Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday that he will not attend a Palmetto Family Council event next week in Columbia. Swinney canceled after a state Democratic leader protested that the organization opposes same-sex marriage.
“(A)fter much thought, in order to avoid a distraction for the team and the entire football program, I've decided it is in the best interests of all involved that I not attend the event on June 2,” Swinney said in a statement.
Swinney said he had no association with the Palmetto Family Council. He was named its “South Carolina Family Champion of 2015” and was invited to receive the award at the June 2 event.
“I had no idea that I was being invited into a political controversy,” Swinney said. “It was my understanding that the nomination and selection for this award was based on the work done by our All In Foundation, and the difference it is making in our community.”
Swinney said his scheduled participation at the event “has been perceived incorrectly as an endorsement of certain viewpoints and has entered the political arena.”
“I have been and continue to be very open about my personal beliefs,” Swinney said. “However, I do not inject those beliefs or the work of the foundation into the political process.”
S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said last week that Swinney should not appear at the event for the conservative organization that opposes same-sex marriage.
Rutherford said in a statement Wednesday that he applauds Swinney's leadership and foresight on “this very important issue,” adding it is a testament to his character.
“This is a sign of the significant progress the state of South Carolina has made with respect to tolerance and equal rights,” Rutherford said. “I hope others follow Coach Swinney's lead in standing up to groups like the Palmetto Family Council who seek to make discrimination legal and acceptable.”
S.C. Republicans supported Swinney on Wednesday, including Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee.
Peeler said that Swinney’s decision was his personal choice, but added that Rutherford made way too big of a deal out of the situation.
One of the most imminent S.C. Republican who graduated from Clemson is Gov. Nikki Haley.
“Gov. Haley knows Coach Swinney well,” said Haley’s spokeswoman Chaney Adams. “H is a kind and generous man who does a great deal of good with his Foundation in South Carolina, and that should be the focus as opposed to invitations he accepts or doesn't.”
State Rep. Gary Clary, R-Pickens, who graduated from Clemson in 1970, said Swinney is a tremendous football coach and a valued member of the community.
“Unfortunately, Coach Swinney has gotten involved in a political situation,” Clary said.