A few days ago, Hemal Jhaveri wrote a perfectly reasonable story for USA Today about how Oral Roberts University’s basketball success comes with some added baggage.
By numbers alone, the #15 seeded ORU team should have lost its first game. Instead, it won both games last weekend, making it to the Sweet Sixteen. In a competition that is built on Cinderella stories, ORU is arguably the most unlikely team to make it this far into the tournament this year. Their next game is Saturday night against #3 Arkansas.
But Jhaveri rightly points out that the school will likely use this tournament to boost its reputation even though it doesn’t deserve that because the school bans any students in same-sex relationships, and the NCAA is allowing it to happen.
As a private university and under the banner of fundamentalist Christian beliefs, the school is free to impose whatever standards of behavior they see fit, even if those standards are wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency. Now, as Oral Roberts gains national attention, the focus shouldn’t just be on their very good men’s basketball team, but on their prejudiced teachings and moral regressiveness.
Now, Oral Roberts is primed to reap the rewards of the work from their unpaid student athletes. On the backs of those hard working kids, the university will seek to rewrite the narrative of their school into one of athletic victory when in fact, it’s steeped in bigotry and an exclusionary fundamentalism. The NCAA gave Oral Roberts that opportunity by allowing them into the tournament. Fans and media, eager to embrace a Cinderella story, helped push that narrative along either without knowing all the facts or willingly burying them as irrelevant.
There are two separate issues here: How ORU will use its basketball success to redefine the school and whether the NCAA should even allow schools like it in the tournament. There are obvious legal issues with the latter — should any private school that’s anti-abortion or anti-LGBTQ be allowed in the tournament? What’s the line? — but the fact remains that ORU’s anti-LGBTQ policies contradict the NCAA’s own stated values. (The same could be said about Abilene Christian U., whose team is still in the tournament, and Liberty U., whose team is not. There are also multiple Catholic schools left in the tournament, whose overall beliefs likely contradict the NCAA’s goals as well.)
It’s also true that many of these athletes don’t necessarily give a damn about the school’s policies. They may sign a faith statement as part of going there, but they just want to play, and if that means going to ORU or Liberty U. or any other Division 1 school, so be it. It’d be unfair to punish the students for the bigotry of the schools they represent.
Anyway, last night, Pastor Robert Jeffress was asked to speak about the USA Today article on FOX News, and naturally, he turned this into a diatribe about “cancel culture.”
… It proves the adage that, many times, those who cry loudest for tolerance are the most intolerant people when it comes to ideas they disagree with… I think it’s time for this irrational intolerance of people of faith by the left — especially people of the conservative Christian faith — it’s time for that to end, and it needs to end now.
Jeffress, as usual, missed the point. This isn’t about disagreement. This isn’t about banning an athlete for holding an unpopular view. It’s a question of whether the NCAA should welcome schools that violate their own mission. But Jeffress only sees Christian Persecution. Even obvious hypocrisy has to go through that lens. So questioning ORU’s anti-gay stance is somehow an attack on all Christians everywhere.