Notebook > Sports
Dave Ryan/The Beaumont Enterprise/AP

Cheer fear

Sports | An anti-religion group claims high-school football and Bible verses are an unconstitutional mix

Issue: "Race to the finish," Nov. 3, 2012

Cheerleaders at Kountze High School in Southeast Texas are used to firing up a crowd. But they never would have guessed that painting a few Bible verses on rally banners would ignite onlookers nationwide. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with school district administrators in late September, warning that the posters violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Fearing legal action, school district superintendent Kevin Weldin promptly banned the use of Bible verses in sideline cheers. But the cheerleaders brought legal action of their own, winning a temporary restraining order against the ban as a judge deliberates over a final ruling in the matter. School districts around the country are watching closely to see whether student initiated religious speech is unlawful when present at a school sanctioned event.

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Kountze school district officials advising them to pay no heed to the FFRF’s complaint and comparing the cheerleaders’ banner to a student “making the sign of the cross before taking a test” or football players “kneeling to pray for an injured teammate.” Since the school district is not joining in or controlling the message, “the banners are the religious speech of individual students, which enjoys protection under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”

Mounting evidence

Lance Armstrong
Associated Press/Photo by Bas Czerwinski
Lance Armstrong

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has released the most damning evidence to date that former seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing substances and techniques en route to his unprecedented cycling achievements. The evidence includes statements from 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates indicating that he not only engaged in banned activity but was the ringleader of a sustained and sophisticated doping program. Even longtime teammate and friend George Hincapie, whom Armstrong considers “like a brother,” has now provided sworn testimony that Armstrong used banned substances and supplied them to teammates.

Armstrong, through his attorney, continues to deny all charges against him and accuses the USADA of a witch hunt. In September, the USADA stripped Armstrong of all his cycling titles dating back to 1998 and banned him from the sport for life. The agency has repeatedly entreated Armstrong and other cyclists simply to admit past indiscretions and join efforts to clean up what is arguably the dirtiest sport in the world. Many of Armstrong’s former teammates and competitors have now accepted that responsibility, leaving the once-heralded sports superstar nearly alone in his insistence of innocence. —M.B.

October swoon

Associated Press/Photo by Matt Slocum

Television ratings for Major League Baseball’s postseason have dropped from a season ago, continuing the long downward trend that extends back to the steroid scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s. New Wild Card play-in games meant to help reverse the ratings spiral only worsened the problem in eliminating two of the most marketable and talent-laden teams—the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves. In head-to-head ratings matchups with the NFL, baseball’s playoffs have failed to amass even a third of the viewers tuning in to early-season gridiron action. —M.B.

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