Tuesday, December 28, 2004
by Wayne Besen
Reggie White, a former football star and preacher who took part in a 1998 ad campaign that said gay people have short life spans, died this week. He was 43 years old.
According to most news reports, White was the equivalent of Mother Teresa in football pads. His beatification includes gushing testimonials about how he was a wonderful "Man of God" who was a great role model to children.
"As great a player as Reggie was, he was a better person. Every life that he touched is better for it," said Detroit Lions CEO Matt Millen.
As a gay football fan, I looked up to White until he made it clear that he frowned down on me and anyone else who did not share his fire and brimstone religious beliefs.
Known as the "Minister of Defense", I remember him as an offensive minister who allowed thousands of young athletes to justify their hatred toward homosexuals in the name of God.
We now hear a lot about how he helped inner-city youth, but how many young lives did he potentially destroy with his forceful condemnations of homosexuality? To listen to the cooing media, one would think that these gay children were expendable in White's war against homosexuals. And make no mistake, White was as homophobic as they come.
"Gay activists are trying to force their agenda on our children and society and it bothers me," White said in an interview with Citizen Magazine. "When you look at the gay agenda, their thing is that they deserve the same rights as other minorities, particularly black people. That is very offensive."
When asked why he picked gay bashing as his personal crusade, White compared homosexuality to unflattering behaviors.
"You don't have men and women who commit adultery who are activists for adultery, or liars who are activists for lying," White told Citizen.
In 1998, White appeared in a full-page ad in USA Today sponsored by 15 groups including the Christian Coalition and The Family Research Council. The ad claimed to tell the "truth" about homosexuality including:
- The truth about homosexual recruitment in public schools and how AIDS activists have misused AIDS funding to promote homosexuality to elementary kids.
- The truth about raw political power and how homosexual activists are creating new laws to mandate acceptance of homosexual behavior in every facet of life from work to school to religion and making it a criminal offense to dissent.
The ad ended with an explosive quote from White.
"I've been called homophobic…and I've been called a nigger by so-called gay activists," said White, without naming the alleged offenders.
White's ad flat out lied about gay "recruitment" and was untruthful in its claim that gay advocates wanted to make it a "criminal offense to dissent".
Fortunately, by the time White appeared in this ad, much of the public already viewed him as an embarrassing ignoramus. In an infamous speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature, White proclaimed that Asians can turn a TV into a watch, Blacks excel at celebration and dance, Latinos can fit 20 or 30 people into one house, and whites are great with money.
White can also be attributed with helping accelerate the growing trend of tying sports performance to fundamentalist religious belief. Now one can't turn on the TV without some egocentric millionaire jock giving God credit for his touchdown. It seems half the NFL players have cheapened religion to the point where God is a giant, invisible quarterback who rewards victories to the team that says the loudest prayers.
Don't get me wrong, I think it is great when athletes live their faith and do kind, humble deeds to help humanity. This should be universally applauded.
But the Reggie White school of prayer seemed to focus on chest thumping as much as Bible thumping. He was the high priest in the Temple of Intolerance, where his muscle-bound flock read from the Book of Testosterone. The anti-gay attitude exemplified by White and his holy-steamrollers can still be seen today in abusive high school locker rooms across America.
Towards the end of White's life he seemed to regret how he sometimes misused religion.
"Really, in many respects I've been prostituted," White recently told NFL Films. "God don't need football to proclaim who He is."
As reported in USA Today, White told ESPN's Andrea Kremer that he had stopped going to church four years ago and started studying Hebrew. Former Green Bay Packers teammate Shannon Sharpe said that White told him that he, 'moved away from Christianity and started studying Hebrew because I need to know for myself what my life holds for me.'
It is a shame that White did not live long enough to complete his religious journey. As great an athlete as he was, his supreme triumph might have been undoing the spiritual damage he had inflicted on gay and lesbian Americans. Unfortunately, many people will remember White as much for his disgraceful conduct off the field, as for his supreme grace on it.
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