Jennifer A. Marshall: The BYU honor code and personal responsibility
Brandon Davies' suspension from Brigham Young University's basketball team resulted in shock ... and respectful awe. Davies, a sophomore, had been starting center for the BYU Cougars, who were in the midst of one of their best seasons in decades and hoping for a big finale come NCAA tournament time. Davies' violation of the school's honor code not only cost him the rest of the season, it could cost the Cougars dearly in postseason play.
That's why it was even more surprising that Davies reported himself — for personally failing to uphold the standard that sex belongs in marriage.
"He told us he was sorry and that he let us down," teammate Jimmer Fredette said. "We just held our heads high and told him it was OK, that it is life and you make mistakes, and you just got to play through it."
Initial public response also was largely positive. Most commentators, from CBS Sports to Time magazine to comedian Jon Stewart, commended Davies and the school for standing by their beliefs. "I can't relate to the Brigham Young University honor code. But I can respect it," Pat Forde wrote on ESPN.com.
One contrarian note was sounded by a sportswriter at the New York Daily News, who accused the school's Honor Code Office of fabricating "scarlet letters" for what should be considered "standard operating procedure" for college students.
But that kind of "boys will be boys" logic has led to a sports scene too often characterized by boys behaving badly — with little rebuke.
(The day after Davies' March 1 suspension, a CBS News/Sports Illustrated investigation revealed that more than 200 college football players on the magazine's 25 top-ranked teams had been arrested or cited by police.)
What's more, the tide may be turning for this particular "standard operating procedure" among young adults. More young people report having remained sexually abstinent. We've heard about the rise in abstinence among teens for some years. Now that trend is growing up with a new cohort of 20-somethings. Helping teens choose abstinence is an important goal, but it's only one milestone.
College students and 20-somethings make choices about sexual behavior during their single years that can have significant impact on their lives and those of others. Increased abstinence is welcome news for the health and welfare of young people — and of their future children. Most births outside marriage are to women in their 20s; by contrast, just one in five is to a teen.
Marriage matters for the future of children and their mothers — even when those moms reach adulthood. Children of unwed mothers are six times more likely to experience poverty than are children born to and raised by married parents, according to FamilyFacts.org, a new website offering data and analysis on family's role in strengthening social outcomes in America.
Children born to unwed mothers also are at greater risk of failing in school, falling into delinquency, abusing drugs and struggling to form healthy relationships. These are among the trends that led to growth in government programs to address social breakdown.
So what a pleasant surprise that the National Survey on Family Growth reported March 3 that 29.9 percent of females and 28.3 percent of males ages 15 to 24 said they remained abstinent. In 2002, it was 22.7 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively. Trends like this can help break the cycle of relational heartache that touches so many Americans.
They also help avert the negative effects that have created more dependence on government services when family isn't there to provide a safety net. Given the hook-up culture of most college campuses today, it's quite a countercultural statement when BYU refuses to react casually to premarital sex. The data on abstinence show that a growing number of young people may be taking sex more seriously, too.
We ought to celebrate any indicator of increasing personal responsibility. After all, it's the hallmark of the American citizen's honor code that makes civil society and freedom possible.
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation and author of "Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century."