|Craig Parshall, General Counsel|
April 4, 2012
The world of sports is, once again, grappling with notable Christian personalities, and, once again, it looks like the Christians are getting the caution-flag. ESPN recently refused to accept an advertisement from Christian NASCAR driver Blake Koch on the basis that it had "religious and political overtones." The ad urged American youth to get out and vote, and was part of a campaign by RiseUpandRegister.com, a non-partisan, non-religious organization. ESPN’s explanation is particularly troubling because Blake Koch's ad had no political or religious content. It turns out that the sport's network's real objection was not based on the TV ad, but the fact that a single page of Koch's car racing website was devoted to his Christian faith. What is more bewildering is that NASCAR is widely known to be populated with Christians, including Joe Gibbs who has his own racing team. Sadly, after ESPN's controversial decision, RiseUpandRegister.com pulled its sponsorship of Blake Koch's fledgling racing team. ESPN has a history here - its pundits have bitterly criticized NFL quarterback Tim Tebow's unabashed Christian witness, calling it "polarizing," and an ESPN reporter made disparaging remarks about NBA rising star Jeremy Lin, also a Christian. There is an utter lack of logic in these developments, particularly considering the fact that according to "conventional wisdom," discrimination is a high "crime" of political incorrectness, rarely tolerated. In fact, the FCC now mandates that broadcasters verify in writing that their television advertising policies are not discriminatory. It looks as if Christians are fast becoming the only group that lacks basic protections against unequal treatment. In the final analysis, ESPN's discriminatory decision to censor Blake Koch was apparently based, not on what he said in his TV ad, but because of what he believes about Christ. The real consolation for this young NASCAR driver might be this - that in being mistreated so outrageously for his faith, he stands in the company of giants.