STORRS, Conn. — A football coach at the University of Connecticut (UConn) has come under fire for telling a local newspaper that his football strategies include his belief that “Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle.”
Ernest Jones was recently introduced as the assistant football coach for UConn, and was interviewed by the Hartford Courant about his new position.
“Just because you come to the University of Connecticut doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to pursue your faith,” Jones told the newspaper. “No, you’re going to be able to come here and love the God that you love. So we provide opportunities for them to grown spiritually in our community.”
“We’re going to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle, that that’s something that is important,” he avised. “If you want to be successful and you want to win [and] get championships, then you better understand that this didn’t happen because of you. This happened of our Lord and Savior.”
However, after the article was published, a number of readers complained about Jones’ statement and brought the matter to the attention of university president Susan Herbst. The Courant then published a letter from Herbst in which she took issue with Jones’ comments because she deemed them to be an endorsement of Christianity.
“Every student, including student-athletes, must know they are accepted and welcomed at UConn. Always,” she wrote. “Our staff should educate and guide students, to ensure they are well-prepared for life at UConn and beyond. But it should go without saying that our employees cannot appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work at the university, or in their interactions with our students. This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field.”
According to NBC Connecticut, head football coach Bob Diaco has likewise responded to complaints over Jones’ statements by reassuring residents that religion would not have any role in the university football program.
The Courant soon also published an editorial criticizing Jones for not being universal in his approach.
“It is fine to impart good spiritual values—as Mr. Jones wants to do—but they must be values common to all,” it read. “A secular humanist should be as welcome in the defensive backfield as a fundamentalist Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, an agnostic. Right, coach?”
Reaction from the general public has been mixed.
“The comment the coach made seems to exclude others beliefs. If Jesus is at the center of the huddle, how can a Jewish man feel comfortable?” one commenter asked. “It’s fine to allow someone to practice, but freedom of religion allows us not to be forced into another religion.”
“That is ridiculous,” another stated in regard to the resistance Jones has received. “Even the Patriots, after their game the other night, prayed with the opposing team after they won.”
“There is one true God and no amount of political babble will change facts,” a third stated. “We are nothing and can do nothing without our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”