'Real Sports' tackles BYU
HBO series reports on Ronney Jenkins' expulsion

Published: Thursday, Sept. 16 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

The BYU football program will get double exposure on cable tonight. In addition to the Cougars' game against Colorado State (6 p.m., ESPN), "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" (11 p.m., HBO) reports on former running back Ronney Jenkins' expulsion from the school.

What got him expelled? "To my understanding, it was having sex," Jenkins tells the reporter.The 11-minute report -- sandwiched between segments on baseball and minorities and pedophile youth coaches -- includes the most extensive comments to date by Jenkins on his troubles at BYU. And, not surprisingly, it's reported with some degree of incredulousness.

"If every college player got expelled for having sex, few schools would be able to field a team," the report intones. "But BYU's not just every school. It's a Mormon school, owned and run by the Church of Latter-day Saints."

(They don't quite manage to get the name of the church right.)

Jenkins acknowledges that he was warned that having sex outside of marriage would get him in trouble. He admits he didn't take the prohibition very seriously.

"I took it like -- we can't have sex, but as long as nobody finds out, we all do it," he says.

And he admits that, after being suspended for a season for his first infraction, he was told that -- if he broke the BYU honor code again -- he'd be expelled.

Still, he isn't particularly repentant.

"Sex is quite normal to me," he says. "It's not a crime to me. It's not like I tried to have sex just to break rules. It wasn't like that. In their eyes, it was wrong. . . . Is it wrong to me? No, it's not wrong to me, because it's quite normal. It's not like I was out there shooting people, robbing banks, stealing from stores."

(The report does point out that Jenkins' then-girlfriend, now-wife was also expelled from BYU.)

Jenkins also insists that he was just one of many athletes who violated the honor code and alleges that he was singled out because he was a football player -- and black.

"I think so, because I'm black and I'm an athlete," he says. "We get all the attention up there. Everybody know us. There's a lot of guys that are doing worse than I am doing. I mean, we would be together at parties and stuff and you'd see things with your own eyes. No one even thought about the honor code."

The report cites a "big discrepancy in the rate at which African-American athletes are suspended for honor code violations at BYU." Somewhat melodramatically, viewers are told that " 'Real Sports' has obtained" a list of 25 BYU football players who committed major honor code violations over the past decade, and that 17 of them were black.

This is not a hatchet job on BYU -- some tough but reasonable questions are asked.

Janet S. Scharman, BYU's dean of students, discusses the honor code and addresses the question of whether it's fair to hold non-Mormons to the same standards as the LDS students.

Athletic director Val Hale is asked whether BYU has ever "glossed over" the honor code to attract top athletes.

"I think there's always that temptation, and we've probably been guilty of that in the past," Hale says. "We try to do a good job of telling them what it's like here. Sometimes that's hard."

The report makes much of the fact that some other athletes have been in trouble with the law but have remained on the team while Jenkins -- who violated the honor code but not the law -- was expelled. And that air of incredulousness arises again when Hale points out that Jenkins was given a second chance while the others were first-time offenders.

"I think to an outsider, the idea of equating gun-possession with sex is going to seem kind of strange," the reporter says.

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