Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press
A football coach at a public school is allowed to teach his players.
But can he also preach to them?
The answer is proving to be far from definitive.
In mid-April, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an official complaint with Clemson University, saying its football coach, Dabo Swinney, was scheduling unconstitutional religious devotionals and had hired a chaplain for the team, according to the FFRF website.
Swinney responded to the complaint via an Atlantic Coastal Conference press meeting, saying that he runs his team as any other in the nation, according to ESPN.
"Anything that we have in our program from a spiritual standpoint is and always has been voluntary. We're no different than any other program out there in how we operate as far as providing our players opportunities to grow in any aspect of their lives," Swinney said.
Clemson attorneys have responded as well, contending FFRF "misconstrued" facts in their complaint, according to the Post and Courier.
Later that month, Chris Wells, a high school football coach for Middletown High School in Ohio, also received a complaint from FFRF, which had been contacted by a parent troubled by the coach allegedly infusing religion into the program, the Journal-News reported.
The superintendent, athletic director and principal of Middletown High acted quickly on what the parent and FFRF claim was the coach frequently speaking about religion and leading the team in prayer, according to the article. The superintendent reported that the coach agreed to comply with district rules and not endorse his religion while acting as an employee of the school district, according to the report.
Mike Matheny, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, does offer some advice in a blog post from last year on how to be a man of faith and also a coach.
He began by admitting that the topic of faith and sports is unpopular and often makes people cringe. Then he said, "Life is not always fair, and troubles are unavoidable. If I am doing my job the way that I believe I should do it, then conversations should come up that are deeper than batting slumps and sore shoulders. When those conversations start, I then have the opportunity to share my experiences, and my experiences almost always have a God component to them. So, should I be a coward and not tell the truth from fear of political incorrectness? I think not."
Meanwhile, the key players in this debate are often left out of the discussion — how do the players feel about a religious coach and his sharing of beliefs?
Tigernet.com, an unofficial Clemson football website, caught up with former players of Dabo Swinney and asked whether Swinney had ever taken to preaching in the locker room or on the field.
Former safety, DeAndre McDaniel said, "This looks bad for Coach Swinney. I hate it that this foundation comes out and they really don't know what they are talking about. ... It makes him look bad and makes the Clemson program look bad as a whole. And I know that really isn't how it is going," according to the tigernet.com article.
Also, former Clemson Tiger Aaron Kelly said via Twitter, "Dabo didn't try changing my beliefs. He's a great coach because he stands for what he believes in, including Clemson and Christianity."
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