Opinion: Sports Illustrated story abandons balanced reporting

Regular readers of this column will recall the lament expressed earlier in this space about ESPN’s descent into leftist political dogma. As previously noted, ESPN now stands for “Expect Sports Politicized Nonstop.”

But that media outlet is no outlier.

Another well-known brand name in sports journalism has also proven itself ready and willing to choke you with “woke.”

Sports Illustrated, which during the glory days of the magazine age was accustomed to a yearly outcry following publication of its “Annual Swimsuit Edition,” recently opted to clothe opponents of public prayer in robes of righteousness.

Writer Greg Bishop and his SI Editors will never be accused of subtlety, as Bishop’s cover story carried the title, “When Faith and Football Teamed Up Against American Democracy.”

The sub-headline spelled out Bishop’s dubious assertion with greater clarity, stating, “The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the case of a football coach at a public high school who was told he wasn’t allowed to pray on the field in front of players. The expected result is a win for the coach — and the further erosion of the separation between church and state.”

Got that?

While a balanced assessment might compare the legal fight to a metaphorical “line of scrimmage” where different views of the First Amendment are in conflict, Bishop and Sports Illustrated choose to embrace and advocate a doctrine that does not appear anywhere in our Constitution.

The story chronicles the saga of Joe Kennedy, an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in the state of Washington, who ended up taking the school district to court. It contrasts Kennedy’s assertion of his First Amendment rights with the opposition of Rachel Laser, the president/CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Laser, who also served as the lead lawyer for the Bremerton School District in this matter, is portrayed sympathetically, “because this case, and others like it, have transported her to an alternate universe of disinformation and propaganda — and, in that world, even democracy is in danger,” Bishop writes.

But in the real world, democracy is not endangered. Instead, legitimate dissent from leftist orthodoxy is imperiled. The strategy is fiendishly clever: employ the pressure of popular culture and amplify it through the press to ridicule, diminish and ultimately disregard constitutional principles.

Greg Bishop’s narrative seeks to employ one portion of the First Amendment, freedom of the press, against another: freedom of religion.

And undergirding it all is (surprise, surprise) a rather unflattering assessment of Christian conservatives. Bishop writes that the base of that group “was reinvigorated over the past seven years, anyway. That owes mostly to Donald Trump’s presidency, his proposed Muslim ban and anti-immigration stances, his border wall and inciting rhetoric, and his appointments of religious conservatives to the judiciary’s most powerful positions.”

It is that last assertion in Bishop’s “bill of indictment” that prompts the Shakespearean exclamation, “There’s the rub!”

How dare President Trump follow the Constitution and appoint prospective Supreme Court justices whose nominations were then duly approved by the United States Senate? And how dare that new conservative Supreme Court majority vote to reverse legal precedents that were not based on the enumerated powers within that same Constitution?

Greg Bishop’s writing is protected by the aforementioned First Amendment; so is freedom of religion. Please note: That’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

And again, it’s worth noting that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. To employ the shopworn saying from sports, “You can look it up.”

J.D. Hayworth worked as a sportscaster at Channel 10, Phoenix, from 1987 until 1994 and represented Arizona in Congress from 1995-2007.