By Alan Russette
When all-time sack leader Reggie White decided to return to the National Football League for another season after announcing his retirement, he said the Lord had told him to do so. When Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Sacramento Kings refused to stand for the American national anthem during the pregame festivities of the National Basketball Association regular season, he cited his Islamic faith as the primary reason.
And though a compromise was reached with Abdul-Rauf, (he agreed to stand and recite an Islamic prayer during the playing of the anthem), it thrust the issue of religion in professional sports into an international spotlight.
The Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union may eventually have to deal with issues like these as they welcome a new school, Trinity Western University, into the Canada West athletic conference in the fall of 1999. Trinity will begin competing in men's and women's basketball and volleyball, with other programs yet to come. Trinity Western is a fully accredited, privately funded Evangelical Christian university which accepts students of any faith.
Under the University's provincial charter and the BC Human Rights Code, the university may require all employees, including coaches, to be Evangelical Christians in belief and practice, similar to the Roman Catholic Separate school boards' hiring practices in Ontario.
Bill Norris, director of personnel services at Trinity Western University, said Evangelical Christian beliefs are a bonafide occupational requirement to coach at the university.
"All of our coaches are Evangelical Christians and make a commitment to the university's Responsibility of Membership statement and the Statement of Faith annually," said Norris.
The term "Evangelical Christian" can be a confusing one. But as Norris explained, it is a non-denominational one. In fact, there are a number of denominations represented on staff at the university including Roman Catholic and Anglican. The key is they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.
Ron Pike, coach of the men's volleyball team at Trinity Western University, said spirituality and sport go hand-in-hand and the coach's commitment to spirituality is a natural extension of their responsibilities.
"It's a matter of integrating [spirituality] into their life. We're still coaches. That's what we're here to do, but the spiritual dimension is something I would be open to talking about [with players]," Pike said. "Most coaches invest an interest in their players' lives, whether it be academically or personally."
Publicly funded institutions, like Western, tend to believe that religious beliefs are personal matters, better left out of the hiring criteria. Karen Danylchuk, the Women's co-ordinator of intercollegiate athletics here at Western said religious background never comes into play when selecting new coaches.
"We really wouldn't ask. That falls somewhere under the human rights legislation," Danylchuk said. Nonetheless, she did not forsee any difficulties occuring. "By applying for entrance into the CIAU, [Trinity Western] would have agreed to abide by the rules and regulations of the governing body. So as long as they do that, I don't think it'll pose any sort of problem."