Putting the Safe Zone Before the End Zone

Earlier this month, the Safe Zone Advisory Council sent a memo addressed to the directors of the Equal Opportunity and Policy Compliance department and the athletics department.

This memo’s purpose? To formally request a response to controversy surrounding the hire of assistant football coach Ron Brown.

Brown has been criticized for publicizing his homophobic beliefs while working as a state employee. The Safe Zone Advisory Council has asked the university to respond to controversy surrounding Brown, specifically requesting that Brown be “notified of his obligations and responsibilities as a YSU employee” and that the climate in athletics be monitored “to ensure ALL athletes at YSU feel welcome and safe.”

There’s a problem with these requests, though — there’s no way to ensure that Brown is reminded of his obligations as a university employee or that the athletics department fosters an environment of respect.

Perhaps of greater interest, then, is the third request made in the Safe Zone Advisory Council’s memo — a request that calls for a measurable act of compliance. The memo asks that Brown, along with University President Jim Tressel and head football coach Bo Pelini, attend Safe Zone Ally Training.

Though we do not know how they will respond to this invitation, we do know how they should respond.

Aside from their obvious interest in the game of football, Tressel, Pelini and Brown all have one important commonality — they’ve come to YSU after experiencing public criticism. In Brown’s case, the reproach involves his backwards beliefs on homosexuality. For Tressel, it’s a scandal regarding football players and tattoos. And for Pelini, it’s a history of foul and sometimes misogynistic language in the locker room.

Whether they realize it or not, they ought to be concerned about their public appearances. They ought to redefine and revitalize their images. And the Safe Zone Advisory Committee has given them the perfect opportunity to do so.

In response to the Safe Zone memo, Tressel wrote that “maintaining a welcoming and respectful campus community requires more than words on paper; it requires shared effort and collaboration.”

In our view, it also requires measurable action.

We therefore recommend that Brown, Pelini and Tressel accept the Safe Zone Advisory Committee’s invitation to attend Safe Zone Ally Training, that they serve as models for the campus community, that they help foster an environment of respect — if not for the good of campus, then for the good of their own public images.