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Doug Robinson: Honor Code is not a black-and-white issue

Published: Tuesday, April 26 2011 11:39 p.m. MDT

Uh-oh, here we go again. Welcome to another edition of an old media favorite called "IS BYU RACIST?"

Maybe you heard that the race card is being played against BYU and its Honor Code. Every few years this subject seems to be raised, and so here it is again, right on schedule.

The latest accusations follow the widespread praise that BYU received for sticking to its values and suspending a basketball player for violating the school's Honor Code at great cost to the team.

First, Deadspin.com wrote a lengthy piece earlier this month — co-authored by Darron Smith, a (black) former BYU professor who was fired by the school — stating that BYU unfairly targets black athletes. Then a Utah newspaper jumped on board and ran with the story last weekend, giving it front-page, magazine-length treatment.

The reporters interviewed former BYU basketball and football players who are black and were suspended for violating the Honor Code and then pretty much concluded BYU is on a witch hunt against them.

To believe such claims and the reasoning of the athletes, you have to buy into the notion that blacks can't be expected to adhere to high levels of moral behavior; that BYU goes to the considerable trouble of recruiting black athletes just so they can kick them out of school — thus making it more difficult to recruit them in the future — that BYU coaches don't tell minority athletes fully about the Honor Code, at great risk to themselves, the school and program, so they can "get them" later; and/or that BYU minority athletes simply can't understand the English language as it is written in the Honor Code.

All of the above should be more insulting to blacks than the statistics the stories reference that supposedly damn BYU to PC purgatory.

The stories note that of the 70 Honor Code cases Deadspin was aware of, 54 involved minorities, mostly blacks. This is their proof that the school unfairly singles out blacks for punishment. Yet a former BYU athlete who is black — he is quoted in the Deadspin piece — told the newspaper that black athletes can't be expected to conform to the moral behavior that the Honor Code demands — no sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. — because they're from tough neighborhoods where they've been exposed to poverty, sex and drugs.

Didn't they just wonder why there is such a wide disparity between blacks and whites who run afoul of the Honor Code? And try to blame it on alleged racism at BYU?

We've been down this road before. Football player Ronney Jenkins, among others, also claimed that blacks can't live up to the Honor Code morals when he was sent packing from BYU after his second Honor Code violation in 1999.

Curiously, not one of the former athletes denies breaking the rules; they merely offer excuses and rationalizations — someone else was treated differently, they didn't understand, no one told them.

If you read between the lines, what they are saying is, we don't want to be treated differently at BYU by being singled out, but you have to treat us differently because we're from different backgrounds; that they are being singled out because they are black, but if they get caught they want to be singled out as an exception to the rules because they are black.

Yes, there is a difference in the way Honor Code cases are handled — severity of the offense, a desire to change, attitude — but does anyone really believe the school considers skin color during the process? If you engage in videotaped group sex, as was the case with several football players in 2004, you're probably not going to be treated the same as a student who decides to have a beer. In the case of basketball player Brandon Davies, he was kicked off the team and suspended for one semester for premarital sex, but he will be reinstated as a student and a player in the fall. He is black.

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