South Carolina coach Dawn Staley praises God for championship win after atheist group's complaint

South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball coach Dawn Staley speaks with ESPN following her team's NCAA National Championship victory over the University of Iowa on April 7, 2024.
South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball coach Dawn Staley speaks with ESPN following her team's NCAA National Championship victory over the University of Iowa on April 7, 2024. | YouTube/ESPN

University of South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley didn't waste time praising God after the Gamecocks won the national championship on Sunday, days after a secular legal group called for the university to take action over her comments on faith. 

During a post-game interview with ESPN's Holly Rowe after South Carolina defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes, led by star Caitlin Clark, 87-75 on Sunday, Staley credited God as she won her third national title since taking the helm of the Gamecocks program in 2008. 

"We serve an unbelievable God," Staley began in her interview with ESPN after breaking down in tears. 

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The Gamecocks are the 10th team in NCAA Division I history to finish the season undefeated. Staley thanked her team for coming back strong and finishing the season as undefeated champions. 

"This is the unlikeliest group to do it. And sometimes, I mean, God is funny like that. He's funny. He rips your heart out, and He makes you believe. He makes you believe the unimaginable."

Staley, a 53-year-old three-time Olympic gold medalist, drew headlines last week for comments she made while speaking to reporters after her team advanced to the Final Four. Noting that her team overcame a devastating loss last year to advance so far with a different team this year, she remarked: "If you don't believe in God, something's wrong with you."

"I'm a believer because ... He makes things come true," she said. "When you're at your worst, He's at His best." 

The comment drew the ire of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state. 

In a letter to University of South Carolina President Michael Amiridis last Monday, FFRF staff attorney Christopher Line cited Staley's remarks as an example of her "ongoing promotion of her personal religious beliefs and her denigration of non-Christians through the women's basketball program." 

"Current and future non-Christian and nonreligious players should feel welcome and respected as part of the women's basketball team, not be told by their coach that they are on a team that is representing Jesus and that 'if you don't believe in God, something is wrong with you,'" wrote Line. 

Line urged the university to "take action to protect its student athletes and to ensure that Staley understands that she has been hired as a basketball coach and not a pastor."

FFRF also took offense with Staley's promotion of team "gameday devotionals" ahead of games on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The attorney recommends the school's leadership inform Staley of "her constitutional duties under the Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and remind her that she "may not promote religion in her capacity as head coach." 

Line requested "notification in writing of the actions the University is taking to ensure that Staley will not continue to proselytize to her players."

In a post on X last Sunday, Staley said she is "not ashamed to praise him for what he continues to do for me and mine."

"If you're a nonbeliever it wasn't for you," she added. "[W]ish you well with your beliefs."

Staley also drew criticism on Saturday for remarks supporting male athletes who identify as female being able to participate in women's sports. 

"I'm of the opinion that if you're a woman, you should play," Staley said during a news conference. "If you consider yourself a woman and you want to play sports, or vice versa, you should be able to play."

Riley Gaines, a former NCAA Division I swimmer who advocates against biological males being able to compete in women's sports, is puzzled by Staley's remarks. 

"[C]learly she's great at what she does, and she's developed many incredible athletes whom I admire, but she's either proving herself … to be entirely incompetent or a sellout," Gaines said on "Fox & Friends" Monday.  

"And personally … I don't think she believes what she said. If you watch the video, you will see her silence, hesitation, and drink of water; I think it spoke volumes. I think she knew she had to be politically correct, and I know about as good as anyone that that pressure exists and it's real." 

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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