Last week, Sports Illustrated published an impressive article detailing Rick Majerus’s tendency to make coaching points through the time-tested pedagogical method of testicle-whackery. It was an interesting piece, but it was missing…something.
Not insight: it had that. Not a real sense of the pathos that drives someone to neglect his health and fixate on how to defend the pick-and-roll: the article had that, too. No, what S.L. Price’s profile was missing was Majerus’s personal opinions on hot-button social issues that have nothing to do with his job. Luckily for those who wondered where one of the most consistently successful coaches in NCAA history stood on stem-cell research, Majerus corrected that oversight this week. And for that — not for brandishing his horrific penis at Michael Doleac (I’m sorry, but he did); not for a lifetime of pork-product abuse; not for his St. Louis Billikens’ upset of No. 21 Rhode Island last week — Majerus found himself in the papers this week.
The ostensibly offensive comments, delivered by Majerus — who is a Catholic, and was educated at Catholic schools — to St. Louis TV cameras after a Hillary Clinton rally, were reported for the first time on Tuesday, when St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke pronounced himself shocked and dismayed that they had ever been uttered. The comments then surfaced in print in their actual form — as opposed to merely as “controversial statements” — in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday. I’ll save you the trouble of clicking the link. Here, in their entirety, are the comments that sent Archbishop Burke into the frenzy that somehow made this a story. Okay, get ready: “I’m pro-choice, personally;” “I’m very much an advocate for stem-cell research.”
I know, I know: holy shit! Anyway, this “matters” for two reasons: the first is that Majerus’s current employer, St. Louis University, is a Jesuit school; the second is that the archbishop of St. Louis is Raymond Burke. SLU and its president, Rev. Lawrence Biondi (Italian for “blondes,” if I remember correctly), have defended Majerus’s right to say whatever he wants. Per the Post-Dispatch, “the university does not require employees or students ‘to aspire to Jesuit ideals, to be Catholic or to otherwise have any specific religious affiliation.’”
Burke, on the other hand, condemns whatever he can and requires just about everyone to “aspire to” his ideals. “It’s not possible to be a Catholic and hold those positions,” the archbishop told the Post-Dispatch. “When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don’t have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches. But you can’t make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic church…You can’t have a Catholic university with one of its prominent staff making declarations” of the sort Majerus made. Burke, if you remember, is one of the squeakers who said he’d deny John Kerry communion in 2004, for the same reasons he’d deny it to Majerus (who would obviously rather have an Amighetti’s Special Sandwich than a wafer anyway). Since ’04, Burke has kept busy by IMing Bill Donahue about “Judging Amy” reruns and showing how closely he’s read Jesus’s teachings about “the least of these” by coming out against a Sheryl Crow benefit concert for a children’s hospital because of
that doo-doo-wack Soak Up The Sun song her pro-choice views. It’d be hard to take him seriously without the collar, but he’s the archbishop, and that means the Post-Dispatch, among other venues, is obligated to give his views some play.
It doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to give his grandstanding, painfully ginned-up intolerance the time of the day, though. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Majerus — who for all his faults is at least interesting and willing to speak his mind — ought to shut up, especially considering the lengths to which he went in claiming his views as his own. Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell sums it up nicely:
(KMOV-TV reporter) Mike O’Connell did more to create the controversy than Majerus. Soon after Majerus said he was pro-abortion rights and stem cell research, O’Connell asked him, “Is this OK with (SLU president) Father Biondi?”
“… Are you trying to go ’60 Minutes’ on me?” Majerus lightheartedly asked.
Little did he know. Forty-eight hours later, Majerus was in the middle of the latest mini holy war waged by the archbishop…Once O’Connell contacted Burke, a controversy was born when the church leader said he would encourage SLU officials to not only discipline Majerus, but also put a public muzzle on him as well.
“I would have to insist that it is not possible for a representative of the university to espouse these views,” Burke told O’Connell. “They’re in open violation of moral law, let alone Catholic teaching.”
Thankfully, SLU officials ” including the Rev. Lawrence Biondi ” took a more open-minded view. The school announced that Majerus was entitled to speak his mind, particularly when he’s acting as a private citizen, not a representative of the school.
…When it comes to true freedom of speech, I’ve always believed most educated people, regardless of their political or religious beliefs, knew and respected the value of free speech. As a child of the ’60s and ’70s, I came from an era when socially conscious athletes and coaches were considered admirable, though controversial. From Muhammad Ali to Arthur Ashe, from Billie Jean King to Bill Bradley, from John Thompson to Dean Smith, these courageous men and women were always willing to step out and speak up.
You don’t have to agree with a man or woman’s politics to admire their resolve. In fact, one of the best things that ever happened to this country was when athletes set the tone for a country where we used to feel it was not only a right, but also a duty, to be visible participants in the political process.
So I propose KMOV-TV let the ultra-Catholic Jeff Suppan debate Rick Majerus on TV. Bob Costas, Tito Landrum and Will Leitch can moderate. And we already know, thanks to this priceless YouTube clip, where Majerus stands on (Rudy) Gay Rights.