Reggie White is dead. He died in his sleep of an apparent lung problem on Sunday December 26, 2004. White will be remembered for a lot of things. In Philly he became “The Minister of Defense,” known as much for his spirituality as his ability to crush quarterbacks. In Green Bay he was The Savior, the first mega free agent to show that the frozen tundra was a great place to play. White, as much as Brett Favre, was responsible for returning a title to title-town. I’ll always remember White because he was a pen’s length away from signing with SF and giving us an even greater dynasty. With White on the edge we may well have beaten the Cowboys in ’93. In my mind’s eye I can see Troy Aikman getting pummeled just as he releases what in real life was a 70-yard catch and run by Alvin Harper that all but ended that game. I’ll always remember the year White injured his shoulder and continued to play with his arm strapped to his chest. Playing this way for several games, I remember watching him pick up a Carolina OT and throw him aside with one arm en route to a sack. When White retired he did so as the NFL’s all-time sack leader*. Most of the coverage of White’s death lauds his actions on the field. ESPN and others have trotted out writers, broadcasters and former players to talk about how great Reggie was as a man, and as a leader in his community. I, however, will always remember White for something else. For something that has remained as buried in the days after White’s death as ketchup-as-a-vegetable and “trickle down economics” were after Regan kicked.
To me, and for many of my friends White will be remembered most for remarks he made to the Wisconsin state legislature on March 25, 1998. These remarks, though shocking, were mostly laughed off because Reggie seemed like a Zealot, a caricature of the Southern Minister. Here are Excerpts of White’s comments that day.
“We always should look at the situation and ask ourselves a question. Why did god create us differently? Why did god make me black and you white? Why did god make the next guy Korean and the next guy Asian and the other guy Hispanic? Why did god create the Indians?
Well, it's interesting to me to know why now. When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to black churches, you see people jumping up and down, because they really get into it.
White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people do around the world.
Hispanics are gifted in family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home. They were gifted in the family structure.
When you look at the Asians, the Asian is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They're very creative. And you look at the Indians, they have been very gifted in the spirituality.
When you put all of that together, guess what it makes. It forms a complete image of god. God made us different because he was trying to create himself. He was trying to form himself, and then we got kind of knuckleheaded and kind of pushed everything aside.
As America has permitted homosexuality to establish itself as an alternate lifestyle, it is also reeling from the frightening spread of sexually transmitted disease. Sin begets its own consequence, both on individuals and nations.
Let me explain something when I'm talking about sin, and I'm talking about all sin. One of the biggest ones that has been talked about that has really become a debate in America is homosexuality.
Now, I believe that one of the reasons that Jesus was accused of being a homosexual is because he spent time with homosexuals. I've often had people ask me, would you allow a homosexual to be your friend. Yes, I will. And the reason I will is because I know that that person has problems, and if I can minister to those problems, I will.
But the Bible strictly speaks against it, and because the Bible speaks against it, we allow rampant sin including homosexuality and lying, and to me lying is just as bad as homosexuality, we've allowed this sin to run rampant in our nation, and because it has run rampant in our nation, our nation is in the condition it is today.
Sometimes when people talk about this sin they've been accused of being racist. I'm offended that homosexuals will say that homosexuals deserve rights. Any man in America deserves rights, but homosexuals are trying to compare their plight with the plight of black men or black people. In the process of history, homosexuals have never been castrated, millions of them never died. Homosexuality is a decision. It's not a race. And when you look at it, people from all different ethnic backgrounds are living this lifestyle, but people from all different ethnic backgrounds are also liars and cheaters and malicious and backstabbers.”
White also appeared, in uniform, in several anti-homosexual ads put out by a coalition of Christian groups.
So far I have seen only one article that mentions White’s anti-everyone remarks, and even that one seeks to forgive him by pointing out that he apologized. The article, by Ray Ratto, for ESPN.com, also notes that White gave up a lot of money and a possible job as an analyst when he made those comments. The article does not mention that White only apologized when he was pressured to do so in the face of losing his endorsements**.
“As controversial as his speech was, the aftermath has become, perhaps, even more controversial. After the speech, White said that if people found his comments offensive, "that was their problem." But soon a call was made for companies that sponsor White to release him from contract. These companies include Nike, Campbell Soup, and Johnson & Son, Inc. (Edge Shaving Cream).
In his apology, White said, "I made a point that our society is fortunate to be comprised of different races and cultures. I must admit that my examples may have been somewhat clumsy and inappropriate on how the races differ, but my intent was not to demean anyone. If I did, I humbly ask for your forgiveness." White's apology was not as inclusive of homosexuals. "I do not apologize for standing on God's word when it comes to sin in my life and others."
While some sponsors (Chunky Soup for one) did not renew White’s endorsements, Nike welcomed him back with open arms.
“We welcome Reggie White back as a Nike athlete to another season of exciting NFL football. With regard to his recent remarks before the Wisconsin Assembly, Mr. White has issued an apology to those who may have been offended. Therefore, we are prepared to continue support of his commitment to excellence on the field and his established record of community service throughout the country."
While I acknowledge that White did apologize I am skeptical as to why he did so. I feel that it is clear that he believed these things when he said them, and continued to believe them after he apologized. White’s wife was more direct on the issue of CBS deciding not to hire White as an analyst saying, “that CBS was "too scared of the Sodomite community," and added, "I feel sorry for them because they can't stand the truth." These remarks, along with White’s “that’s their problem,” along with the fact that neither he, nor his wife, nor Nike, made any attempt to include homosexuals in the apology makes the entire act insignificant. White apologized, not because he felt remorse that he had hurt people and contributed to the world’s overall total of ignorance and intolerance, but because he was hoping to hold on to some money.
At the time many people tried to make this a free speech issue. It is not. I have yet to read anything related to the issue that says that Reggie White should not have been allowed to say what he said. No one that I’ve read has suggested that he should have been punished for his beliefs, or his expression of those beliefs. From what I read at the time, and the discussions I’ve had on the matter since then the consensus seems to be that Reggie White was a jerk. And that is what’s being glossed over in the wake of his death. One thing I’ve noticed about people who scream about free speech are actually arguing, not for freedom of expression, but for freedom from consequences. Remember Rush Limbaugh on NFL Countdown? The issue is not that people cannot, or should not express certain beliefs, the issue is whether or not we have to love them for it, or whether a company should continue to carry such a person as an endorser. In the case of Rush, or Kobe, or Reggie White certain entities decided to distance themselves from what they thought was a negative image. Really, in these situations it becomes the company endorsing the athlete rather than the athlete endorsing the company, and just like you don’t see a lot of athletes endorsing Zips or Pro Keds, you don’t see a lot of companies endorsing rapists, or racists, or open homophobes.
Sure Reggie White did good things for the community, but he also did harm. How many homosexuals in his parish were stung by his remarks, even as they applauded his other charity work. These beliefs do not negate the good there may have been in Reggie White, but the good he did cannot override or sweep away the harm he may have done. When someone dies their whole story should be told. Here is the voice of true dissent, to me Reggie will always be The Minister of the Indefensible.
* Deacon Jones, who actually coined the term “sack” is probably the real all-time sack leader, however, sacks were not recorded as a statistic for most of Jones’ career.
** Apology related quotes from, the June 1998 issue of Allied Rainbows. Allied Rainbows serves as a medium for Vermont's Gay/Straight Alliances to share ideas and resources that will help them to function at the highest possible level. For more information, email Palmer Legare at ZekTAllen@aol.com