Truthdigger of the Week: USC Athletic Director Pat Haden
Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.
On March 26 Indiana state legislators enacted a law that would have allowed business owners to refuse to serve gay people under the premise that doing so was a legitimate exercise of religious belief. A lot of Americans—including representatives of corporations and major institutions—rightly saw this reasoning as bunk and took to the public square of social media to make their disapproval known. Their efforts paid off. A week later the Indiana lawmakers caved in under public pressure and, after rewriting the legislation, approved a revised version of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act that made discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal.
This victory is part of a trend of increasing acceptance of homosexuality that has played out in mainstream American culture over the past decade. Though the media are not alone responsible for it, it is hard to imagine the United States—with its news outlets so fixated on the lives and opinions of public persons—making this shift without the support of celebrities and of highly visible leaders in business or other activities. Among these prominent people has been Pat Haden, who is athletic director of the University of Southern California, a lawyer, a onetime Rhodes scholar, a former professional football player and a onetime star quarterback for USC.
Five days after Indiana’s discriminatory law broke into the news, Haden announced on Twitter that he would cancel his plan to travel to the state to attend a meeting of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. “I am the proud father of a gay son,” he wrote. “In his honor, I will not be attending the CFP committee meeting in Indy this week.” He punctuated his objection with the hashtag #EmbraceDiversity.
This was not the first of Haden’s public objections against discriminatory policies. The website of USC Trojan athletics published supportive remarks by Haden on the “coming out” of professional athletes Jason Collins and Michael Sam.
“This issue is near and dear to my heart as I have a gay son,” Haden told the website. “I am so proud of him and love him to death. At USC, we are all about inclusion. We have many gay athletes here, and we welcome and appreciate them. We promote diversity not just in terms of sexual orientation and ethnicity, but different points of view. … [W]e want to live by our Trojan Family Code, which is centered around treating people with respect despite any differences and, even more, appreciating that diversity.”
Haden went on to describe the university’s “culture committee,” a council of student-athletes, coaches, administrators and faculty members who “discuss changing the culture around USC from the standpoint of what we can do better.” The members strive to create an environment where, to quote Haden, people “[a]ppreciate and respect one another” and “treat each other with dignity and fairness.”
Those are right words. And as Indiana tried to deprive some gay Americans of the dignity of participating in the most basic acts of commerce, the feelings behind those words echoed far beyond Haden. Nine CEOs of major corporations sent letters strongly urging Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to adjust the language in the bill so discrimination would be legally impossible. And the National Collegiate Athletic Association, of which the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is a part, threatened to relocate some of the Final Four basketball games scheduled to be played in Indiana.
The Indiana discrimination drama ended honorably because Americans came together to defend themselves and their neighbors against state-sanctioned prejudice. Pat Haden and many others who carry loud megaphones answered the call. For that, he is our Truthdigger of the Week.