Hartsook says that after both the Politico piece and a Reuters piece that quoted emails in which Falwell called a student “retarded,” support for Falwell’s leadership has waned, even among more politically and religiously conservative students. “The rules we have to follow, he breaks them all the time,” says Hartsook. According to the school’s code of conduct, “The Liberty Way,” students can be fined for using “obscene, profane, or abusive language.” Says Hartsook: “It’s not enforced with him.”
When he ran the program, Gill seemed unbothered by Falwell’s political outspokenness. “It has never been an issue for our football team,” he said. “He’s speaking on behalf of himself, not on behalf of the university, and people can agree or disagree, and that’s OK.”
Administrators see the football program as a way to unite Liberty’s increasingly diverse student body, connecting students and alumni from across the country and even the world. They tell stories of students who never set foot on campus until arriving in Lynchburg to walk across the stage at graduation. “They’re just as much of a part of this school as the on-campus students,” says McCaw. “Athletics can give them a great way to connect to the university.”
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