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Clean, Sober and Insufferable
Douglas S. Looney
August 31, 1992
Brigham Young is loathed for its holier-than-thou attitude as well as for its relentless success
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August 31, 1992

Clean, Sober And Insufferable

Brigham Young is loathed for its holier-than-thou attitude as well as for its relentless success

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BYU assistant athletic director Val Hale understands that domination doesn't breed affection. "It would be different if we were 5-6 and struggling to be average," he says. No question jealousy is a strong component of other schools' dislike of Brigham Young. But Lee sees nothing wrong with striving for excellence—and attaining it. Besides, he says, "rising tides raise all ships."

•Religion. It's a huge factor. And it got off on the wrong chapter and verse when upon its founding in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints promptly declared itself the "true church." This has never sat well with non-Mormons, who do not like to think of themselves as attending various untrue churches.

Beyond that, the Latter-Day Saints are out there in your neighborhood proselytizing in a zealous way. Says Charles Bradley, an assistant basketball coach at BYU, "People think about Mormons, and they think of guys on bicycles bothering them. They're like Jehovah's Witnesses. And people don't want to be bothered."

Moreover, Harmon, who's a member of the LDS church, says, "There's just a feeling that Mormons are a little off-center, a little weird." And perhaps a tad isolated and provincial, out there in the Wasatch Mountains. How else to explain that the 1989 Cougar media guide deemed it worth noting that the mother of linebacker Bob Davis "is full-blooded Italian"?

Athletic director Glen Tuckett says that whenever people want to snipe at his religion, they refer to it as Mormon instead of Latter-Day Saints "because Mormon can somehow be said in a more critical way." It does seem to outsiders that the Mormons take a persecution complex everywhere they go. Of course, being booted out of New York, Illinois and Missouri en route to what amounted to exile in Utah will do that. This bit of history has resulted in many Latter-Day Saints having an us-against-the-world mentality, which is seldom appealing.

But, of course, the faithful aren't about to abandon their religion just because it doesn't happen to appeal to other folks. Tuckett, while conceding that Mormonism "sort of begets criticism," adds, "That doesn't deter us at all. We just keep doing our thing. We cut our hair, live life like you're supposed to and play like heck."

•Perceived antiblack bias. The numbers don't lie. Of the 85 scholarship players on the 1991 Cougar football team, 60 were Mormons and only 14 (or 16%) were black. At most big-time schools these days, blacks make up 60% to 70% of the football team. (In basketball at BYU last season, only two of the 14 players were black.) By comparison, even the football team at Utah, 40 miles away in Salt Lake City, has 32 blacks among its scholarship players. Idaho, across the state line, has 25 blacks. Among the Brigham Young student body there are 75 blacks (.27%) based on the voluntary marking of a form; in the state of Utah, the black population is slightly less than 1%. The truth is that the LDS church has not been hospitable to blacks. Before the Mormons changed one of their tenets in 1978—a revelation of convenience, critics sniped—blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood. In '69, 14 black Wyoming players refused to play against BYU to protest this.

Edwards won't address the issue of whether the Cougars should have more blacks, but he does allow that "we need more speed defensively." In today's codespeak, that means more black players. BYU booster-club executive director Dale McCann is more candid: "We need black players to be competitive outside the WAC."

Yet blacks at BYU are upbeat. Says Gray, who is black and non-Mormon, "If you are goal oriented, this is the perfect place to be. This has been the most fun three years of my life." Charles Bradley, who is a non-Mormon and the only black in the 82-member athletic department, says, "Before, we didn't have a chance to come here [the Cougars didn't have any black football players until 1971 or basketball players until '74]. Now we have a chance, so should we say no?"

•Missions. This aspect of the Latter-Day Saints' religion really sticks in opponents' craws. At about age 19, Mormon men are expected to undertake a two-year mission, in which they seek converts to the religion. This means that a football player who arrives in Provo when he's 18 or 19 plays a season and then takes off for two years. Upon his return to BYU, he is often redshirted for a season before completing his three years of eligibility. In some cases, this can mean that the Cougars are matching a 25-year-old player against an opponent's 18-year-old. On this year's Cougars, 41 of the players will have served missions, and 13 of them will be at least 24 years old by the time the season ends. Opponents contend that an NCAA rule, which benefits the Cougars almost exclusively (players who do church or military service have seven years to play four, while other players have five years in which to play four), means BYU has the unfair advantage of playing men against boys.

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