Florida State coach backs Air Force's DeBerry

Updated: May 16, 2005, 11:12 PM ET
Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden said Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry is fighting the government over the role of religion on his team.

Bowden brought up DeBerry while speaking to the Southern Colorado Fellowship of Christian Athletes on Sunday night.

Last season, DeBerry was asked to remove a banner from the locker room which displayed the "Competitor's Creed," including the lines "I am a Christian first and last … I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

"Fisher is fighting a heck of a battle over here at your academy [with] the U.S. government," Bowden was quoted as saying in the Gazette of Colorado Springs. "He's fighting a heck of a battle because he happens to be a Christian, and he wants his boys to be saved. I want my boys to be saved."

Bowden's comments came as a Pentagon task force investigates claims of religious intolerance at the academy, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.

"We realize we have other religions with us," Bowden said. "The coach has a responsibility to these boys to try to influence their spiritual life, their physical life and their academic life. … We know we're going to get challenged on it, but that's what we believe in. I ain't gonna back down."

Bowden also said prayer was a large, yet voluntary, part of his football program and encouraged athletes to be more vocal about their beliefs.

"The problem with us Christians is we won't speak out," he said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press