Interview: ESPN’s Chris Broussard on Basketball and the Bible’s Take on Homosexuality
The talented NBA reporter sounds off on his faith, favorite basketball players and the lessons he learned during the Jason Collins controversy.
Chris Broussard is a name (and man) worth knowing. A talented columnist, a passionate reporter, and a gifted public speaker, Mr. Broussard has for the last decade covered the National Basketball Association for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network — ESPN, to you.
Fans of professional hoops and/or the popular television network so closely associated with it will already be familiar with him. He can be seen nightly on ESPN staples such as Sportscenter and NBA Shootaround.
But even those Stream readers who do not consider themselves sports enthusiasts may recognize the name of Chris Broussard due, in large part, to the articulate defense of the Bible’s position on homosexuality Chris made on national television in 2013 when the first openly gay NBA player (Jason Collins) came out to the world.
A devoted husband, a doting father of two high school girls, and a graduate of Oberlin College, Chris Broussard is a thoughtful evangelical in an influential position in the culture. Apart from the highly visible nature of his job, Broussard is well respected throughout the sports world and is a trusted voice of counsel to many professional athletes, coaches and fellow journalists.
I caught up with Chris earlier this week.
1. What did the path that led you to such a unique career look like as a young man? What doors did God open to enable you to cover sports for a living?
CB: Sports were always an important part of my life. I played basketball, football and baseball in high school. Then I played on the basketball team at Oberlin College. Economics was the major that I initially decided to go with, but quickly realized that it was not for me. As many of my friends around me began to really zero-in on what they wanted to do with their lives, it dawned on me that I should probably figure that out as well. Or at least attempt to.
I knew I loved sports with a passion and, based on some writing classes that I took, I knew that I had a talent for writing. Writing, I believe, is ultimately a gift that people have or don’t have. You can learn to write better, but to be able to make a living doing it, you have to have something inside of you that enables you to communicate effectively through written word. I could sense that I had this based on the reactions I would get from professors and my peers.
But, as my college did not have a journalism major, I eventually made the decision that I would pursue a career in sports journalism by majoring in English and finding any writing opportunities outside of school that I could.
The summer before my senior year, I interned at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland — the largest newspaper in the state of Ohio at the time — and they liked my work ethic and the way that I wrote. After I graduated, I went to work for them, which eventually led to my opportunity at ESPN, and the rest is history.
2. What does the term “journalist” mean to you? What are the responsibilities of a journalist? How do you walk that line between sports fan (or even friend to some of these players, coaches, etc.) and reporter? As a human being, does it get awkward when you have to ask a difficult question directly to the face of someone who just lost a big game?
CB: A journalist, in the traditional sense, is someone in charge of recording history as it happens. They are, for lack of a better term, a “watchman” on the walls of the city. They are watchdogs. Or, I should say, they are supposed to be watchdogs. Not all of them are. And not all journalists cover topics that are of equal importance. I fully realize and appreciate that sports are not more important than a war or riots or political scandal.
But I would say that all journalists should be looking to relate the facts of the stories, people or events they are covering to the public. Journalists should want to be breaking stories, discovering facts, and reporting what they find to their readers.
These days, it is easy for folks to slide in-and-out of the role of journalist and, say, commentator. With social media and 24-hour networks constantly demanding for more and more content, there is only so much you can straight-up report on (in terms of the facts) for many stories before you are going to be asked to give an opinion. Separating those two things can be tricky, but it can be done.
It can definitely get awkward to ask some of the tougher questions that need to be asked. Absolutely, that can be uncomfortable in that moment. But it is part of the job. You signed up for it.
And at the end of the day, objectivity is the name of the game. As long as you are being fair, and don’t make what you are saying some personal vendetta against a guy, everyone involved knows the name of the game. Even when I personally like a player or coach that I’m covering, I have to be willing to report what I find and critique what isn’t working. But any reporter or journalist who says that some personalities are not easier to work with than others is lying to you. We all know the players and coaches who are affable and easy-going and those are the guys who tend to get better coverage from the media. You cannot overstate how far good manners and a kind demeanor can get a celebrity, athlete, etc. when it comes to how they are eventually portrayed in the media.
3. What have sports meant to you in your life? How has your relationship to/with sports changed as you’ve grown older, grown in your faith, raised children, etc.?
CB: There are two primary things I want to say to fellow Christians about sports. The first is that sports, in their purest element, can be wonderful things. I have played competitive sports my entire life, even now in the form of men’s league basketball games. If you have a teachable heart, you learn so much as a young man by being part of a team. Discipline. Teamwork. Sacrifice. Respect for your elders. You learn how to deal with success, as well as defeat. All of these are great things. And even as a fan you can tap into that positive, communal aspect of sports when you experience fellowship around a favorite team or big game.
But the second thing I want to say, and this is something that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, is that sports don’t mean as much to me as they used to. Sports used to be everything in my life. It was an idol. Many Americans make it an idol and use it as an excuse to ignore what they should be doing. It can take away from your focus on God and family and work. You gotta grow out of that and wake up to the reality that they simply aren’t that important.
I still love sports. I love basketball. Sports were the catalyst for me being able to have a job that provides very well for my family. So while I’m grateful to sports, I would caution anyone to examine just what priority they play in your life.
4. In 2013, you went through quite an ordeal and firestorm surrounding your comments about Jason Collins coming out as the first openly gay NBA player (and telling reporters that he was also a committed Christian). Many folks already know the public aspect of that situation, but how did God personally teach you during that contentious time in your life?
CB: There is much that I could say about the Jason Collins thing, but what stands out from that experience is just how hungry Christians in this country are for the unapologetic defense of Biblical truth. I cannot tell you how many times in the past two years that fans, readers, players, coaches, pastors and random mothers on the street have walked up and thanked me for not denying my faith. For being a role model to their sons or nephews. For handling myself with respect and class. These are extremely kind things for them to say, and it is humbling to hear that from strangers, but as the country moves further and further away from God’s Word, it has been personally gratifying to meet so many people who love Jesus and appreciate public professions of Him.
I never walked around shoving my faith in other peoples’ faces. But I am someone who will give a direct answer to a direct question. I can count on one hand the number of other times my faith had come up in work-related conversation, but that day when Jason Collins came out, I was asked to give an account of what Scripture says and what I believe and so that’s what I did.
God used that situation to teach me, among other things, that Christians are hungry for public voices who are willing to be bold when the opportunity presents itself. We don’t have to force anything. God’s in control. Just be ready.
5. If you were asked to coach a professional basketball team, and could select any five living players (in their prime) to fill each position in your starting lineup, who would you want on your squad?
CB: I’ll give you the best lineup that could ever be constructed by mere mortals. You got Magic Johnson at point guard. At shooting guard I would put Michael Jordan because, well, he’s Michael Jordan. He’s the best that ever played the game. LeBron James is obviously going to be one of the forwards. The other would be Tim Duncan. And as far as the center position goes, I’m thinking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s my Top Five of all-time.
The best pure shooter of all-time is Steph Curry of the Warriors.
And real quick, if you’re interested, I’ll give you (in order) the Top Five Dunkers of all-time in the NBA.
5. Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers
4. Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls
3. Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks
2. Julius “Dr. J” Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers
1. Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors
Those are my lists and I’m sticking to them!
*Follow Chris on Twitter at @chris_broussard