Ron Brown had better learn to thrive in hot water. That's where he is right now, and probably where he'll stay throughout his career as assistant football coach at the University of Nebraska.
That's because he's an evangelical Christian who speaks out about his faith whether he's on the job or not. That'll get you in big trouble as American society becomes increasingly secular, politically correct and tolerant – to every faith except Christianity. It has made Brown the target of potshots taken by people who want to score points for their political agenda by trying to get him fired.
ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski is one of the latest to criticize Brown for his opposition to the expansion of Omaha's anti-discrimination ordinance to include homosexuals, joining more predictable attacks from the Huffington Post, which has made the ridicule of social conservatives into an art form. Their premise: Brown hates homosexuals and if he isn't actively persecuting gays who may be on the Nebraska roster, he certainly is intimidating them – or he would be if they weren't too scared to join the team.
"And what if there were a gay player on the Nebraska roster?" wrote Wojciechowski in his April 27 column on ESPN's website. "Or what if one of the players Brown is trying to recruit this week is gay, or has a family member or friend who is gay?
"These are not unreasonable scenarios. Would you want to play for a coach who thinks God loves gays less than women or African-Americans? Would you want to play for a coach who preaches compassion and love, but is willing to turn his back on a fellow human being because of that person's sexual orientation?"
It's a huge leap of logic to say that because someone oppose a certain public policy proposal, he hates the people who support that proposal, but I hear it all the time when it comes to gay rights, and that's essentially what Wojciechowski and Huffington Post blogger Cyd Ziegler have done in the last few weeks. They criticize him for using his job as a platform to oppose the widening of anti-discrimination ordinances to include homosexuals even as they use their own jobs as platforms to promote the widening of anti-discrimination ordinances to include homosexuals.
A responder to Ziegler's March 22 blog said he played football at NU during Brown's tenure as assistant coach. He disputed the notion that Brown intimidates players who disagree with him. In fact, the responder said Brown never pushed his religious beliefs on players, and that nobody complained about Brown or his Christianity.
"Yes we knew he was Christian," the responder wrote. "He did not sway us to dislike non-Christians."
That former player had firsthand experience with Brown, and so do I. Here's some disclosure: as a staff member for a Christian camp, I assisted with one of Brown's "Mission Nebraska" initiatives about a decade ago. In 2005, as sports editor of the North Platte Bulletin, I interviewed him after he was fired by Bill Callahan. Brown was gracious in his attitude toward Callahan and Steve Pederson. After moving to the Lincoln area in 2009, I began attending the same church as Brown, and have interviewed him at least three times since then.
Knowing what I do about Brown and his theology, I would oppose anyone who says Brown believes God loves gays less than other human beings.
While Brown's critics do their best to stir up anger with their hypothetical scenarios, they have avoided a real-life situation involving a player Brown works with every day in practice as running back coach.
Ameer Abdullah will be a sophomore running back at Nebraska this fall. His religion is Islam. Brown is an evangelical Christian who holds views very much in opposition to Abdullah's. So here's your test. How does Brown treat players who don't believe as he does?
Well sure enough, in late April, a Nebraska running back unexpectedly quit the team. Was it a result of Brown and his outspoken faith?
Nope. The player who left the team was another sophomore, Aaron Green, whose background is evangelical Christian.
Last fall, under Brown's tutelage, Abdullah became the second-string I-back behind all-conference performer Rex Burkhead, moving ahead of Green on the depth chart.
Green's leaving the Cornhuskers likely had nothing to do with Brown or his beliefs – from early reports, it sounds like he mainly wants to be closer to home in Texas. The point, however, is this: the coach has not turned his back on Ameer Abdullah, a player who has a substantially different faith than his own. In fact, the opposite is true. All signs indicate he is treating Abdullah with fairness and respect. And I'm not surprised.
Ron Brown is an excellent football coach who has strong Christian beliefs and makes strong statements about them. That doesn't make him a hater. But it will keep him in hot water.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org