The Fighting Illini’s Nathan Scheelhaase Has Crossed the Line December 30, 2011

The Fighting Illini’s Nathan Scheelhaase Has Crossed the Line

We’ve talked before on Friendly Atheist about Tim Tebow‘s tempting eyes.

Seriously, who could resist this face? It makes me want to run out and get (re-) baptized.

But once Tebow graduated, the NCAA had to spoil everyone’s proselytizin’ fun by banning messages on eye black, or as it’s called in the official rulebook, “eye shade.”

So where does that leave Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, whose eye black is now in a cross shape?

Scheelhaase has begun wearing eye black in a cross shape. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty photo)

There are two aspects to this question. The first is what the NCAA rules actually allow. The second, which we’ve been asking ourselves for as long as public figures have been outspoken about religion, is what should be acceptable in a respectful, pluralistic society.

The first is easy enough to answer. Let me just flip open my copy of the 2011-2012 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations (PDF) to Optional Equipment, Article 6, subsection e:

Eye Shade. Any shading under a player’s eyes must be solid black with no words, numbers, logos or other symbols.

Well, it sounds like Scheelhaase is in a bit of a technical grey area. His eye shade is, in fact, all black, and sports no words, numbers, logos or symbols upon it. It just happens to be in the shape of a cross. Which you may or may not consider a symbol. To me, this seems like a pretty obvious case of respecting the letter of the law while disobeying the spirit. Would the atheist scarlet letter logo garner the same respect? An upside down cross? A swastika? The same problem that existed with allowing white-on-black written messages exists in allowing players to create shapes with their eye black.

As for the second question, the line in a pluralistic society is probably “back thataway.” There’s something to be said for genuine dialogue, but Scheelhaase is using a bully pulpit of athletic recognition to push something totally unrelated and divisive. He wants viewers to take note that he’s not just a football player; he’s a Christian football player:

While he can’t reach an evangelical audience as wide as Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, he still hopes his outspokenness about his Christian beliefs will make people at least consider his views.

“A lot of people watch my moves and watch my actions,” Scheelhaase said. “If I can plant seeds in people, that would be awesome.”

He says he supports open dialogue and talks about how he enjoys conversations with “teammates who worship differently than he does.” But he doesn’t really mean it.

His Twitter feed is filled with Bible verses, and he blocked one follower who asked him to “ease up” on voicing his faith.

Scheelhaase’s face-crosses are a pretty clear-cut violation of NCAA policy, and the restriction should be enforced as it would for any nonreligious symbol. But beyond that, it would be nice if the vociferously religious would quit trying to find ways to push the envelope and play the football game without attempting to push their Christian privilege.

(Thanks to Alex for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Fritz

    Let’s show some compassion for the marginalized Christian minority in America and their struggles to practice their belief system openly. Oh, wait…

  • Christian-themed eye black is more conducive to career success than actual talent for the game.  Just ask Tebow.  (Or better yet, ask his wide receivers.)

  • Dustin

    Am I the only one who thinks Tebow looks…gay?

    Also, I can’t wait for the other guy to get all butthurt over being persecuted.

  • that kid is so full of crap. He’s seen how this fake controversy has put tebow on the front page, he just wants a little bit of that action for himself. So prideful and smug. Just what the mythical jesus liked to see in a man! 

  • guest

    Actually, I don’t think it’s a grey area at all. No symbols = no symbols. The cross is by very definition a symbol. An eye black swastika would also be a symbol.

  • John

    Well which is it? Is it “grey area” or is it a “pretty clear-cut violation”?

    I don’t think he should be reprimanded. He’s expressing himself within the context of the rules. He’s not hurting anyone directly.

  • starstuff

    rather tired about hearing those oh so poor prosecuted Christians
    whining about 1st amendment rights being violated. You play the game,
    you play by the rules, like them or not . Rules say no words, numbers, logos or other
    symbols.  You’re there to play football not advertise your product. 

  • Silo Mowbray

    I’m not just a cricket player, I’m a *Taoist* cricket player. Am I specialler now?

  • Anonymous

    How soon before these Christian sports freaks start tattooing their bible verses and religious symbols on their faces?  Of course, that’s against the bible, but as long as they continue their practice of excluding certain bible verses in their beliefs, they can get around that fairly easy.

  • Rockconway

    Folks, no.  This is not work a minute of anybody’s time, and it makes atheists look as bad as the nitpicking legalistic Christians. Cry wolf when there is a wolf.

    Really, a cross-shaped eye-shade is worth this angst from atheists?  No.

  • Lippy

    Looking at his picture, it’s pretty clear that he is trying to circumvent the rule.  As little eye-shade as he is using to make the cross, it can serve no functional purpose (the entire reason for wearing eye shade in the first place), and therefore can only be described as being decorative.  That being said, rules are rules, and he should be held in violation.  On a personal level, though, I really don’t care if he wants to put a cross on his face, bible verses, or lipstick and false eyelashes.  To partial quote Jefferson: “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks
    my leg.”  The more of these mediocre players that try to bring religion into the game, when the law of averages catches up to them, the more people will realize that they’re nothing more than overly religious idiots.

  • John Sherman

    I agree. We’re talking about private organizations and free individuals within those organizations. If they wish to tout their religion by painting their face, and their bosses don’t care, then that’s one of those thing I just have to endure.

  • Anonymous

    As far as the rules go, it’s a pretty obvious violation. However I am entirely incapable of getting worked up about this. On a legal level, it means absolutely nothing to me because government is not involved. As for what is “appropriate” I frankly don’t feel at all threatened by eyeshadow eyeblack. Let them shape it into crosses, Jesus fish or Jesus himself as far as I’m concerned. If you are so spiritually lost that the passing eyeblack of a football player can influence you, I’m not concerned, since you are probably going to be just as influenced by the next shiny object to cross your path anyway.

    Do I think they’re dicks about their faith often? Yes. Is it unfathomably annoying how the crushing majority finds within the smallest restriction to their flaunting, spreading and imposing of religion a case for their “victimization” and “oppression”? Yes. Do I find it frankly amusing how rich super-commercialized athletes in a very violent sport think themselves representatives of an Iron Age radical rabbi? Oh yeah.  But really I mostly don’t give a shit.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know. What does gay look like?

  • Fritz

    Now that you mention it, he *does* look like a human.

  • Kenandkids

    My cousin is a heavily tattoed, heavily muscled, 6’4″, biker that can carry a 10′ 6×4 beam in each hand and speaks in a deep baritone. No, tebow doesn’t look like that.

  • According to the Mythbusters, eyeblack doesn’t help anyway. I can see a slippery slope here. Maybe someone should start a “religion,” along the lines of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose symbol is two plain black stripes. That way, every athlete would be a member. The new religion could advocate eating babies, steroid use, or public masturbation. I see an opportunity for a lot of fun here. But I’m lazy. I don’t even know how to set up an Internet page. But I bet one of your young readers does.

  • oambitiousone

    He wants to plant seeds in people? Sounds like a Christian  pick-up line.

  • *snicker*

  • We’re talking about one guy playing football. It’s not like the school is pressuring all the athletes to wear crosses for eye black or any thing even remotely like that. Its one kid, and it’s really not a big deal.

    That aside, its a clear violation of the actual NCAA rule and so he needs to stop, but would we be having this discussion if it was a heart or a smiley face or something? No, people would look at it and go huh, thats funny/stupid/interesting/weird/etc and the NCAA would probably be hey, stop that, its against the rules, and no one would think about it again. Should be the same situation here.

  • Ninjasword17

    No need to get all indignant over it. There’s evidence that “gay” DOES have a “look”.

    I’d appreciate the irony of another devout Christian coming out. It may help the prejudice against homosexuals.

  • Fritz

    My “indignance” arises from the accusation of being gay as some sort of insult or to diminish him or his beliefs in some way, as if simply being gay is a bad or unfortunate thing. He is a moron regardless of who he gets hard for.

  • Just extend the flying spaghetti monster, no need to create a new one. make the eye makeup tangly on each side to represent his noodly appendages.

  • Newavocation

    No actually the culprit is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, just try to play on a team where a majority of players are members. It’s hard to succeed or play on a team when you are seen as an outsider.

  • yes, for the use of the “word” specialler

  • Shaun

    I’m not offended when people wear crosses or the star of david around their necks. This seems basically the same to me and doesn’t really deserve the attention that I think this player is hoping it will generate.

  • HitchsApprentice

    I see it as a ‘Target’………….  Poke his eyes out!

  • Anonymous

    He certainly looks pleased with himself. I don’t know about “gay.” Does it matter to you for some reason?

  • As to the second question, I think I’d feel differently if there were all sorts of ideas being expressed with the players’ eye shade.  Maybe one might have “OCCUPY NCAA”, another might express support for Ron Paul (yuck, but… plurality and all), another might have a message supporting breast cancer awareness, etc.  But since it seems to only be the Christian athletes doing it, it creates a sort of exclusionary environment.  Unseemly at best, discriminatory at worst.

  • Nazani14

    He’s just trying to make sure he has a Christian TV career after his football days are done.   No different than painting a Nike swoosh on his face.

  • Bonnie Taylor

    I’m not sure what gay looks like, but I know what a douche looks like and he definitely looks like a douche. That grin of his in the picture is just creepy.

    I don’t want to go anywhere near his Christian “seed”.

  • Kaydenpat

    Wonder what would happen if a Muslim football player placed a crescent under his eyes.  Would Teebow and other Christian athletes be supportive?

  • What “angst” are you talking about? He is in violation of the rules, clown. Didn’t you read the post at all???

  • Racemonkey

    I can’t believe this is important enough for atheist to talk about.  A person using their own body to voice their faith is not threat to me regardless of their position.   “Religious freedom would seem to mean that everyone is free to talk about religion but it truth it means no one is.”  G.K. Chesterton.  Let’s stick to the separation of church and state and leave church and football alone.

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