Ever since I was a little kid, I had assumed that aggy was the most overbearingly cultish school in the entire country. From their brainwashing camp to their dumbass cheers to their robustly homosexual male cheerleaders, there’s nothing I’ve ever found enticing about College Station and its traditions. And that was before I even went down for a visit and was accosted under the guise of "proper fan behavior." Sure, A&M a fine academic institution, and you have to appreciate their dedication to the military in some respects, but then you look beyond those two things and realize that there’s nothing below the surface capable of drawing in a non-believer. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my dog, but aggys REALLY love their dog.
But over the past few years, a funny thing happened. One, TCU joined the Mountain West Conference in 2005 and defeated BYU in an epic overtime game thus creating an instant rivalry despite the unfamiliariaty of the two teams. Before that game, the only knowledge of had of BYU Football was the success they experienced under Steve Young and Jim McMahon, so once we walked off the field with that victory, I knew they were going to be a serious threat to our football livelihood for the foreseeable future.
Ironically, the next summer I picked up the book Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer due to my appreciation of his works and a whole new aspect of BYU was opened up to me. I’ll be honest, I knew very little about the Mormon faith and what it stood for outside of some minimal hearsay and South Park, so you probably wouldn't consider me an expert. Not that Krakauer’s depiction would qualify as the most balanced – if you haven’t read it, the impetus of the book is the story of a man murdering his sister in law and niece after purportedly receiving a message from God to do so, so you can imagine the cheery web he weaves from there – but he uses quite a bit of historical data and liturgical references that you really just can’t spin. But, in all honesty, using their faith against them has always been one of my least favorite bits of fan behavior for our matchups with BYU because, to an outsider, all religions have their quirks, so it's a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black.
My last bit of BYU awareness, though, came last year when I and a contingency of others traveled up to Provo for the massacre that was BYU/TCU 2009. Now, I’d heard all the stories – that they aren’t friendly to outsiders, that drinking wasn’t allowed, that there are no bars, etc – and, while the last two were mostly true, the whole unfriendly thing couldn’t have been more untrue as, outside of a small handful of folks including the gentleman who aggressively separated bucknasty from his posterboard flair, everyone seemed pretty grateful that we had made the trip and could not have been more welcoming. Given, all of this congeniality occurred before the game kicked off and I don’t remember much of the ensuing chaos once the rout was on so I can't vouch for everything, but all-in-all it was a great experience and I would absolutely do it again.
But, there’s one last collective stereotype that I just haven’t been able to shake even after my trip to Provo, a stereotype that is so prevalent in the south, the fact that I noticed it elsewhere must surely mean something. And that stereotype is that t
here are literally no minorities in the state of Utah.
And when I say literally no minorities, I mean, according to the latest census estimate I could find, the state of Utah is 95% white and 60% Mormon. And, while you would think that with missionaries all over the world converting non believers to their faith, surely they could’ve evened the playing field a bit, so to speak, apparently this has not come to pass. Then again, when Brigham Young himself, one of the patriarchs of the Mormon Church, openly stated, “…Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African Race? If the White man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so..." well, I suppose you sleep better at night by simply advancing the status quo.
Now, I’m not here to give a broad, sweeping statement against racism. Nor am I here to suggest that all members of the Mormon church are racist. In fact, the church received a revelation from God himself in the 1970s that discrimination was bad and needed to be eradicated from church practices. Whether you tie the action’s sincerity to the fact that this revelation coincided with an IRS threat to end the church’s tax exempt status contingent upon them ending institionalized racism is up to you. I'm just pointing out an ironic situation that's potentially not ironic at all.
But still, the school’s suspension policy over the past month in regards to successful Cougar athletes should certainly raise suspicion in the minds of even the most casual of observers as to the merit of the school’s new tolerance policies.
As a refresher, last month BYU surprisingly announced that workhorse running back Harvey Unga – maybe one of the more underappreciated backs in the country– would not be returning to school in the fall, not to mention the football team. The administration mentioned a vague reference to a violation of school policy as a reason and, while many speculate it must have had something to do with the school’s aggressive policy against pre-marital sex due to Unga’s girlfriend also being suspended, no one really knows. The fact that Unga is reportedly appealing his suspension in hopes of being reinstated for his last season suggests that perhaps his case isn’t as cut and dried as it seems.
But while the Unga story made the rounds here at our very site, the story of the BYU basketball team releasing Michael Loyd, Jr. seemed to fly a little bit more under the radar.
Since I’m assuming none of you have heard of him – and I admittedly had not either until the Cougars opener in the NCAAs against Florida – Loyd was a rising star sophomore for the Cougars basketball team this past year and, along with returning senior Jimmer Fredette, likely would’ve led this year’s Cougars to the MWC Championship and another berth in the NCAAs. However, it is not to be as he was turned away from the program for non-disclosed reasons and will finish up his career elsewhere.
The story of a successful athletic program releasing a major contributor or two is usually big news, but this one should go beyond that when you consider the ethnic backgrounds of the players and the school in question. Unga, if you couldn’t tell by his name, is of some Pacific descent – I’m honestly not completely sure – and Loyd is African American. Once is an outlier, twice could be the start of an epidemic.
But before you start accusing me of being a rabble rouser who’s trying to put a racist spin on a coincidental situation, consider this – who are BYU’s most beloved athletes in recent years? John Beck, Austin Collie, Max Hall, Jimmer Fredette, Dennis Pitta… the list goes on. What do they all have in common? Other than the fact that none of them will make it at the next level outside of Collie, they’re all white dudes. And while I’m not sure that Loyd, Jr ever would’ve become a true superstar for the basketball team – although his 27 points against Florida in the opening round sure looked like a precursor – what if he did? What if he came out on fire next year and upstaged Fredette, maybe the greatest basketball player in BYU history, the guy who the Cougars scheduled an out of conference game against Vermont in his hometown in upstate New York - yes, I know - just so he could play for the home crowd? And Unga could CERTAINLY be viewed as one of the most prolific running backs in BYU history. In fact, had he been able to play this year, he likely would’ve become the school’s all time career yardage leader. Could this fact, coupled with the church’s history with race relations, have created some underlying pressure on the athletic department to keep him out of the BYU pantheon?
(For full disclosure, the man Unga trails in the career rushing yards category, Curtis Brown, is an African American, so this kind of debunks my theory a bit, but SHUT UP LEAVE ME ALONE!)
The pragmatist in me wants to take the high road here and believe that these guys openly violated some detrimental school policy and were rightfully ousted. But the sports hater side of me wants to believe this is some sort of blatant, Final Solution caliber conspiracy that will hopefully be recognized by the rest of the world and condemned. A college football stadium is a hostile environment for an opposing team. Remarks that in any other setting would be deemed unspeakable fly around as casually as the empty beer cans you fling into the visitor’s section after a touchdown. But, from what I understand from some of our own players, Lavell Edwards Stadium can be a different beast entirely. Is it possible that the BYU fanbase has alienated minorities to such an extent that they aren’t even welcome on their own campus? I guess we’ll know when we check the sidelines come October.