Michael Jones is a 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker for the Colorado Buffaloes football team that will face Brigham Young in the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim Stadium tonight. As the Buffs' leading tackler - he had 113 tackles during the regular season, including 73 unassisted - he looms as BYU's biggest defensive obstacle.
And that's just part of the problem. In the pre-game hours, Jones, an honorable mention All-American, has taken it upon himself to become something of a spokesman on the subject of religious prejudice. Apparently, if he has his way, the fifth annual Freedom Bowl will be more than hard-hitting football, it will have religious connotations thrown in for good measure. A kind of Crusades Bowl, or maybe the Reformation Bowl.Jones is from San Diego, and after the end of the regular season he went home for a few days, where members of the San Diego State football team, who had recently played BYU, informed him that the BYU players were racially prejudiced - against blacks, specifically. Jones, who is black, was given a crash course in the racial beliefs of the Mormon Church - the institution that owns and operates BYU.
"From what I understand about the Mormon religion, they believe blacks are inferior; that blacks don't have souls," Jones was quoted as saying in the Rocky Mountain News.
"Mormons don't like me and I don't like Mormons," he went on. "That's the way I'm looking at this, and I know we'll get together as a team and talk about it before the game."
Bill McCartney, the Buffaloes' head coach, said he is aware that Jones learned things in San Diego, and "that's got him upset." The coach said he didn't think it would be a problem in the game, however. "If it appears it's a problem, I'll have to talk to him (Jones)," the coach said.
"Is that true about Mormons?" asked McCartney in an aside.
Of course it isn't. Mormons don't teach that blacks don't have souls, nor do they teach that blacks are inferior to other races.
But that's what Mike Jones believes, and from the way he talks, he's going to take it out on the BYU football team.
No matter that he is misinformed; no matter that some of the BYU players aren't Mormons, anyway; and no matter that sports and religion should never mix.
Mike Jones brings new meaning to the term, "dangerous player." He isn't motivating himself with football, he's motivating himself with racial and religious prejudices.
This is not new treatment for BYU. Back in the mid-'60s there was a strong anti-Mormon sentiment among blacks, a sentiment that disrupted several football and basketball games. Among the disturbances was a riot at a BYU-Colorado State basketball game in Fort Collins, where a molotov cocktail was thrown. There was also the infamous boycott by the University of Wyoming football team, in which the black players refused to play against the Cougars.
Those protests - as ill-informed then as now - ran their course quickly. But not before people were hurt and prejudicial walls were erected.
Now along comes Mike Jones, and others like him, who want to crank up the old witch-hunt mentality - and put it center stage in a football game. A game ironically named the Freedom Bowl.
Religious freedom should be allowed everywhere in America, even inside a football stadium.
The indictment is that the University of Colorado, as indicated by Coach McCartney, is relatively unconcerned that a Buff player can make such potentially inflammatory comments.
Jones should be taken aside, and if not given a quick course in the basics of the American constitution, not to mention the tenets of Mormonism, at least be given a cease-and-desist order; and if he says one word before or during the game about Mormons, he will be suspended.
This isn't a match-up between races, or religions, or philosophies, or cultures; it's a match-up between two football teams, representing Colorado and BYU. Turn it into anything beyond that, and it's no longer a game.