King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The basketball reformation: St. Louis coach Majerus draws archbishop's wrath by speaking freely. Plus: Congress must investigate cheating beauty queens!


King Kaufman
January 23, 2008 4:00PM (UTC)

The Archbishop of St. Louis says St. Louis University men's basketball coach Rick Majerus should be punished for saying in a TV interview that he supports abortion rights and stem-cell research.

"When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don't have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches," Archbishop Raymond Burke told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But you can't make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic church."

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Majerus, who is Catholic and graduated from Marquette University, like St. Louis a Jesuit school, was interviewed by a reporter from KMOV-TV, the city's CBS affiliate, at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally Saturday night. In raw footage of the interview posted at the station's Web site, he called himself "an old-line Democrat," saying, "I think it's a party with a heart."

Burke declined to say how the university should punish the coach, but told the Post-Dispatch, "I'm confident it will deal with the question of a public representative making declarations that are inconsistent with the Catholic faith."

The university has declined to comment beyond an official statement that reads as though the school isn't interested in punishing Majerus: "Coach Majerus' comments were his own personal views and he was not speaking for Saint Louis University. The comments were made at a non-university event and he was not there as university representative."

The school would look terrible if it sanctioned Majerus for expressing opinions that are inconsistent with the Catholic Church, since it just won a lawsuit last year that allowed it to collect $8 million in tax increment financing for its new basketball arena on the grounds that it's not an organ of the Catholic Church. Opponents of the plan had sued, arguing that the subsidy violates a church-state clause in the state constitution, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that SLU "is not controlled by a religious creed."

I'd hate to be the P.R. person trying to sell the idea that Majerus, an avuncular, likable, mediagenic guy, should be suspended for saying things like: "Oh, I'm very much an advocate for stem-cell research. Anything that can help eliminate people's pain in life and suffering and things like that, I think you've got to explore all of those options."

Asked about abortion, he said, "I'm pro-choice, personally. But I mean, again, you know, I believe that that's the province of being a woman. You know, you can be for people making a choice without yourself wanting to engage in it. Easy for me to say."

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He laughed when the reporter asked him if he thought his comments would be OK with Father Lawrence Biondi, the university's president.

"What, are you trying to go '60 Minutes' on me?" he chuckled. "I tell you what. What's OK with everyone is that in your own heart you can do what you think is best. That's what's nice about America." He declared himself "proud to be Jesuit educated and I'm proud to be the St. Louis coach." Then he got patriotic.

"My uncle died on Normandy so that you can vote," Majerus said, "so that you can say and do whatever you think, and this is a great country, the greatest on earth. I've been to 60 foreign countries, and there aren't any better than this one."

The devil's really got a hold on this guy, don't you think?

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Beauty pageant cheating epidemic: Where's Congress? [PERMALINK]

I can't stand it anymore. I've been a fan for a long time, but I've reached my limit. I'm done. One too many scandals. One too many cheats. I'm tired of wondering if there's not just one honest person left.

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I'm giving up beauty pageants for good.

What did you think I was talking about?

The adorable, talented straw that broke the camel's tanned, willowy back was Jessica Wittenbrink, crowned this week as Miss South Florida Fair -- an ironic title if there ever was one! For Wittenbrink won despite having her evening gown defaced. Fair? Not fair at all, friends. But it's just the kind of thing we've come to expect in pageantry's sabotage era.

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I realize there are important things going on in this world, but this is something Congress should look into. We have to think of the children. Especially the really pretty ones who can sing a little.

Wittenbrink says she discovered during the pageant that her evening gown had four long vertical lipstick smears on the butt. She wore the gown onstage anyway, giving this column an opportunity to link to a picture of a beauty queen's butt.

The Miami Herald reported that a fellow contestant found a sobbing Wittenbrink backstage during the pageant, claiming that her dress had been sabotaged. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over the fairgrounds in West Palm Beach, ended up corralling all the contestants and questioning them, which raised some spectacularly coifed hackles.

A sheriff's office spokesman said there wasn't enough "conclusive evidence" to indicate that a crime had been committed, and the case would be considered inactive unless new information came out.

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Inactive is a great description of pageant officials, fans and media who have stood by for too long while cheaters have taken over the sport. The competition, I mean. Where was the oversight to keep one of Wittenbrink's foes from sneaking into the dressing room and smearing her dress? Or to keep Wittenbrink herself from committing a clever act of self-sabotage.

Wittenbrink appeared on NBC's "Today" Tuesday, which ought to give you an idea of the stakes involved. Miss South Florida Fair gets to compete in the Miss Florida pageant, which feeds into Miss America. Winners of pageants two steps down from the bigs haven't exactly beaten a path to the "Today" show down through the years, but a little scandal can certainly juice a winner's profile.

Al Roker asked Wittenbrink if she'd heard about the Miss Universe Puerto Rico pageant in November, in which eventual winner Ingrid Marie Rivera claimed after the pageant that someone had put pepper spray in her clothes and makeup, which caused her to break out in hives. But the Puerto Rico Forensic Science Institute tested her belongings and found no trace of pepper spray, ABC News reports.

Could she have lied to explain away what she considered a lackluster performance or to impress judges at the next pageant -- Miss Universe -- with how well she handled misfortune under pressure, how goshdarn plucky she is?

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Of course she could have! Anything for a win, right?

Where is the pure, innocent beauty-pageant world of my youth? Does the integrity of the competition mean nothing to these people? How can I in good conscience introduce my kids to the cutthroat, win-at-all-costs endeavor it's become?

I'd been hoping to get them interested in pasted-on smiles and mediocre karaoke singing, dreaming of years of family togetherness as we debate whether Miss New Hampshire or Miss Arkansas had managed to look the least ridiculous in a chaste one-piece bathing suit and F-me pumps.

It's getting to the point where I'm rethinking my plan to ruthlessly push my daughter into the pageant world as soon as she turns 5. I may gently encourage her to pursue something more honest, like stripping or journalism or Ponzi schemes. I hope she understands why I had to spoil her chance at that scholarship money, but it's about time somebody thought, just once, of the children. Have I mentioned the children?

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So back to Roker and Wittenbrink. She was quite aware, thank you very much, of the toothsome puertorriqueña with the allegedly hot pants.

"Oh, yes," she told Roker, "I followed her story very closely and I was just thinking, 'Oh gosh this is -- all over again.'"

This is all over again, indeed. Did she or didn't she? There should be mandatory lie-detector testing of these girls and their handlers. Are we serious about stopping this kind of skulduggery or not?

And I haven't even mentioned the topless photos of Miss Nevada or the underage Miss USA hanging out in bars and making out with her fellow hot teenage beauty queens. They're kind of a different subject, but we're conducting commerce here.

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Previous column: It's Giants vs. Patriots

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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