I fully expect BYU's announcement that Brandon Davies will return to school and play for the Cougars next year to be met with skepticism by his self-appointed advocates at Deadspin — but that is only because they don't understand that accountability and parameters are what will prepare Davies to succeed beyond his playing career.
There was a lot of hubbub last week over the Deadspin article about BYU, racism and the honor code co-written by former BYU professor Darron Smith.
The Deseret News asked me to write a response. I passed. Frankly, I was more interested in writing about my grandson.
Truth is, outside of Utah, this story had zero impact — certainly not on the national scale that Brandon Davies' story did. That's because BYU's decision to suspend Davies was unique and given the circumstances, newsworthy; the story of disgruntled, pampered athletes, many of whom were charged with criminal activity, isn't that ground-breaking, even if cloaked as racism in an attempt to further a story. But I'm not completely dismissing every claim made in the Deadspin story either, which I'll get to later.
I did find it laughable that Smith pleaded on a Salt Lake radio show for African-American former Cougars who had positive experiences to come forward and tell their side of the story. As if he would treat it with equal vigor. Seems to me that the guys who have dealt with the honor code honorably are much more visible and would've been easier to find than the ones with an axe to grind — those who they tracked down for their piece. Clearly, that's not what Smith was looking for. He had a point-of-view, then went about finding stories to fit his agenda.
Pulitzer Prize investigative journalism, this was not.
Curtis Brown and Brian Kehl spoke eloquently on the same radio station regarding their experiences as black athletes at BYU. So would Brandon Bradley, Brian Logan, Jameson Frazier, his father, Danny, Jeff Chatman, Jamal Willis and Kalin Hall, but I'm sure Smith would've pointed out they're all LDS converts. They could've contacted Brian Mitchell, Derwin Gray or Olympic track star Frankie Fredricks of Namibia who aren't. From my era, they could've spoken to Robert Parker, Leon White, Adam Haysbert or Eric Lane, who are also non-LDS.
In 1983, one of BYU's starting corners was John Young, an African-American who transferred from Snow College. John was a Philadelphian who died in a tragic car accident after college. Even now, his Philly family is extremely proud of John's connection to BYU, as are many of the athletes I've named.
Is the honor code office perfect? Absolutely not. Like most things, I think it has evolved. It's probably better now than say, 30 years ago. Especially in dealing with minority students, who in the '70s and '80s were fewer and even more conspicuous than now.
In January 1980, I arrived on the BYU campus for the first time on my official recruiting visit. We were taken snowmobiling and for those interested, skiing at Sundance. We toured campus and sat courtside for a BYU basketball game. We met our player/host at halftime in a small reception room in the Marriott Center, where they had a nice spread of food. The hosts were players chosen specifically because they had a direct or indirect connection to us. My host was a fellow Polynesian who took me to the Star Palace after the game, a popular disco among BYU students in those days.
We capped the night by going to a party at the apartment of another player.
I was surprised to see a keg sitting in the kitchen sink on a bed of ice. People wandered around talking, listening to music, playing backgammon and drinking beer. We were there just long enough for me to see the underbelly of BYU society — one I made a mental note to steer clear of once I became a Cougar. The host of the party was a non-LDS, minority player.
Two years later, I was in the MTC when I was summoned to the main office.
My companion was asked to sit in the waiting room while I was escorted into a conference room and introduced to an honor code official. He reiterated that I was in good standing but asked if I remembered being at a party on my recruiting visit. I nodded but was puzzled. I hadn't done anything wrong and wasn't even a BYU student at the time. Yet, this BYU official seemed to enjoy ecclesiastic immunity by coming to the MTC to discuss honor code business.
He pushed toward me a sheet with a list of names, most of whom I recognized. He asked me to put a check mark next to the ones who were present at the party. I resented his approach. Perhaps I was duty bound to name names, but something didn't seem appropriate with his tracking me down at the MTC. So I balked. I didn't lie. I just told him I didn't care to revisit that window of my life and ended the meeting.
For a couple of days, I was spooked and worried that he had the authority to send me home, so he robbed me of 36 to 48 hours of consecrated time.
I later learned most of the names on the list I saw in the MTC had been suspended or expelled. The power of the honor code office to reach me in the impenetrable MTC made me wonder if it had similar connections to local police. Could it expedite a conviction with leaked information? It's conceivable. Do I think it happened to non-LDS black athletes? Can't say for sure. Maybe. The symbiotic relationship the honor code office has with BYU student wards and stakes isn't necessarily accessible to non-LDS kids, so there's something to be said for those who understand how the system works. I do think former player Ray Hudson's comment that "I would advise no African-American man to go BYU," is nonsense. If he had said, "I advise any African-American man who is interested in promiscuity, consuming alcohol and cheating in school not to go to BYU," I would agree. Add Polynesians, Asians, Hispanics and Caucasians while you're at it.
In the 30-plus years that have lapsed, I've stayed in touch with two people who were present at that party. My player/host, who is LDS, and the host of the party, the non-LDS minority player who was among the suspended.
Interestingly, my LDS host eventually faded in his faith, divorced and has never been active in the Church. Ironically, the non-LDS party host later converted, married in the temple, has a son serving a mission in Japan right now, a daughter at BYU and is presently serving on a stake high council.
It's impossible to tell how applying the honor code to twenty-somethings will turn out because we can't read hearts and minds.
If Darron Smith wasn't so hell bent on exposing BYU, the Church and the honor code office as racists, he'd find out that for every Thomas Stancil, Tico Pringle and Ray Hudson, there's a Brandon Davies, Reno Mahe and Brian McDonald, the latter of which recovered from an alcohol-related probation, joined the Church and served a mission to Washington, DC.
All were served well by the honor code, even if their circumstances were public because of their visible positions as student-athletes. But what is the honor code office to do? Delay punishment until the season is over so it's undetected because of one's exalted status? Is that fair to the non-scholarship student who committed a similar offense? To me, that's part of the responsibility every BYU athlete assumes when he or she signs the honor code and accepts a scholarship.
It's different than USC or even Notre Dame.
A more interesting read than the Deadspin article is Keith Hamilton's book, "Last Laborer — Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon." Hamilton is a BYU adjunct law professor, convert, returned missionary and first black graduate of the J. Reuben Clark Law School. His experiences as an African-American growing up in the Jim Crow South, the grandson of a Baptist minister, both parents deceased by his 14th birthday, conversion as a college student at North Carolina State and challenges in coming to Utah and BYU is poignant, profound, sad and in some places, LOL — laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Hamilton's book underscores what neither Smith nor the former BYU players he uses in his article to make his point fail to understand — that while the honor code may be imperfect, at its core, it's about personal responsibility. There is no institutional racism at BYU, though it's certainly possible individuals who represent the university may have acted otherwise.
But that's true at IBM, Microsoft or the Vatican.