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Clemson's Swinney responds to faith, football debate

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Clemson's head football coach Dabo Swinney (File/FOX Carolina) Clemson's head football coach Dabo Swinney (File/FOX Carolina)
CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina) -

In wake of a national conversation following a complaint filed against Clemson University, the football team's head coach has responded to discussion about his faith.

Clemson's Dabo Swinney issued a statement Wednesday explaining the rules he expects players to follow and sharing what he believes.

"Players must go to class, they must give a good effort and they must be good citizens. It is as simple as that," Swinney said.

Swinney and the university have come under fire from some who claim they have forced their religion on players. Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter of complaint to the South Carolina university citing several "constitutional concerns" regarding the football program.

While part of the letter focused on Swinney's choice and the university's hiring of a Christian team chaplain, the complaint went on to identify other religious issues regarding team buses, an FCA breakfast and team devotionals. Read the full complaint here.

"A call to players and university staff - who are of varying or no faith - to attend church is coercive," said FFRF staff attorney Patrick Elliott in the letter. "This practice coerces players, of varying faiths or none at all, to enter a Christian house of worship, lest they speak up against their superiors, a brave, but unlikely event given the extent to which coach Swinney makes his preference for religious belief clear."

Swinney's statement does not deny his faith but explains his expectations of players - one that focuses on character rather than religion. His statement in full:

"Over the past week or two, there has been a lot of discussion of my faith. We have three rules in our program that everybody must follow: (1) players must go to class (2) they must give a good effort and (3) they must be good citizens. It is as simple as that.

"I have recruited and coached players of many different faiths. Players of any faith or no faith at all are welcome in our program. All we require in the recruitment of any player is that he must be a great player at his position, meet the academic requirements, and have good character.

"Recruiting is very personal. Recruits and their families want – and deserve – to know who you are as a person, not just what kind of coach you are. I try to be a good example to others, and I work hard to live my life according to my faith. I am proud of the great success we have had in developing good players and good men at Clemson. We win at the highest level and we graduate players who excel on the field and in life because of their time in Death Valley. I want to thank Clemson University and all the people who have reached out to offer their support and encouragement over the past few weeks."

Clemson University responded to the complaint on April 17. The university's statement can be read here.

Patrick Elliott, a staff attorney with Freedom From Religion Foundation, called Swinney's response inadequate.

"It doesn't seem to address the underlying constitutional problem that we were writing about," Elliott said. "We think the university, not just the coach, needs to step in and need to train the coaching staff and stop these violations from occurring."

Elliott also commented about Swinney's statement on welcoming players of all faith or no faith.

"In one sense, it's reassuring that he would say that publicly. I'm not so sure it changes how players are treated once they're in the program in terms of coach proselytizing," he said.

Elliott said when Swinney stated, "... there has been a lot of discussion of my faith," that the organization has no issue with his faith.

"It's not about his faith, it's about how he's conducting himself in his job in his public university position," Elliott said.

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