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
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.
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.
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