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Head football coach Deion Sanders got 'training' on 'religious expression' rules, U of Colorado says, after complaint by Freedom from Religion Foundation

Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM

The University of Colorado's new head football coach — legendary NFL Hall of Fame member Deion Sanders — received "training" on the "boundaries" of "religious expression" as it pertains to his job, the college said, following a complaint by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

What are the details?

The FFRF said in a Jan. 24 letter to the university that "multiple concerned Colorado residents" said Sanders "has been infusing his program with Christianity and engaging in religious exercises with players and staff members."

The letter said Sanders earlier in January "directed a staff member to lead players and coaches in Christian prayer before a team meeting." The prayer was as follows, the letter said: "Lord, we thank You for this day, Father, for this opportunity as a group. Father, we thank You for the movement that God has put us in place to be in charge of. We thank You for each player here, each coach, each family. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen."

The letter also said:

Coach Sanders’ team is full of young and impressionable student athletes who would not risk giving up their scholarship, giving up playing time, or losing a good recommendation from the coach by speaking out or voluntarily opting out of his unconstitutional religious activities—even if they strongly disagreed with his beliefs. Coaches exert great influence and power over student athletes and those athletes will follow the lead of their coach. Using a coaching position to promote Christianity amounts to religious coercion.

The University should not lend its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental advancement of religion that excludes the nearly thirty-seven percent of Americans who are non-Christians, and the nearly one in three Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated.6 Sanders’ religious activities alienate and exclude a significant portion of your students and staff members.

The University of Colorado must take action to protect its student athletes and to ensure that Sanders understands that he has been hired as a football coach and not a pastor. We request that Sanders be educated as to his constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause. He may not promote religion in his capacity as head coach. We further request notification in writing of the actions the University is taking to ensure that Sanders will not continue to proselytize to his players or subject them to coercive team prayers.

How did the college respond?

The college replied to the FFRF in a Jan. 31 letter saying Sanders received "training" on the "boundaries" of "religious expression" as it pertains to his job. Specifically the school said that its "Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance personally met with Coach Sanders to provide guidance on the non-discrimination policies, including guidance on the the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression."

The letter added that "Coach Sanders was very receptive to this training and came away from it with a better understanding of the University of Colorado’s policies and the requirements of the Establishment Clause. The Office of Institutional Equity has also trained the other coaches on the football staff. These trainings will be reinforced through additional events the Athletics Department’s compliance program offers on a regular basis."

Anything else?

According to NewsOne, "Sanders' devotion to his faith and religion was often a major part of his stated approach to coaching." Prior to being named head coach at Colorado, Sanders was head coach at Jackson State University.

NewsOne said when he was first named head coach at Jackson State in 2020, Sanders said the turn of events was "a God move."

The outlet also said Sanders led his Jackson State players in prayer. “Repeat after me,” Sanders told his players. “Lord, I love you. Lord, I thank you. Lord, I magnify you. Lord, I glorify you. Without You, I wouldn’t be a thing! A thing! A thing!”

But NewsOne wrote that despite "all of those instances at Jackson State, Sanders was never publicly reprimanded or forced to undergo training in response to incorporating religion into his" coaching.

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