LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) – Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney’s national championship football program is built largely on how Swinney uses his form of Christianity to recruit, teach, inspire, and motivate.
We know this from an article in the Sept. 9 issue of Sports Illustrated entitled, “You Gotta Have Faith.” It pointed out that Clemson has gone as far as baptizing players on the field after practice.
Unsurprisingly, various watchdog groups have charged Swinney with violating the First Amendment provision that public institutions cannot support any one particular religion, and it remains an ongoing issue that will not be resolved anytime soon.
This brings us to what happened in Clemson’s 45-10 victory at Louisville on Saturday. With about five minutes remaining in the third quarter and the unbeaten defending national champions clinging to a 17-3 lead, freshman Tiger cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. literally mugged UofL’s Trenell Troutman on a punt return, throwing him to the ground and trying to throw a punch through his facemask.
Given his program’s reputation, Swinney had no choice but to send Booth to the locker room before the officials toss him out, or risk being criticized as a hypocrite. The Tigers also were penalized for both a personal foul and holding, backing them up to their 7-yard line.
Judging by what I read on the internet, the reporting on the play was atrocious. There was no “brawl,” as many of the stories claimed. Players from both teams came on the field, and there was some jostling and mouthing off. But never did it evolve into a full-scale fight.
Last season, under the toxic leadership of Bobby Petrino, it probably would have been much different. The Cardinals were so undisciplined they would have welcomed a brawl. But under Petrino’s successor, Scott Satterfield, the culture has changed dramatically.
So what was a huge embarrassment for Swinney’s program also told us much about the changes of Louisville. And if it’s unfair to indict Clemson as being two-faced, it’s equally unfair to not properly recognize the Cardinals – especially Troutman – for their restraint and class.
When play resumed, Clemson’s superior depth and talent finally showed up. The Tigers outscored the Cardinals 28-7 the rest of the way to remain in the chase for an encore appearance in the national title game. The Cards, meanwhile, dropped to 4-3, but still have the opportunity to win two more games and become eligible for a bowl invitation.
Besides being unsportsmanlike and dirty, what Booth Jr. did to Troutman was incredibly dumb. It happened in the middle of the field, with nobody else around and the TV cameras recording it from various angles. There was nothing subtle about it. Had it happened on Floyd Street instead of the football field, Booth Jr. would have been arrested.
It will be interesting to see how Swinney punishes Booth Jr. Will he suspend him for a game or more? Require him to spend extra time studying his Bible? Spend more time at the NewSpring Church in Anderson, about 15 miles from campus? Swinney attends services there. So do several assistant coaches and players.
So Swinney is walking the thin line between developing character and obeying the First Amendment’s provision that public institutions may not favor one particular religion. The idea is to protect minorities from religious discrimination or be ostracized for practicing another religion or no religion.
At Clemson, Swinney once had a player who was a Jehovah’s Witness. He told SI that he “kinda felt left out” of team bonding experiences because he was different. But Swinney’s defenders claim the coach never discriminates against players who don’t buy into his religious beliefs.
Maybe Booth Jr. is Swinney’s kind of Christian, and maybe he isn’t, but his attack on Troutman indicates he has a lot of maturing to do. The first step could be Swinney’s insistence that he issue a public apology to Troutman and his teammates.
That would be the Christian thing to do.
Please click here to read our policy on opinion columns.