Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: FFRF is tackling the wrong sports issue

Richard Hyatt

Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Richard Hyatt
Richard Hyatt

Auburn football fans always worried about the number of passes Sammie Coates dropped, but a group of freethinkers in Wisconsin is more concerned that a team chaplain baptized the former wide receiver in the name of the father, son and holy ghost.

Coates, a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is mentioned in a report presented by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. They say Brother Chette Williams — Auburn’s longtime team chaplain and a former Tiger linebacker — baptized Coates and two of his teammates.

This is the same agnostic-atheist group that for years has questioned pre-game prayers at high school and college sporting events. Their current gripe is against 25 colleges and universities whose athletic departments are served by team chaplains. Most of the schools are down South and The list includes Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and Georgia Tech. The FFRF claims head football coaches at these schools are imposing their religious beliefs on susceptible players and they want the chaplains fired.

Football fields have been a mission field for a long time. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was founded 61 years ago and its non-denominational influence has spread from college campuses to middle and high school sports programs. Many college chaplains are FCA trained and some are paid by the organization. Most follow FCA principles.

Lamar Weaver, the area director of the FCA, works with nearby high and middle schools. He says chaplains are instructed and encouraged to tell athletes that they do not have to participate. “We want every school to have one so every player can have an outside ear,” Weaver said. “Some of our chaplains drop by a school every week for a 10-minute devotional and some are at every practice.”

College chaplains are a daily presence and the FFRF maintains they threaten the Constitutional rights of athletes and violate the separation of church and state.

Their timing is strange. College athletes across the country are being arrested on serious charges ranging from drugs, breaking and entering and to abusing their wives and girlfriends.

These felonious events are coming despite student athletes having access to character coaches, life-skill programs and psychologists. Surely influential chaplains and clergymen — even if they proselyte — would help the schools deal with a growing problem that far surpasses boys being boys.

Wouldn’t it be better to baptize than arrest?

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at