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Posted 30 Apr 2001   For week ended April 27, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 26Apr01

By Kent Larsen

Ward's Comments Recall, Lead to Erroneous Statements on Mormons

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- In the wake of "anti-Semitic" comments by the New York Knicks' Charlie Ward, several sports columnists at newspapers across the nation recalled that then-Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman made disparaging remarks about Mormons. But the incident also drew comments that drew on Mormon stereotypes and showed ignorance of Mormon beliefs.

Ward's comments, along with those of fellow Knick Alan Houston,were reported by Jewish reporter Eric Konigsberg in a New York Times Magazine article this past weekend. Konigsberg's account of attending several pre-game bible study classes with the two players reported Ward's remarks about Konigsberg's heritage and the role of Jews in the crucifixion.

The comments led to immediate condemnation of Ward and Houston by the Knicks and their fans. Dave Checketts, president of Madison Square Garden, which owns the Knicks, and an LDS Church member, called the remarks "objectionable," and Ward was booed by fans in Madison Square Garden when he entered the Knicks' game on Sunday. Ward has since suggested that his comments should be understood in the context of a bible study class, and apologized that they were offensive when taken out of that context.

The controversy has led some sports columnists to point out the context of the remarks and defend the players' free speech rights. In yesterday's Chicago Tribune, columnist Skip Bayless suggested that Konigsberg should have expected the comments he got when he decided to attend bible study class with Ward, and suggested that he should have known better. But Bayless also demonstrated his own ignorance, by suggesting that Mormons don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah. ". . . during these Bible studies Ward surely would have questioned the beliefs of a Muslim or Mormon or Buddhist_any member of any faith that doesn't acknowledge Jesus as any more than a mortal preacher," wrote Bayless in his column.

Other columnists focused on the relevance of Rodman's 1997 comments about Mormons, pointing out the disparity between the $50,000 fine NBA commissioner David Stern gave Rodman and the verbal rebuke he gave Ward.

Rodman had blamed Mormons for his performance in a Bulls' loss to the Jazz, saying "It's difficult to get in sync because of all the (expletive deleted) Mormons out here. And you can quote me on that." He claimed that his remarks were a reaction to obscene gestures made at him by Jazz fans during the game, but eventually apologized, saying, "If I knew it was like a religious-type deal, I would have never said it. I'm sorry about that." But given Rodman's reputation, news reports at the time indicated that Mormons were more offended by Bulls coach Phil Jackson's attempt to rationalize the remarks. Jackson said, "To Dennis, a Mormon may just be a nickname for people from Utah. He may not even know it's a religious cult or sect or whatever." The media generally ignored Jackson's ignorance of the status of Mormonism.

Meanwhile, another Chicago columnist, Carol Slezak in the Sun-Times, claims that players may be getting too much religion. Slezak quotes the Knick's coach, Jeff Van Gundy, as saying that God and golf have replaced liquor and women as the NBA's biggest problems. Van Gundy sees the presence of the Knick's unofficial chaplain, Pastor John Love, in the locker room, spending as much time as he wants before each game giving the players a sermon, as part of the problem. "I think we've given this guy, this pastor, too much freedom."

But the issue of religion in the locker room just gave a notorious former basketball player an excuse to joke about Mormons. Former Phoenix Sun's player Charles Barkley worked TNT's studio during Sunday's playoff games, and was as candid as ever. Commenting on the Charlie Ward debacle, Barkley said religion shouldn't be involved in sports, "I'm not big on mixing religion and sports. It's ridiculous when they (players) all get together and pray." But while that comment was understandable, the next was potentially offensive, "I want to be a Mormon because you should have as many wives as you can."


Context factor in how to view Ward's words
Chicago Tribune 25Apr01 S6
By Skip Bayless

Ward Is Contrite After Stern's Rebuke
New York Times 24Apr01 S2
By Chris Broussard

Van Gundy's gripe legit
Chicago IL Sun Times 25Apr01 S6
By Carol Slezak: Sun-Times Columnist

NBA playoff blowouts have TNT set to explode
USA Today 25Apr01 S6
By Rudy Martzke


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