Huskers aide's views have earned him fans, critics
Ron Brown was front and center when the Penn State and Nebraska football teams knelt together at midfield before kickoff of the first game of the post-Joe Paterno era.
''It was a pretty obvious choice, with everything Ron is and what he represents,'' Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said after his team's 17-14 victory in State College, Pa.
What Nebraska's 54-year-old running backs coach represents is a deep Christian faith. His eagerness to espouse his conservative religious beliefs has earned him many fans but also critics who contend he wrongly uses his platform as an assistant to proselytize at a major public institution.
He has never been deterred by his naysayers in his 21 years over two stints on the Nebraska staff.
Brown said he didn't know until Friday night that he would be the leader of the solemn gathering, after he spoke with officials of Athletes in Action and campus ministries. They agreed that the alleged child sex-abuse victims of a former Penn State assistant needed to be acknowledged and remembered.
More than 100,000 fans fell silent as Brown spoke to the players, coaches and staffers, many holding hands.
''I really think that God was in the stadium,'' he said. ''We felt like it would be appropriate to let a stadium, a city, a university and the whole nation understand that the reality of the situation and that Jesus Christ is alive and wanted to heal, wanted to heal young boys across this planet who have gone through child abuse and also the healing situation at the university.''
What did Brown say during the pregame gathering?
''It wasn't really a message,'' he said. ''I was talking to the Lord. I was asking God. The first thing I said was I thank God for being chosen. Why else?
''Joe Paterno was here for so long and those coaches, a lot of whom I know, but nothing really had changed and all of a sudden, a huge change. Why this week? Why Nebraska? Why this particular Penn State team?
''It was just a reminder that God chose this time. It was beyond anyone's control, but what we could control was our attitude and our spirit and what we could remind America was that there are a lot of little boys around this country who are watching this game, trying to make sense of life, through a game of football.''
Brown, like Paterno, went to Brown University, where he played defensive back and was twice named to the All-Ivy League team. He coached Brown's freshman team from 1983-86 and then was hired by Tom Osborne as Nebraska's receivers coach in 1987.
Bill Callahan didn't retain Brown when he was hired in 2004. Brown left coaching and served as state director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, then returned to the staff when Pelini took over in 2008.
His religious convictions have made him a lightning rod in the state and nationally.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sent letters to Nebraska school districts warning them not to require students to listen to speakers like Brown who proselytize while delivering anti-drug and -alcohol messages.
Critics called for former coach Frank Solich to fire Brown in 1999 after Brown, on his weekly radio show, condemned homosexuality. The university defended Brown, contending he wasn't appearing on the show as a representative of the school.
Brown in 2002 wrote in an FCA magazine that his conservative religious beliefs cost him an opportunity to interview for the head coaching job at a major university.
Brown is co-founder and co-director of a statewide Christian ministry that helps fund numerous Christian radio stations. He continues to be a regular columnist for FCA's ''Sharing the Victory'' magazine. He also hosts a national Christian radio sports feature called ''I Got Jesus, Who You Got?''
Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead has said Brown incorporates scripture into meetings with the players he's coaches. He said Brown, however, does not force his religious views upon his players.
Pelini said he thought Brown did a masterful job leading the pregame gathering of the teams.
''I thought it showed solidarity and was something that was pretty surely needed in a situation that everybody was facing,'' he said.
Student unrest on the PSU campus following Paterno's firing on Wednesday night spawned concerns about the safety of the Nebraska team and fans.
Brown said the game was hard-fought and that the players showed each other respect.
''I think the players on both teams did a great job on intensity and focus considering the distractions,'' he said.