On Monday, the Lincoln City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on a proposal that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Will the council be hearing Ron Brown there?
“I don't know,” Brown said on Saturday morning. “I haven't decided yet.”
If the Nebraska assistant football coach shows up at the Monday afternoon meeting, he might want to bring a tent with him. The place will be a circus. A media circus.
Brown would be the main event. The media will be there to record not only what he says but how he says it. The national story that is Ron Brown, controversial football evangelist, will continue.
And if Brown continues to push the button — and the envelope — he'll push the patience of his employer, the University of Nebraska.
On Saturday, I wanted to ask Brown a few simple questions.
Why would he do it?
Why put himself in harm's way, in danger of being fired for espousing personal opinions that could be construed as those of his employer? A fate even Brown has admitted is possible.
Why put at risk all the good Brown can do as an assistant coach, all the young men's lives he is in position to impact on a daily basis?
Why is speaking against such a proposal so important? What type of impact does Brown think he can make here? And why wouldn't Brown be more involved in topics like cheating in college sports, the well-being of student-athletes, etc.?
Brown understood the questions. He thought they were good ones. We talked early Saturday morning. I had sent him a text message during the week asking him if he would be at Monday's meeting and asking for a few minutes to ask those questions.
The coach messaged back on Friday morning that he would like to take the day to think about whether to respond. He called Saturday morning. He said he thought it would be better to talk “after things calm down.”
If Brown shows up Monday, that may be awhile.
I don't think Brown is in jeopardy of losing his job. Athletic Director Tom Osborne isn't taking questions on this topic and the school is trying to move on. But Chancellor Harvey Perlman has made it clear he doesn't want Brown to give any impression that he is representing the university in any way.
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Over the years, Brown has walked that line artfully.
But this time — two months ago in Omaha — was different. Brown put himself in the crosshairs of critics and his university. Why now?
He used Memorial Stadium as his address. Bad move.
Also, Brown's tone was different at that Omaha City Council meeting in early March. Scolding. Almost threatening. In arguing against adding homosexuals to the Omaha anti-discrimination list, Brown invoked the name Pontius Pilate.
Brown has made these kinds of appearances and given hundreds of speeches or addresses in his career. This one was over the top.
The appearance actually went away in the public spotlight, though, until Brown gave an interview to the Associated Press and said it would be a greater honor to be fired for his faith than losing football games.
An honor to be fired? Don't give anyone any ideas, Ron.
The national media took turns beating the Brown piñata. Even as late as Friday, Rick Reilly of ESPN.com took Brown to task, calling him bigoted, hateful and un-Christian.
That characterization is unfair. But Brown put himself in position, being in a place where few athletic coaches or officials would be at all.
The proposal that Lincoln is considering — and Omaha passed, in spite of Brown's objections — is a common one across the country. Before passing it, Omaha was one of 15 of the top 50 cities in the U.S. where gay residents had no legal protection from discrimination.
In the past two years, 35 cities or counties in the U.S. have passed anti-discrimination ordinances based on sexual orientation or sexual identity.
Local officials who supported this ordinance said it was a way for Omaha to look out for its future interests, in terms of recruiting businesses and young professionals.
I've known Ron Brown a long time. I know what he's all about. He's not afraid of a cause or to speak his mind. But was this really his fight? What possible impact did he expect to have here?
Certainly not the influence he has had over hundreds of young men who have been under his tutelage and mentorship at Nebraska. On that field, in that meeting room, that's where Ron Brown is at his best.
Nebraska needs Ron Brown there.
This is not a vote against Brown's freedom of speech, though that right does not protect him from being dismissed by the university. This is not to say Brown should step away from the pulpit.
But he should remember there's a bigger picture, a greater impact, for him at NU. Nebraska and Brown have been good for each other. Other schools might not have given Brown the freedom to do his radio shows, to read Bible passages in position meetings. He's on the verge of putting NU in a tough spot.
Of all the coaches I've covered, Brown might have the smallest ego of any. But we're only human. Brown was praised nationally for his role as a healer last November in leading the prayer at Penn State. Has he become caught up in that?
I think Brown could tone it down a notch from his Omaha appearance. Does that mean he's a no-show on Monday? Then he looks like he's backing off. He's in a tough spot, too. Clearly, he's doing a lot of thinking right now. The national media coverage is weighing on him.
That's too bad, because there's an entire side to Brown that the national drive-bys don't see. He's a great leader of men. He can be a man of compassion. I don't always agree with him — certainly not in the case of discrimination — but I admire the man for his strong convictions.
I just think he needs to be more careful how he expresses them.
Bigot? Maybe some folks should look up Dirk Chatelain's terrific piece in The World-Herald last September, detailing Brown's relationship with freshman I-back Ameer Abdullah. A Muslim.
In the story, Brown and Abdullah talk about how each has helped enlighten the other. Abdullah said Brown isn't converting him to Christianity. But Abdullah said he wanted to learn more about it, to broaden his mind.
When asked about reading Bible passages and expressing his philosophy to players of all backgrounds, Brown said he tells players to “do what you want with it. You don't have to believe me if you don't want to. It ain't gonna cost you a down of playing time.”
Brown added: “I don't need to change Ameer. I just need to love up on him and let God do what he wants with him.”
That's the Ron Brown I hope shows up at the city council hearing.
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