How could someone who has been so outspoken against the rights of the LGBTQ community be in charge of player development?
This question has puzzled me since I first heard the announcement yesterday from my alma mater that Ron Brown was returning to the Nebraska football staff as Director of Player Development.
Why is there a lack of sensitivity around the implications and optics of this hire? Did Nebraska football consider how this would affect a large portion of their fan base who value inclusion? These were just a fraction of the questions swirling around in my head when I heard the news.
I’m not here to reiterate the words Ron Brown has said to undermine a community I hold near and dear to my heart. A quick internet search will do that for you.
I’m here now to shed light on this situation, share some facts, and help expand the consciousness of those who may not understand the ramifications of such a hire.
For those who may not know, Coach Brown was the wide receivers coach my freshman year at Nebraska. This was the season in which I faced some of my most extreme challenges while trying to be accepted and included as an openly gay Huskers football player.
Did Coach Brown ever treat me with disrespect or animosity during his time as a coach while I played? No.
Do I know the conversations he or others may have had about me behind closed doors? I do not.
What I do know is that Coach Brown is a man of extreme religious convictions. While I was playing he led Nebraska’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes program, and after games Coach Brown and I would join others at center field for a prayer. I remember Coach Brown with a smile and kind demeanor. As a coach, he was confident, poised, and smart. This is what I know of Ron Brown.
I’m sure for those reasons and others, Coach Brown was brought back to Nebraska to mentor Husker football student-athletes in numerous off-field development areas. However, what about his sordid past including his advocacy against LGBTQ anti-discrimination in the workplace in Omaha? Was this ever considered during the hiring process? Having diversity of thought in the position of director of player development is important. Did Husker Athletics ask Brown what inclusion means to him?
The hiring of one person should not negate the incredible past and current diversity and inclusion efforts of many passionate individuals working tirelessly within Husker Athletics and throughout the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).
Fellow LGBT SportSafe co-founder Nevin Caple and myself have both spoken at their annual Diversity and Inclusion Summit. I am 100% confident that the Husker Life Skills program will continue to work towards creating a more inclusive athletics department for everyone in all their differences including LGBTQ student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans.
I have spent the better part of a decade reconciling some of the dark experiences of my Husker football career. It took me years to get to a place where I could use those experiences to help inspire others to live authentically and to help create a more inclusive athletics community.
Inclusion doesn’t happen overnight. Like honing one’s athletic skills, it takes practice. Brown is entitled to his personal values and beliefs, just as we all are. One does not need to compromise their values or beliefs in order to be respectful of others and to implement inclusive behaviors.
Brown may very well have expanded his views on LGBTQ inclusion over the past several years. At least that is a hope of mine because he now has responsibilities to more than just himself. As a member of Husker Athletics, Brown must know that his actions will reflect on coach Scott Frost, athletic director Bill Moos, and the Nebraska football program as a whole.
UNL and Husker Athletics share common values around diversity and inclusion with respect, acceptance, and unity being three key elements of those values. It is my hope that Ron Brown can uphold these institutional values which continue to define the Husker way.
Macroaggressions such as the hiring of someone with a sordid past without an explanation as to why can often continue to hinder progress. However, I pray this time we can see the incredible opportunities this has presented; opportunities for growth and education.
The new Husker football staff has landed in an inclusive athletics department, so continued education on diversity and inclusion may be warranted. Everybody starts from somewhere, and we must be respectful their journey. Meeting in the messy middle and having difficult conversations is not easy, but it’s the surest way to instill growth and to find common ground.
I know there are a lot of Husker fans, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, who are feeling shocked and even hurt by this new hire. I understand, and your feelings are valid. I urge Nebraska Football, Husker Athletics, and Ron Brown to stand up and address this in whatever manner they feel necessary. If you stay silent on this topic, however, your silence will be experienced as rejection, and you will continue to lose more of your fan base.
Ron Brown, my door is always open, my phone is always on, and my email box is always ready. I know Husker Athletics has my contact information. I would be more than happy to have some deep conversations with you in order for us to both grow and learn from one another.
Go Big Red!
Eric Lueshen was with the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team from 2003 to 2005. He is now co-founder of the LGBT SportSafe Inclusion Program. You can find him on Twitter @EricLueshen, and on Instagram @EricLueshen.
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