BYU newspaper yanks T-shirt ad

Some detect a desire to sin in 'I can't ... I'm Mormon'

Published: Saturday, Sept. 25 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Chad Ramos, who capitalizes on "Mormon speak" in order to sell T-shirts, is surprised \\— but not particularly disappointed \\— at the furor at BYU over his "I can't" T-shirts.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Managers of the student newspaper at Brigham Young University pulled an advertisement after numerous complaints that it was too offensive for the conservative campus.

The ad campaign began at the start of the month and sparked a big stir over a T-shirt with a simple phrase — "I Can't ... I'm Mormon."

Students, professors and administrators felt the slogan implied wearers wished they could drink, smoke or have casual sex but were prevented only because they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One letter to the editor in the student paper was particularly sarcastic: "I can't, I'm Mormon, but if I wasn't, you know I'd be there 'cause it sounds sweet!"

Many also felt the female modeling the shirt in the ad struck an overly provocative pose.

Both objections surprised the shirt's creator, Utah Valley State College student Chad Ramos. He grew up in Las Vegas and said the phrase served him well when peers asked him to drink or smoke while he went to high school in an area with a large LDS population.

"I found if I told people I didn't drink, they didn't know how to react," he said, "but if I said, I can't, I'm Mormon, they said, 'Oh,' and boom, it was over."

So Ramos was stunned by the backlash at BYU.

"I didn't identify with it. I couldn't even relate," he said. "Anybody who's lived outside Utah has said this a hundred times."

One upset student, Joseph King, a freshman from Olathe, Kan., asked Universe officials to pull the ad. They told him he could start a petition and take it to the administration, but a meeting Thursday spared King the effort.

The Newsnet Advisory Board met about other topics Thursday but discussed the controversy. Newsnet is the combined operation of student newspaper, KBYU's student news show and a Web site shared by the two.

The advisory board includes Jan Scharman, vice president for student life; Carri Jenkins, an assistant for communications to BYU President Cecil Samuelson; and the dean and chair over the communications department.

Jenkins said administrators expressed opinions, but no mandate was given and no decision reached.

After the meeting, Newsnet general manager Jim Kelly pulled the plug on the ad, which last ran that morning and was scheduled to run again on Monday and Wednesday of next week. He said the number of complaints warranted the decision.

"The administration didn't tell us to do anything," Kelly said. "We had feedback from members of the Newsnet advisory council, but at the end of the day, the decision was made by me as general manager of Newsnet."

Kelly said the Universe rarely pulls ads.

"We don't frequently pull ads, but in terms of declining to run ads, probably two weeks don't go by that we don't decline ads for the Daily Universe. It is universal among newspapers to exercise the right to refuse ads considered objectionable. We're pleased we have high standards, and we're never apologetic about it."

Last year, Universe advisers pulled another insert, Sports Illustrated on Campus. The magazine agreed to BYU's terms — it would not run beer or tobacco ads — but chose to stop including the weekly insert in the Universe after two incidents. First, the magazine ran a racy ad for a swimsuit issue. A week later there was an article with a photo of nine naked male and female backsides.

Some observers thought the latest flap was too much about too little.

For example, the Daily Universe ran an editorial cartoon by David Lesue, a 2003 BYU graduate who works on campus, that made fun of students for overreacting to the T-shirt and its message.

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