Reggie White died today at the age of 43. Six years ago he was embroiled in controversy because of a speech he made to the Wisconsin legislature. Here is a column I wrote in his defense in April 1998:
Until recently most people knew Reggie White as a great professional football player—if they knew him at all. In his long career with the Philadelphia Eagles and more recently with the Green Bay Packers, he set the record for most career quarterback sacks. If people looked a little deeper, they discovered that he was an ordained preacher with his own congregation in Tennessee—which is why he was nicknamed "the minister of defense." After most football games you could find him at the 50-yard line kneeling with his teammates as well as with players from the opposing team for a brief prayer of thanksgiving to God.
Less well known are his many off-the-field good deeds for the poor, the homeless and unwed mothers. He has been outspoken about his Christian faith and then has backed up his words with positive action on behalf of the most downtrodden members of our society.
Last month the Wisconsin legislature thought to honor Reggie White by inviting him to address them for a few minutes. Little did they know that the "minister of defense" would speak for nearly an hour, offering his views on the status of various racial and ethnic groups in America. Without going into specifics, his overall point was very clear. He wanted to show that the image of God can be seen in the full mosaic of humanity where every group is appreciated for its unique heritage and contribution to the common good.
He also spoke out against homosexuality, calling it a sin and part of the reason for America’s moral decline. He went on to say "Homosexuality is a decision, it’s not a race"--which is not a popular point of view but happens to be exactly true.
Not surprisingly, Reggie White has been pilloried, savaged, and ridiculed from coast to coast. But I did run across an article by a sports columnist from the Boston Globe who faced the central issue dead on and came to the right conclusion.
As for the issue of homosexuality, White later said anyone who disagreed with him should read the Bible. As anyone who is more than an occasional reader of the Good Book knows, it is tough to argue with White on that. The God of this book considers homosexuality a sin. That is not a comfortable thing to read if you’re a homosexual, but it is what that book says. No one has to believe it, but it is what the Book says. (Ron Borges, Sunday, March 29, 1998)
He's right, and so was Reggie White. In an age of political correctness, he stood up, spoke the truth, and then took the heat. May his tribe increase.
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