About that BYU/Utah Game–Mormonism and Sports

First off, yes: we were crushed. Utah played really well the second half, and BYU continued to play really poorly. At the same time, the rhetoric between Ute and Cougar fans continues to disappoint me much more than the loss did. It’s always so black and white with these two teams. To have anyone try and say that BYU didn’t shoot itself in the foot (or blow both its feet right off) in that game–that BYU’s ineptitude didn’t contribute to the lopsided score–is just silly. Yes, some of those turnovers were due to Utah. But a good portion were 100% us. At least let BYU take credit for its own stupidity and butterfingers, folks.

Now that that’s out of the way, I wanted to get some other thoughts down on “paper.” If you’re not a football fan who happens to be Mormon, feel free to ignore this next bit.

Would a Ute fan be kind enough to explain to me (in polite, respectful terms) just why you’re so 100% opposed to BYU sports at this point? I’m not looking for some long diatribe about how prideful BYU is, or how we’re the holier than thou school. I’ve heard those arguments, and I don’t feel like they hold water for me. I don’t see BYU as being any more or less prideful than any sports team. When we were in the same conference, I could see how BYU would be really irritating. Much of the time, we were your biggest obstacle to conference success, just like you were our biggest obstacle.

We’re not in the same conference anymore. Except when we play you, your sports world isn’t affected one little bit by BYU’s success or failure. I’d love to see Utah succeed in the Pac-Whatever-Number-It-Ends-Up-Being. Why? For the same reason I like seeing the Phillies win games, even though I’m a Yankees fan: I have a lot of friends who are Phillies fans. (Of course, I can’t say the same for the Red Sox. Their success comes at expense of my team’s potential. That’s what division rivalries are all about. But if the Sox and Yankees were to no longer be in the same division? Sure. Go ahead and win. Whatever makes my friends happy. But maybe I’m strange like that.)

What it boils down to for me is one question:

If you’re an active Latter-day Saint, how else would you prefer your church run school to behave in sports?

Bronco talks about how much he emphasizes that players should put other things in front of football on their priority list. When asked at the press conference this morning if he thought coaches came in earlier on Sunday to get a bigger start on prepping for the next game, he right off said he hoped none of his coaches were prepping for anything on Sunday–that that wasn’t the right thing to be doing on Sunday.

That’s the sort of thing that makes me really happy to be a BYU fan. Ideally, I’d like BYU to succeed because of the restrictions it places on itself as a church-run school–not in spite of them. Much like I try to succeed in life because of the choices I make as a Mormon, not in spite of those choices.

When BYU gets creamed in a game against its former arch rivals, am I happy? Not a whit. I was really bummed out. But it’s a new week now, and I’m back to rooting for BYU just as much as I was rooting for BYU before that atrocity that called itself a game.*

Is there a large contingent of active Catholics who hate the living daylights out of Notre Dame? Maybe there is, and I just don’t follow Notre Dame closely enough to care. But if you’re an active Mormon, why the hate for BYU? You’re paying the tuition with your tithing. That practically makes you a BYU booster at this point. Do you feel like a church run school should have a sports program at all? You do realize how every single BYU game, the church is mentioned–almost always in a positive light. What I mean, is I can certainly see how the church can view BYU sports as being an effective missionary tool.

Loathing of BYU fans–that I can understand. There are some who are really jerks, and who view BYU sports as God’s team, and that’s just ridiculous. They can be loud and boorish and ill-informed. Since I don’t live in Utah, I don’t have to put up with those fans anymore (unless I’m stupid enough to poke my nose into the cesspool that is cougarboard).

But there are idiotic fans of every persuasion–including Ute fans (a point which you’ll concede . . . unless you’re one of them).

So for me, it boils down to a simple question: should a church run school have a sports program? If that’s okay, then (to me) that sports program should embody the principles of the church that sponsors it. In this case, no Sunday play. Encouraging players to go on church missions. Recruiting clean cut players who are willing and ready to follow the Honor Code.

I’ve heard some people say our players were playing really dirty on Saturday. I didn’t see that. The commentators certainly didn’t see that. If our players play dirty, I’d like to think that they’d be punished–just like any dirty players should be. I saw our defense play really strongly in the first half. Those were some hard hits, but no hits that looked intentionally vindictive.

Oh well. I’ll let it drop now. I’d really be interested to see some well thought out essays by people I know and trust about the topic, from a Ute perspective. Ted? Care to comment?

I suppose in the end, I fail to understand the rhetoric because I’m just a strange sports fan. Such is life. Go cougars!

*(And Ute fans, your persistence in rubbing BYU’s nose into that game baffles me. If we really don’t matter to you anymore–as so many of you seem to like to claim–then don’t revel in your victory to that degree. It’s unbecoming. Sort of like if you spent all week talking about how you smeared Powderpuff U across the field. If we do matter, then . . . congrats. We took a lead pipe to both our knee caps, and you took a sledgehammer to what was left over. Now go beat some Pac-12/14/16 teams and establish Utah dominance.)

6 thoughts on “About that BYU/Utah Game–Mormonism and Sports”

  1. Bryce,
    First off, I respond because you have named me individually, and I assume you are not suggesting that all the things you ascribe to the Utah fan base are characteristics I display or espouse; by the same token, I do not assume you believe the things I will address below, nor do I ascribe other positions addressed below to you individually.
    As for me, my distaste for BYU football is completely separate from my general feelings for BYU or its other sports teams. My biggest problem is that Mendenhall and his players constantly attempt to lay religious overtones on something that should have nothing to do with religion. And when they do what inevitably will be done in competitive sports (let emotions get the best of them, take cheap shots, or heaven forbid, lose), it creates a poor juxtaposition with their stated view of the intersection between religion and sport.
    For instance, my impression is that the BYU football program spends lots of time and energy convincing folks that they only recruit fine young men, that recruiting is different for them because the institution is choosing the athlete, whereas other schools are just hoping to be chosen by the athletes, and that BYU holds their team to a higher standard (and to carry it even further, when fans suggest that the only reason an LDS athlete would choose a scholarship to the U over one to the Y is because the athlete obviously doesn’t want to live by BYU’s standards), that creates a certain image of what I would expect BYU football to be. But then those very athletes are prone to the same foibles as other teams, which fall short of the standards to which the program seems to ascribe– I’ll give two examples.
    1- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJNS10fft5A; Eason lunges at a player 5 yards into the endzone, and grabs his shoulderpads on the “horse collar.” Now why would a fine young man do a thing like that? (and if your answer is, lots of football players do things like that, then you admit that BYU should not be held to any higher standard of conduct, but that’s inconsistent with countless Mendenhall statements about his program).
    2– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nil4lScqOw; seconds after throwing a game-winning touchdown, and a few short minutes before commencing a diatribe about classless Utes, Max Hall celebrates victory by pushing a ute defender from behind and saying something “classy.”

  2. My issue with these examples is not that I think the crimes are egregious, only inconsistent with the rhetoric employed by Mendenhall et al.
    In addition to these small examples, I don’t like BYU choosing slogans that are clearly drawn from religious texts. To me, the phrase “Rise Up” calls to mind the text of a particular hymn, which talks about things far more important that football. I have no problem with the football program making “Rise and Shout” T-shirts, but I think the fact that they chose the former over the latter shows an intent to take that which is religious and apply it to a football game. If football is really a 5th priority in the grand scheme of things, then I’d really rather not use slogans, rhetoric, and principles that motivate religiosity in an attempt to motivate conduct in a game.
    Finally, the mission issue is huge for me. Heaps is qouted as saying that he sees football as his missionary opportunity, where the more games BYU wins, the more chances he has to share the gospel. I don’t think he came up with that idea himself, I think somebody at BYU is teaching him that (or more likely, teaching something similar to that, that Heaps has misinterpreted to mean what he wants it to mean). NOBODY HAS EVER JOINED THE CHURCH BECAUSE BYU WON A FOOTBALL GAME. And nobody ever will, I hope (after all, will a few future losses lead to a lack of faith and testimony?).
    I don’t see these characteristics in BYU basketball, and thus I generally don’t feel the level of distaste for Rose’s program that I do for Mendenhall’s. When Rose puts Jimmer back in the game with a 30 point lead and 4 minutes left in the game, I can be bothered by that decision, but attribute it to the heat of the moment, because Rose doesn’t preach about living a higher standard, recruiting better kids, or motivating them with titles of liberty. He just talks about trying to win basketball games. And when Jimmer chooses to skip a mission and focus on basketball, I can respectfully disagree with his personal decision, because he does not attempt to justify it with ridiculous suggestions about the good he can do in the world by winning basketball games.
    I think whether the church’s school ought to have a sports program is somewhat debatable, and in the end defensible because it gives kids at BYU something to do/watch/enjoy. But if returned missionaries are playing football at Penn State or anywhere else, the opportunity to have that mentioned in the telecast/press is at least as valuable (and probably more valuable) than the “exposure/prosylitizing value” BYU fans see in their ESPN contract. The chance that such a fine young man will get caught up in the negative moments of heated competition, and have that conduct ascribed as a representation of his beliefs, is greatly diminished when he is one among many, rather than when the entire BYU team must stand for an unattainable ideal.

  3. Thanks for the comments, TEC. And no–I wasn’t implying that you did all the things I said some Ute fans do, just as I know you know I don’t do some of the things you just mentioned. Now that that’s out of the way . . . 🙂

    Those are some good points you make. Ones I hadn’t thought of initially. That said, it seems to me that in the end, the argument that BYU players should consistently act on a higher level than all other teams (because their coach lays religious overtones on them)–and that when they fail to do this, this irritates non BYU-fans to an extreme degree–seems to me to be similar to an argument I’ve heard many times about religion in general.

    “You Mormons all say you’re so great and so perfect and so wonderful, but ___________ (a Mormon the person knows) is an absolute jerk and a racist. So I think you Mormons are all jerks and racists and hypocrites.”

    I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.

    I think Mendenhall really views a large part of his job as being responsible for raising fine young men in the church. I’m fairly confident that some of his higher ups reinforce that job and duty with him. If this weren’t the case, I think you would have seen Mendenhall get reined in a long time ago. Are all of the young men going to be saints on and off the field? No. But do BYU sports generally try to hold themselves to a higher standard?

    I’d like to think so, even though I can picture you getting irate even as I write that.

    I think when you contrast the Brandon Davies hullabaloo from last year with some of the other recent controversies in college sports, you see a stark contrast. (And yes, I’m aware of all the rumors swirling about what *did* and what *didn’t* happen with Davies, but I prefer not to make judgement calls based on rumors.) Davies did something that would have earned him a high five from plenty of sports jocks. It’s not against any NCAA regulations. If BYU were solely concerned about the wins, they could have waited a few weeks to penalize him. Instead, they took immediate action and hurt themselves in the process, sports-wise. But they used that as a platform to get a larger conversation going about ethics in sports in general. (cont.)

  4. Using religious rhetoric to inspire BYU football players? How is that different from using religious rhetoric and lessons to inspire students in seminary? It’s a religious institution, after all. Religion is emphasized all over the place at the Y. That’s just part of the culture of living at the Y.

    The mission aspect of this–with Heaps saying he’s on a mission to play football–is admittedly ridiculous. But again, kids are going to do and say what they’re going to do and say. Do I think Heaps should be on a mission? It’s not my place to say. That’s between him and God, as far as I’m concerned. Just like all the other Mormon sports figures playing ball on Sunday.

    I’m actually fairly certain there are some people out there who are members because BYU won a football game, just as I’d bet there are some who left the church over a BYU loss. 14 million members. It’s bound to happen eventually. But I agree that the success of BYU teams is not a part of Our Heavenly Father’s Plan–despite what some on cougarboard would have you believe. 🙂

    So if I understand you correctly, your biggest objection to BYU (football in particular) is the inherent hypocrisy. I suppose I can concede the point, even if we disagree about the degree and nature of that hypocrisy.

    Thanks for the comment–much appreciated. Also, I need to call you. It’s been too long since we’ve chatted. Busy busy out here.

  5. Very interesting comments, TEC. I hadn’t realized all of those potential annoyances.

    I had my response framed in my mind but Bryce’s comments seem to have touched on the points I was going to make — quite comprehensively, actually.

    Thank you for the informative post, TEC!

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