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A college football coach takes a stand for life

Jim Harbaugh shows courage not often seen these days


Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh speaks to reporters on Tuesday during Big Ten Conference Media Days in Indianapolis. Associated Press/Photo by Darron Cummings

A college football coach takes a stand for life
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University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh sent shockwaves through the sports world last week as news of his pro-life advocacy surfaced.

“I believe in having the courage to let the unborn be born,” he told attendees at a pro-life benefit in Plymouth, Mich. “I love life. I believe in having a loving care and respect for life and death. My faith and my science are what drive these beliefs in me. Quoting from Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’”

Harbaugh, speaking before a crowded ballroom and joined by his wife, Sarah, spoke of the complexities of the abortion debate and the difficult conditions in which young women find themselves. And yet he acknowledged straightforwardly that abortion is the taking of a human life: “One resolution might involve incredible hardship for the mother, family, and society. Another results in the death of an unborn person.”

Harbaugh’s words were heard like a thunderbolt across the sports world, where many athletes are ardent pro-abortion advocates and have expressed outrage at the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Megan Rapinoe, star of the U.S. women’s soccer team, called the reversal of Roe “sad and cruel.” NBA stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Ja Morant, and others similarly blasted the U.S. Supreme Court ruling while major sports leagues expressed support for abortion on demand. Many sports journalists were also quick to abandon their objectivity and lament Roe’s fall.

You can imagine how coach Harbaugh’s comments fell on a sporting world that increasingly leans left. Former ESPN columnist and host Jemele Hill tweeted, “This might be a difficult concept for Jim Harbaugh of any anti-choice person to grasp … but if you don’t want an abortion, just don’t get one. Not that hard.” Her sentiments were echoed by Joy Taylor, a Fox Sports anchor. TMZ reported Harbaugh’s comments as though they were a scandal.

Over the weekend, Harbaugh took his pro-life position a step further, telling ESPN what he would do if anyone in his family or football program is involved in an unplanned pregnancy: “I encourage them … to go through with it. … Let that unborn child be born, and if at that time, you don’t feel like you can care for it, you don’t have the means or the wherewithal, then Sarah and I will take that baby.”

What is refreshing about Harbaugh’s public advocacy for the unborn is just how public it is. Few in his position are willing to risk reputational damage by standing up for life.

That the Michigan coach expresses strong support for the pro-life position shouldn’t be shocking, given his family’s strong Catholic faith. But what is refreshing about Harbaugh’s public advocacy for the unborn is just how public it is. Few in his position are willing to risk reputational damage by standing up for life. His pro-life views are at odds with his university president and the governor of Michigan. Yet he, like former NFL player Benjamin Watson and Hall of Fame coach and NBC Sports commentator Tony Dungy, is willing to use his massive platform to stand up for the rights of the most defenseless in our society. The courage of these men will hopefully embolden others to take similar positions.

The shock over Harbaugh’s pro-life convictions also shows that many sports journalists are in a kind of ideological bubble. While the Roe reversal was opposed by a slight majority of Americans, 72 percent, according to the latest polling, support protections for the unborn except in cases of rape or incest or after 15 weeks of gestation. The assumption by ESPN and other sports media that their audiences often share their left-wing views is an assumption that will continue to hurt their market share as sports fans look elsewhere for programming.

It also reveals the hypocrisy of the media in covering athletes who express their political opinions. LeBron James, Megan Rapinoe, and others are often praised for championing political ideas when they line up with the Democratic Party and its progressive agenda, but when stars dare to express conservative views on things like abortion they are often treated as if they have done something wrong—even unthinkable. In 2010, Tim Tebow teamed up with Focus on the Family to produce a heartwarming Super Bowl ad. He was met by a swarm of criticism from the media. A few years ago, Drew Brees appeared in another ad for Focus on the Family, this time in support of Bring Your Bible to School Day, and it was a nonstop, wall-to-wall controversy.

It’s something of a delicate dance when athletes and coaches express their opinions. On the one hand, they alienate folks who may disagree. Sports is typically one of the few remaining areas in our civic life that can—at least in theory—bring folks together across ideological lines. At the same time, athletes and coaches are human beings, citizens who have the right to use their voices in support of causes they hold dear. We just need journalists willing to consider that in doing so, some athletes may try to speak up for the other half of the country, the half whose views are typically not represented in the media echo chamber.


Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a bestselling author of several books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words. He is also the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.


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