College Football Chaplains Report

The report notes that only 54% of college-aged Americans are Christian and many of the teams investigated have non-Christian players, but 100% of the chaplains investigated are promoting Christianity, usually with an evangelical bent.

These chaplains preach religious doctrine, including apparently creationism, to the athletes. Some universities, like Missouri, paid for chaplains and their wives and children to attend bowl games. Other universities paid chaplains for their services, including the University of South Carolina, which has a policy prohibiting such payments. Other universities, such as Auburn, give chaplains offices in the stadium. Chaplains were also involved in recruiting prospective athletes, raising the possibility of violating NCCA regulations.

Chaplains regularly lead the teams in prayer, conduct chapel services, and more. These religious activities are not voluntary, as the universities claim, because, as the report notes, “student athletes are uniquely susceptible to coercion from coaches.” Players have educational, financial and career reasons to obey their coach, whatever he asks.

The 25-page report is the result of more than a year of investigation, scrutinizing hundreds of university documents and records. FFRF also interviewed an atheist football player on a ranked team. That interviewee explained how chaplains impose religion on the team with the coach’s help. The coach even bullied this atheist into leading a team prayer. Pro football player Arian Foster, who recently came out as an atheist, has told media he was forced by coach Phil Fulmer to attend church with the team.

The report maps out the spread of these chaplains, which often trace back to head coaches Bobby Bowden or Tommy Tuberville who are responsible for Florida State, Clemson, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas Tech., Cincinnati, Auburn, and Georgia’s chaplains. Chaplains typically have ties to the coaches: Bowden’s second chaplain was a minister at his church, Georgia’s chaplain is head coach Mark Richt’s brother-in-law.

This type of activity is illegal at a public university, but coaches think they can get away with it because, as Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze put it, “I do everything through the FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] platform.” But even the FCA seems to recognize the problem. Their own legal analysis says that, “In a public university setting, there must be adequate separation so that an employee’s views are not perceived as connected to a university course” or the university itself.

FFRF sent copies of the report, which includes a model policy for universities to adopt, to the university presidents at those public colleges and universities with the most flagrant chaplaincies. The model policy suggests hiring a counselor with genuine training if student athletes are truly in need.

FFRF sent players on several teams, including Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Wisconsin and Illinois an explanation of their rights as students at secular universities.

Finally, the report exposes the misconception at the heart of this problem: Some coaches think that students need to be Christian in order to be good people. This myth persists despite the arrest of Oklahoma’s chaplain for stealing prescription pills, and the conviction of Tuberville’s latest chaplain hire at the University of Cincinnati for sexually assaulting a 73-year-old grocery store clerk.

Read the two-page Executive Summary here.
Read the full report here. (25 pages with 10 pages of notes and citations)
Read the model policy here.
The records FFRF used to compile the report can be found by clicking on the schools below.

Freedom From Religion Foundation