cares. I care about religion getting its paws off secular institutions. Someone who read Bowden's book said that it's pretty clear that being a churchgoing Christian was a prerequisite to being hired as one of his assistant coaches. It sucks that FSU's administration let that happen.

posted by rcade at 10:43 AM on August 31, 2010

It sucks that FSU's administration let that happen.

He was the most important person at the university. I'd be surprised if anyone had the power to stop him. And, in that town in that state, you have to be nuts to take on someone spreading the word. That's why none of the players complained and that's why no one else said or did a thing to get him in compliance with the law.

As to those who do not fall in either camp, if it does not cause a problem, then who cares?

It's against the law to do what Bowden did. That's why people care. FSU players deserve the same protection under the law as anyone else.

posted by bperk at 12:49 PM on August 31, 2010

This whole situation falls under the same guise as the 'voluntary prayer breakfasts' that I 'wasn't' required to attend at a previous job. Sure, I didn't have to go; but there were repercussions if I didn't.

This kind of undue pressure has no place in a state funded university, or the workplace for that matter, but that is a separate issue.

The bottom line is that Bowden got away with it for 30 years. Now he's gone. Let's hope the next generation of coaches don't repeat his mistake.

posted by Tinman at 12:57 PM on August 31, 2010

Since FSU is a public university, Bowden's salary was paid by the citizens of the State of Florida. Notwithstanding that the university is located in what might be called the "Bible Belt", I'm sure there are Floridians of many faiths, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or even agnostic/atheist, who might object to even a small part of their taxes being used to support religion. A voluntary prayer before a game is certainly not inappropriate, but a continual emphasis on the Christian faith is unacceptable.

Given the problems that FSU has had with honesty in its athletic programs, Bowden comes across as somewhat hypocritical when he speaks of the role of faith in his life. While Bowden might not have been directly involved in some of the problems, he certainly should have known something was going on, and he is thus complicit. Falsifying academic records, helping athletes cheat on tests, overlooking behavioral issues are all ways of obtaining wins by dishonest means. It is the same thing as theft, when you consider the financial rewards at stake. I seem to remember a Biblical "bullet point" about stealing.

By the way, the "but everybody else does it" excuse for the dishonesty does not hold water. First of all, everyone else does not do it, although there are enough that do to make it look almost universal. Secondly, one cannot object to being cheated or robbed when he turns a blind eye to instances of it.

posted by Howard_T at 01:54 PM on August 31, 2010

I don't think you can blame FSU's academic cheating scandal on the football program. The professors and departments involved deserve the entire blame for that. Besides teaching kids to not take advantage of such dubious opportunities, there is nothing the athletic departments can do. In fact, there is nothing I would want an athletic department or coach doing. They should stay far away from the academic side because getting themselves involved just gives the appearance of impropriety and undue influence. When I attended FSU, a football player that got in disciplinary trouble was on his own. Coaches stayed far away from the proceedings. That was great, but coaches of other teams did try to intervene on their players behalf. That was not so great.

posted by bperk at 03:09 PM on August 31, 2010

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