Rick Reilly Talks Religion and Tolerance. Badly.

I’m a long-time fan of Rick Reilly, dating back to his work for Sports Illustrated. He’s funny and insightful. Plus, he’s a Broncos fan, which every sports writer should be. But he just wiffed on a piece about Nebraska football coach Ron Brown.

In “Ron Brown’s Top Recruit,” Reilly takes Brown (and the University of Nebraska) to task for Brown’s campaigning against an Omaha law that would make it illegal to make sexual orientation a factor for employers. (The law passed.) The article’s sub-title is “Husker football coach Ron Brown publicly condemns gays.” I’d have gone for “ESPN writer Rick Reilly publicly condemns Christians” if I’d had a vote, but I’m jaded by the whole self-righteous condemn-for-condemning shtick. Reilly disagrees with Brown on the issue, which is fine. But he uses the story as a springboard to condemn those opposed to homosexuality itself. (And he’s not alone. Google it.) Reilly insists that it’s unfitting and hypocritical for Brown to promote his views and also work for Nebraska’s football team, expressing outrage that “Brown is still coaching there. He was not fired or suspended.” For good measure, Reilly throws in a human interest story about a homosexual from Nebraska who once responded favorably to a Christian message which Brown delivered at a youth event some thirteen years ago. I’m still trying to figure out how that’s relevant to the question of Brown’s moral beliefs and political rights. The entire article is misguided. The irony doesn’t drip; it cascades.

  • A guy has no right to condemn others’ morality…says the writer as he condemns that guy’s morality.
  • A guy shouldn’t use his sports-crafted platform to push his moral views…says the writer pushing his moral views…on a sports site…to the audience gathered to him by sports. (Actually, Reilly isn’t just doing the thing he’s complaining about; he’s taking it a step further by preaching his moral views on the clock, not just after hours, as Brown does.)
  • A guy can’t both work for a football team AND exercise his first-amendment rights. As though coaching and citizenship were mutually exclusive. As though debating the merits of a proposed law were shameful behavior.
  • A university employee shouldn’t push ideological views. (That’s rich. I’ll just leave it alone.)
  • A guy arguing against homosexuality “apparently…can spew whatever bigoted, hateful, un-Christian message he wants, without risk of losing his job,” says Reilly. (“Spew” was a nice touch, BTW. As were “scolded,” “inflamed,” and “fiery warnings.” All very sinister-sounding.) Of course, the writer condemning that guy while mocking his Christian beliefs doesn’t “spew” or “scold,” nor is he “bigoted, hateful,” “un-Christian,” or “inflamed.” (And, BTW, who made a sports columnist the arbiter of what’s “Christian”?)
  • Affirming everybody is what Jesus did and what we should do…says the writer with nary a word of affirmation for the guy with whom he disagrees.
  • A guy has no right to campaign for people to lose their jobs…says the writer as he campaigns for that guy to lose his job.
  • A guy can’t speak to groups of students today without promising to affirm those students’ decisions in the future. (Seriously, does anyone really believe that a speaker’s participation in a youth event obligates him to condone the children’s decisions and adopt the children’s viewpoints from that point on, world without end? That’s Reilly’s assertion with the whole emotion-raising-but-off-topic depiction of Brett Major.)
  • A guy can’t speak for Jesus…says the writer as he speaks for Jesus. Reilly takes the liberty of telling us how Jesus felt about homosexuality. He quotes Jesus…or at least a pastor…and the two of them allude to some carefully-chosen passages about Jesus, kind of, or at least summarize them, generally, whatever they are. Ish. Unless they’re just winging it.**

Reilly’s whole article is a reach. It’s not sound. It’s not consistent. And it’s not tolerant, though that’s apparently what he was aiming at.

There’s the rub. The new tolerance is so intolerant (as recently demonstrated by anti-bullying guru Dan Savage). It’s like Douglas Wilson says at the end of this video (after he’s bullied by anti-bulliers): “The diversity crowd has two fundamental tenets: The first is that they have an absolute commitment to free speech. The second…is, ‘Shut up.'”


** Reilly speaks as though Jesus were mute on the question of human sexuality. Actually, Jesus did not. He affirmed the Old Testament and its morality (Matthew 5:17-20; 23:1-3). He intensified Old Testament laws rather than slackening them (Matthew 5:21-48), and He said that He was the personification and fulfillment of the Old Testament morality (John 5:46-47).  Further, Jesus explicitly said that marriage was instituted by God for a male and a female (Matthew 19:4). Even after His own earthly ministry, Jesus authorized the Apostles (including Paul) to teach on his behalf (John 16:12-15; Acts 9:1-16), including their clear condemnations of homosexuality and other sins in the New Testament epistles (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). Most significantly, Jesus didn’t merely overlook the sins He clearly opposed; He provided salvation from them. This is the heart of Christianity: that sin—all sin, including mine!—is so heinous that it required Jesus’ death to remove it and save me (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus loved us not by condoning our sins, but by being condemned for our sins, in our place, thereby making possible our forgiveness and reconciliation to God (1 Peter 3:18). This is The Gospel, and it is the hope of every person in every life condition.


2 Responses

  1. While I have enjoyed some of the wit and humor that Riley has produced over the years, for the most part he just like the majority of other mainstream media (whether in sports or not). They are too afraid to think for themselves and regularly buy into the politically correct notion of morality and religion. The double standard is appalling and definitely not what one would call fair-but do we expect anything less?

  2. I’m reminded of something I heard R. C. Sproul say: “It hard to find a liberal liberal.”

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