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COLUMN: Religion shouldn't define Missouri's new women's basketball coach

Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:35 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 11, 2010
New MU women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton speaks at a press conference April 8 at Mizzou Arena. Pingeton spent the last seven years coaching at Illinois State.

I would like to welcome Robin Pingeton as the new women’s basketball coach for the University of Missouri. I also want to take on those who are already criticizing Pingeton for her personal beliefs.

Athletic director Mike Alden was clear on the selection criteria when he introduced Pingeton to the university, the press and the fans on April 8. He spoke of academic integrity, a winning record and the ability to recruit new players in Missouri and nationwide and of the importance of the coach’s ability to mentor players, coaches and others in and out of the program.  He spoke to the core values of the MU athletic program; academic integrity, social responsibility and competitive excellence.

Unfortunately, Pingeton’s first controversy at Missouri came two minutes and 20 seconds into her tenure. She said: “I am a Christian who happens to be a coach and my values are very important to me. I think you got to do things the right way and treat people the right way…”

David Lile of KFRU radio further opened the floodgates when he asked which denomination of church Pingeton was looking for. Religion has nothing to do with coaching.

Coach, I believe that you will treat people the “right way.” I believe that is exactly what you meant to say. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Others, however, heard her putting religion before her team and humanity. That, to some, equates intolerance towards those who do not meet specific religious and moral criteria that may or may not be hers. They perceive that Pingeton’s religious beliefs automatically make her homophobic. They perceive that her statements concerning family as anti-same sex marriage. I certainly hope their perceptions are wrong.

Even Pingeton’s alleged affiliation with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes should not be a worry. FCA’s “r12” program is based on Romans Chapter 12.

As an Atheist, I have no problem with the basic ideals of Romans 12:3-21 in its humanistic form; be a person of sound judgment, function as member of a team, recognize that we all have special “gifts” and abilities, play fair and by the rules, and, most importantly, act with respect. That certainly sounds like good sportsmanship to me.

This is a bad case of selective hearing and of intent versus perception. It is a case of overreacting with no evidence. It is a case of stereotyping. Yet…

Homophobia in college sports, especially in women’s sports, is not rare. Helen Carrol of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told me that there is an assumption that women who excel in sports must be lesbians and men who excel can never be gay. I believe that Pingeton knows that is wrong and will not discriminate because of beliefs or sexual preference.

Jimmy Knodel, assistant media relations director at Illinois State University, without hesitation said that Coach Pingeton never mixed coaching and religion. ThatISU had not received one complaint that the coach crossed the line of sports and religion, and there had not been one news article or story concerning the issue of the coach’s politics or religion being forced on her teams. She is a winning coach.

Former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney helped lead the efforts to form the Promise Keepers, a nondenominational Christian men’s organization. David Blanti, director of information for the University of Colorado’s Athletic Department said that the only incident involving McCartney and religion was when he became a board member of a Christian organization.  McCartney never forced his beliefs on any member of his team or staff. He was a winning coach.

If Pingeton and McCartney are from the same mold, I look forward to a winning season from the Missouri women.

Were Pingeton’s opening words a statement of religious or political position, meant to arouse the ire of one side and support of another, or just a self-description? Not all Christians are homophobic or against choice. Some are even liberal.

Pingeton’s religious or political beliefs do not matter. There is only one question: Will Pingeton do at the University of Missouri what she did at Illinois State and win?

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics.  You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and the New York Journal of Books.


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Comments

Carol Anne Sundahl April 29, 2010 | 6:40 a.m.

"Pingeton’s religious or political beliefs do not matter. There is only one question: Will Pingeton do at the University of Missouri what she did at Illinois State and win?"

I agree. But Coach Pingeton gave her personal beliefs, religious and political, prominence in that press conference. Her doing so seemed strange and inappropriate to me. I hope she gets on with the job of coaching all her student-athletes, regardless of their religion or sexuality.

(Report Comment)
Mike Sykuta April 30, 2010 | 1:47 p.m.

I don't think it is strange when a person, introducing herself to a broad spectrum of people who are curious about that person, would share things about herself that she views as an important part of who she is. It is no more strange to me than it would be for her to simply introduce her family--something no more relevant to her win-loss record than her faith, but part of who she is.

I applaud Coach Pingeton for having the confidence to make herself vulnerable to the very kind of response she received because she views her faith as integral to the kind of person she is and the way she approaches her work and her team.

And lest anyone think she blindly walked into the vitriolic response she received, I would simply suggest that anyone who has worked in such a public-profile type of position (even if on a somewhat smaller stage in her previous jobs) is acutely aware of the potential controversy and scorn that a profession of faith--particularly Christian faith--is likely to elicit in our current cultural climate.

(Report Comment)

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