". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Atheist Group Files Complaint against NCAA Women’s Basketball Coach for ‘Proselytizing’

April 5, 2024

A secularist legal group is urging the University of South Carolina to take action against its women’s basketball coach over her comments about believing in God following her team’s strong performance in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Speaking to reporters after her University of South Carolina Gamecocks advanced into the Final Four for this year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Sunday, Coach Dawn Staley reflected on “the devastating loss that we had last year.” She said it “pulled us back here with a totally different team,” adding, “If you don’t believe in God, something’s wrong with you.”

“I’m a believer because ... He makes things come true," she said. “When you’re at your worst, He’s at His best.”

These comments did not sit well with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based legal organization that advocates for a strict separation of church and state. In a letter to University of South Carolina President Michael Amiridis Monday, FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line cited the remarks as an example of “Staley’s ongoing promotion of her personal religious beliefs and her denigration of non-Christians through the women’s basketball program.”

“Current and future non-Christian and nonreligious players should feel welcome and respected as part of the women’s basketball team, not be told by their coach that they are on a team that is representing Jesus and that ‘if you don’t believe in God, something is wrong with you,’” wrote Line. Line called on the university to “take action to protect its student athletes and to ensure that Staley understands that she has been hired as a basketball coach and not a pastor.”

The attorney recommends the school’s leadership inform Staley of “her constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and remind her that she “may not promote religion in her capacity as head coach.” Additionally, Line requested “notification in writing of the actions the University is taking to ensure that Staley will not continue to proselytize to her players.”

In a statement, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor insisted that “Coach Staley is coercing her students to adopt religion even beyond the ‘pray to play’ notion,” adding, “Her insults to all those who don’t believe in her particular religion cannot be countenanced by a public university.”

In separate remarks delivered after her team’s 70-58 victory over Oregon State in an Elite 8 matchup, Staley described it as “pretty cool” that her team’s athletic achievement took place on Easter Sunday, the holiest day on the Christian calendar. At the same time, she stressed that “we just don’t celebrate on the victories.”

“Last year, I thank[ed] God for even the loss,” she pointed out. “I don’t want to be one-sided ... and to give Him the glory … is only befitting for wins.” Staley concluded by characterizing Easter as “significant as any other day” while proclaiming that “He is risen.” The basketball coach’s gratitude to God extended beyond televised remarks and onto social media.

In a post on X Sunday, Staley declared, “To God be the Glory!!” She thanked “all of our prayer warriors who call on the main line to help get us to another Final Four.” “I am not ashamed to praise Him for what he continues to do for me and mine,” she stated. “If you’re a nonbeliever it wasn’t for you-wish you well with your beliefs.”

Additional X posts from Staley reveal that her team participated in “gameday devotionals” ahead of games on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Ahead of the team’s Good Friday contest against Indiana State University, Staley posted a picture identifying the command in 1 Corinthians 16:14 to “do everything in love” as that day’s gameday devotional.

Before Sunday’s game against Oregon State University, she shared that “I have loved you with an everlasting love” found in Jeremiah 31:3 is the gameday devotional. The Freedom From Religion Foundation included a snapshot of it as well as Staley’s X post giving glory to God in its complaint. 

On Palm Sunday, the Gamecocks defeated the University of North Carolina. That game’s devotion was revealed by Staley on X to be “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine” from the Song of Solomon 8:3

For its March 22 game against Presbyterian College, the gameday devotional read a passage from Psalm 143:8: “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

The other three teams that advanced to the Final Four are North Carolina State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Connecticut. The Gamecocks are slated to face off against NC State this Friday, with the winner of that game going on to compete against the winner of a showdown between the other two teams taking place on the same day. 

The winners will face off in the championship game scheduled for Sunday.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post.

This article was originally published in The Christian Post.