Update: Clemson University head coach Dabo Swinney has decided not to attend the event held by The Palmetto Family Council, a group with which he has “no association,” he said in a statement.
“Recently, my scheduled participation in this event has been perceived incorrectly as an endorsement of certain viewpoints and has entered the political arena,” he said in a statement provided to msnbc on Wednesday afternoon. He added that he appreciated the recognition of the community service performed by his All In Foundation, “However, after much thought, in order to avoid a distraction for the team and the entire football program, I’ve decided it is in the best interests of all involved that I not attend the event on June 2.”
A politically connected group with prominent anti-LGBT positions is planning on honoring Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney — and the school is staying mum, despite a growing number of people on and off campus urging Swinney to bow out of the event. The Palmetto Family Council will recognize the coach, along with others, for efforts at “making South Carolina a better place to live and raise a family.”
An online petition started by Clemson student William Ta’oma calls on Swinney to withdraw from the event and has garnered more than 1,300 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. The petition claims that the “Palmetto Family Council has a long history of activism that denigrates and harms LGBTQ South Carolinians.”
Palmetto Family Council President Oran Smith is known for his role in helping to write the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, legislation that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge last year. The organization’s website features a post by Glenn T. Stanton, a director for the conservative nonprofit Focus on the Family, who describes “the moral necessity to condemn the practice of homosexuality.”
A man who answered the phone Wednesday morning at the Palmetto Family Council headquarters in Columbia confirmed Swinney was still scheduled to attend the event, receive the award, and address the group. Tickets for the event range from $50 to $5,000.
This is not the first time Swinney has found himself at the center of an off-field controversy. Last year, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Clemson regarding “Constitutional concerns about how the public university’s football program is entangled with religion.” Clemson is a public university, and the foundation accused Swinney of organizing religious activities for players in his capacity as an official state employee.
“Players of any faith or no faith at all are welcome in our program. All we require in the recruitment of any player is that he must be a great player at his position, meet the academic requirements, and have good character,” Swinney said in a statement last April. Clemson contends FFRF misconstrued facts in their complaint.
Swinney was paid $3.15 million last year by Clemson, according to statistics compiled by USA Today, and ended the season with an impressive 10-3 record.
When asked for comment, Clemson University’s office of public affairs referred the story to the school’s athletic department, where emails and phone calls to the assistant director of communications, Joe Galbraith, were not returned.
“Coach Swinney has an obligation to the players he leads and all students that attend Clemson to use his considerable profile to promote causes that bring us together, not tear us apart,” said GLAAD vice president Zeke Stokes. “The Palmetto Family Council’s values are out of line with the values of love and acceptance for all people, and I hope the Coach will reconsider the message that his [alignment] with them sends.”