WorkingForChange-The return of Reggie White
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Bill Berkowitz
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The return of Reggie White

OAKLAND (August 9) – In March 1998, Reggie White, an ordained Minister and all-pro defensive end for the Green Bay Packers stepped up to the podium, looked out at the members of the Wisconsin state legislature and unleashed one of the most memorable speeches ever made by a sports star. It was an unforgettable racist and homophobic diatribe. When he trotted out onto the practice field at the Carolina Panthers training facility a few weeks ago he may have changed the color of his uniform, but he wasn't backtracking from any of the bigoted remarks he's made during the past few years.

White told the legislators that homosexuality was one of the biggest sins in the Bible. He stereotyped several ethnic groups saying:

"When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to black churches, you see people jumping up and down, because they really get into it. White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people do around the world. Hispanics are gifted in family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home. They were gifted in the family structure. When you look at the Asians, the Asian is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They're very creative. And you look at the Indians, they have been very gifted in the spirituality."

Depending upon who you talk to, legislators were either quite supportive or incredibly embarrassed. After all, they had invited him to speak about community work and they got the whole play-book. Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family magazine reported that legislators "flocked around him after the speech, eager to have their photo taken with the sports hero." Other reports had legislators totally mystified by what had taken place; one commented that White ought to stick to football.

White's speech set off a firestorm inside and outside professional football. Many people wanted to know how a person who considers himself a man of God could be so misinformed on racial and sexuality issues? For sports talk radio, White's words were a hot-button issue to kick around. (This was before Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker set the current standard for racist and homophobic remarks). Television talking heads took their best shots. The gay community was outraged. Columnist Carl Rowan summed it up best: "It's especially menacing when the victims of one kind of bigotry curry favor with their tormentors by joining them in preying upon less-favored groups that are 'different'."

In some circles White became an instant martyr - a high-profile crusader against runaway homosexuality. In short order White appeared on the covers of both Dr. James Dobson's Focus on Family and Concerned Women for America's (CWA) Family Voice magazines. It was reported that CBS Sports, which was considering White for an analyst's position after his retirement, backed out of a five-year, $6 million deal. The American Family Association issued an "Action Alert" urging supporters to "stand up for Reggie White's right to speak the truth."

Through it all White held his ground. He told Focus on the Family that "I'm not going to sell out. I'm not going to back off what I know God has put in my heart to share. God owns a whole lot more than CBS could ever give me." On her radio program White told Beverly LaHaye, founder of CWA, that "I'm going to stand for God's truth no matter what they think about it. What CBS and [the executive who didn't renew White's contract] are saying is that these Christians are not organized, and they don't have a voice. Well, we have a voice, and we need to let it be heard."

After his retirement at the end of the 1998 season White, a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, has spoken out loud and clear about homosexuality. He made appearances before several Christian Right groups, and was the poster-child for a series of newspaper advertisements (including USA Today and The Washington Times), headlined "Toward an Open Debate on Homosexual Behavior," that were part of the ex-gay campaign organized by the Rev. D. James Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America. He and his wife taped a commercial urging voters to reject same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

The Charlotte Observer reports: "To Thunderous applause, White repeated his attack on homosexuality at last year's Southern Baptist Convention at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, saying that when gays try to spread their ways to his children and others, 'I cannot stand back and be quiet'."

White is a close friend of Jim Bakker, the tarnished former televangelist who served five years for bilking his supporters out of $158 million. Bakker says that he and White are planning a 24-hour religious TV network aimed at inner cities. White says that Bakker should never have gone to jail.

Now that White is making a comeback he is shifting from yesterday's news to today's headlines. Upon his arrival at the Panthers practice field he told reporters that he isn't backing off from anything that he said about homosexuals and various ethnic groups. Most football fans seem to agree that the Panthers didn't lure Reggie White, known as the Minister of Defense for his fierce play, out of retirement to hear him preach. The Panthers management expects that he still has a few good years ahead of him.

Given that he will once again have access to the national spotlight, Reggie White is sure to make his views part of pro-football's pageantry this fall.

Bill Berkowitz is the editor of CultureWatch, a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements, published by Oakland's DataCenter.

Subscriptions are $35 a year. Contact him via phone: 510-835-4692, ext. 308, or by e-mail:

For a free sample copy, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: CultureWatch, 1904 Franklin St., Suite 900, Oakland, CA 94612.

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