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Oral Roberts University isn't the feel good March Madness story we need | Opinion

For The Win logo For The Win 3/23/2021 Hemal Jhaveri
a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by For The Win

March Madness loves a Cinderella story, and this year it’s Oral Roberts University.

Oral Roberts, a mere 15 seed, destroyed brackets by toppling No. 2 Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament and now enters the Sweet Sixteen after defeating No. 7 seed Florida 81-78 on Sunday.

Part of the joy of March Madness has always been watching smaller schools upset powerhouse programs, as kids from regional, unknown colleges and universities get their moment in the sun. Because everyone loves an underdog, Oral Roberts has become a fan favorite as people take their improbable run to heart and celebrate the tiny, evangelical university in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And yet, as the spotlight grows on Oral Roberts and it reaps the good will, publicity and revenue of a national title run, the university’s deeply bigoted anti-LGBTQ+ polices can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

Founded by televangelist Oral Roberts in 1963, the Christian school upholds the values and beliefs of its fundamentalist namesake, making it not just a relic of the past, but wholly incompatible with the NCAA’s own stated values of equality and inclusion.

While the school has been soundly mocked on social media for its archaic standards of behavior and code of conduct that bans profanity, “social dancing,” and shorts in classrooms, it is the school’s discriminatory and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ policy that fans should protest as the Golden Eagles advance in the tournament.

Twice in their student handbook, Oral Roberts specifically prohibits homosexuality. In their student conduct section, under the heading of Personal Behavior, the school expressly condemns homosexuality, mentioning it in the same breath as “occult practices.”

Students are expected to maintain the highest standards of integrity, honesty, modesty and morality…Certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture and therefore should be avoided by members of the University community. They include theft, lying, dishonesty, gossip, slander, backbiting, profanity, vulgarity (including crude language), sexual promiscuity (including adultery, any homosexual behavior, premarital sex), drunkenness, immodesty of dress and occult practices.

Also, as part of their honor code, the university requires students to abide by a pledge saying that they will not engage in “homosexual activity,” and that they will not be united in marriage other “than the marriage between one man and one woman.”

text: Oral Roberts Pledge © Provided by For The Win Oral Roberts Pledge

Oral Roberts Pledge

As a private university and under the banner of fundamentalist Christian beliefs, the school is free to impose whatever standards of behavior they see fit, even if those standards are wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency. Now, as Oral Roberts gains national attention, the focus shouldn’t just be on their very good men’s basketball team, but on their prejudiced teachings and moral regressiveness.

That Oral Roberts wants to keep its students tied to toxic notions of fundamentalism that fetishize chastity, abstinence and absurd hemlines is a larger cultural issue that can be debated. What is not up for debate however is their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, which is nothing short of discriminatory and should expressly be condemned by the NCAA.

The NCAA has always been more about paying lip service to ideals of equality and inclusion than action, but Oral Roberts inclusion in the men’s tournament proves how little they actually care about those words, which are emblazoned on their basketball courts.

Yet, Oral Roberts, with its decrees banning homosexual conduct, stating that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and specifically banning male students from wearing makeup, earned a ticket to the Big Dance even though the university’s foundations expressly go against the very things the NCAA say they value. The fact is, any and all anti-LGBTQ+ language in any school’s polices should ban them from NCAA competition.

Now, Oral Roberts is primed to reap the rewards of the work from their unpaid student athletes. On the backs of those hard working kids, the university will seek to rewrite the narrative of their school into one of athletic victory when in fact, it’s steeped in bigotry and an exclusionary fundamentalism. The NCAA gave Oral Roberts that opportunity by allowing them into the tournament. Fans and media, eager to embrace a Cinderella story, helped push that narrative along either without knowing all the facts or willingly burying them as irrelevant.

However accomplished its young student athletes are, the school is a hotbed of institutional transphobia, homophobia with regressive, sexist policies. There is no way to separate their men’s basketball team from the dangers of their religious dogma, no matter how many top seeds they defeat.

Often, athletic accomplishments and victories on the court make up for moral failings all the time. In this case though, whatever the Oral Roberts men’s basketball team manages to do on the court can’t obscure the dangerous and hateful ideology of its core institution. It’s always nice to root for the underdog, but in this case, there’s very little to actually cheer about.

Related

USA TODAY Opinion Contributor: No, Oral Roberts University basketball doesn’t deserve to be canceled from NCAA Sweet 16

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