CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some gay fans of Wake Forest University say they’re disappointed the college’s football and basketball games will be aired on radio stations belonging to an anti-LGBT Christian radio network. That business choice, says one fan, betrays Wake Forest’s history of inclusion and contradicts the college’s LGBT-friendly values.
Wake Forest gives broadcasting rights to its football and basketball games to IMG College, a private company that bills itself the “nation’s leading collegiate sports marketing company.” It’s through IMG College that Wake football and basketball games will air on Charlotte’s WCRU and Durham’s WDRU, two stations belonging to The Truth Network, based in Winston-Salem.
The Truth Network airs a variety of Christian talk shows, sermons and other programs. Several programs and shows regularly feature anti-LGBT commentary. One of its most high-profile, anti-LGBT shows is “Line of Fire,” hosted by Concord-based activist Dr. Michael Brown.
The station’s “doctrine” also specifically says “Christians should oppose…every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.” Additionally, the network is a member of National Religious Broadcasters, a Christian radio industry group that has opposed LGBT equality legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
In contrast, Wake Forest University severed its relationship with the North Carolina Baptist Convention and took steps toward LGBT inclusion. The college protects all students, faculty and staff from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The campus also houses an LGBT student center and LGBT-related student activities and programming. The campus church, Wake Forest Baptist, though no longer officially affiliated with the college, has had two lesbian pastors. A same-sex couple’s holy commitment ceremony held by the church in 2000 sent shockwaves through the campus and statewide Baptist community.
Peter Engels, a Wake Forest fan who attended another formerly North Carolina Baptist Convention-affiliated college, is disappointed in the college’s partnerships with The Truth Network.
“It’s incredibly shocking that WFU would partner with such a conservative, exclusive media outlet,” Engels told qnotes. “It’s a strong contradiction to the thriving LGBTQ student center and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies divisions. … It flies in the face of their history; WFU was the first major Southern university to admit African American students during the Civil Rights Movement.”
Like Engels’ alma mater, Wake Forest used to be affiliated with the state Baptist convention. But, it broke those affiliations years ago, “so there really seems to be no logic behind this decision,” Engels said.
Engels added, “As an alum of another formerly-Baptist private college in North Carolina, it’s discouraging that such a strong action as severing ties with religious governing bodies doesn’t provide the momentum to continue setting an example for inclusive progress, yet instead the college is backsliding into religious-led bigotry.”
Officials with Wake Forest University neither defended nor distanced themselves from The Truth Network, instead stressing their commitment to inclusion and diversity.
“A defining characteristic of Wake Forest University is its commitment to creating an inclusive environment for every member of the campus community, including LGBTQ students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends,” said university spokesperson Katie Neal. “Because we are a diverse community, the University engages with individuals and businesses that may or may not align with every member of our community’s personal values.”
Neal also backed marketing partner IMG College, saying, “Wake Forest trusts that arrangements IMG College makes on behalf of Wake Forest Athletics are done so in a manner consistent with ethical business practices.”
For its part, IMG College declined to answer several detailed questions about their decision to air Wake Forest sports programming on The Truth Network. They did offer a short statement.
“There are various business arrangements in which radio affiliates nationwide carry games produced by IMG Audio.,” IMG College’s statement read. “Within our 2,200-affiliate network, we work with a variety of diverse formats. We only have control over the content inside our own programming. In these broadcasts, we strive to present the athletics programs of our university partners in the highest-quality manner.”
Stu Epperson, president and CEO of The Truth Network, said his network has broadcast Wake Forest sports programming on many of its stations for several years. Gay listeners, he said, shouldn’t expect any offensive programming when tuning into Wake Forest games.
“When the games are on, they are a separate event on the station,” Epperson told qnotes. “It would be impossible to listen to a game and a program at the same time.”
Still, he encourages LGBT people to tune in. “The whole point of the station is to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. Whether they consider themselves gay or straight, we want them to hear about Jesus.”
Epperson, who has spoken out against LGBT equality on his own show and called LGBT marriage equality “evil blasphemy,” said there’s no conflict between his station’s and Wake Forest’s values.
“Both institutions have a high respect for people’s freedom of speech and freedoms of religious liberty and religious expression,” Epperson said.
Epperson added, “In the past, the Wake Forest games have been on sports talk stations and there are people who love Wake but don’t want to hear a sports talk show maybe about baseball, but they want to hear about Wake football. The games have been on Country music stations. I don’t know that everyone is a Country music fun, but might want to tune in for the game. There are a lot of different programs on our network and I would encourage people to listen to those programs on their own merit and we always welcome feedback.”
Wake Forest fan Josh Wynne is also displeased with the college’s broadcast decisions. He’s sure it was a business decision. “But once they’re made aware they should at the very least denounce the extreme anti-LGBT views of the station,” he said.
Wynne said he’ll find different outlets on which to watch or listen to Wake’s sports games. And, if radio is his only option in Charlotte or the Triangle, Wynne says tough luck.
“I absolutely would not patronize that station even though I’m a die-hard Wake Forest football fan,” Wynne said.