Given the overwhelming interest in last week's column, I felt it deserved a follow-up. So I called Utah athletic director Chris Hill about the issues I addressed last week regarding the Utes playing on Sundays and General Conference weekend. When he returned my call, Dr. Hill, whom I've never met, started the conversation by saying, "Vai, Rise and shout!" To which I chuckled and answered, "I'm a Utah man, I am."
We shared a few pleasantries and I made him aware that I had written a column last week wherein I hammered him but I hoped he would be willing to discuss the issues I raised. He was incredibly warm and accommodating.
Hill understood and respected my position and informed me that he's asked the Pac-12 if they would steer clear of Conference weekend next year but that it was too late to do anything about this year's schedule. However, the hierarchy of the Church worked with the university by arranging for the priesthood session to be tape delayed to the Institute so that those who chose to attend the game could still see it. He expressed gratitude that Church leaders did that.
The Sunday issue is a little different. "I'd rather we not play on Sundays but we're not in a position to dictate that to the league," Hill told me. "There's a lot that goes into scheduling — maintaining a competitive balance, school schedules, TV schedules, all kinds of things."
I asked if he'd consider approaching the league in future years regarding Sunday play when perhaps they weren't the newbies on the block. "We entered the Pac-12 as full-fledged members with all the privileges that membership affords," Hill said. "So, having winning programs or being in the Pac-12 a few more years won't give us any more of a voice than we have now. But no, I don't think we'll do that. I think the Pac-12 is very much aware that there's a culture in Utah and they respect that and may do their best to accommodate that, but that's up to them."
I thought it was fair and I came away liking Chris Hill a lot. I don't have to like his answer but I respect what he does and how he's doing it. He was cordial despite the fact I ripped him last week.
As for last week's column, I feel compelled to answer a few of the most reasonable posts, which I've done in the past and will do from time to time in the future.
From wtfhinutah in South Salt Lake: "Wow! I've always looked forward to Vai's Views but his point is totally lost on me here. This seems a little bit divisive and out of character for him."
Some of what I write is opinion-driven. I'm a columnist. I make observations and write about them. You may disagree depending on the subject matter, like many of you did regarding last week's column. I'm OK with and respect that.
I write about what interests me and what matters most to me. Sometimes it's about my personal experiences, sometimes it's sports related, and on occasion, it's spiritual in nature. It seems because I'm not afraid to share my personal experiences, even spiritual ones, that some are confused and even irritated when I express opinions on subjects they think I have no business discussing.
I've managed to offend Cougar Nation, Ute Nation and even some in the Polynesian community. I'm an equal-opportunity offender.
I don't intentionally look for things that will rub people the wrong way, but in the instances when I've offended it's because I've dared to opine about such things as Bronco Mendenhall's hiring practices and the issue of the Pac-12 scheduling games in Utah on General Conference weekend.
Bottom line regarding last week's issue for me is this: More so than any other state in the Union, Utah has a dominant religion. Certainly, that fact requires more scrutiny of separation of church and state than anywhere else. But that doesn't mean there shouldn't be some consideration given because of the prevailing LDS culture. I live in an East Coast, predominantly Jewish community with several synagogues nearby. Our public school system observes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I don't begrudge them for that nor the fact that their Sabbath is Saturday and not Sunday — there aren't many Latter-day Saints living in my area.
My children attend Catholic school where they celebrate holidays that we didn't know existed, like All Saints' Day. Despite my personal feeling that there are too many such holidays given how much tuition I pay, I recognize it's a Catholic school and we're LDS. I encourage my kids to attend Mass at their school, without taking communion, because I think it's important they understand and empathize with the religion providing their education. I respect the dominant cultures where we live, Jewish and Catholic, and recognize the force for good they provide our community.
I don't think it's inappropriate to wonder why the Pac-12 can't recognize that there's a dominant culture in Utah that tries to observe the Sabbath and holds its semi-annual conference in April and October. But for some reason, there's discomfort with my asking why Utah's A.D. so easily acquiesces to its new conference without much consideration to the dominant culture or the demographics of the players on the teams who play at the U. I'm not afraid to ask because that's what I do for a living.
Consider a scenario that is altogether possible. Suppose the Israeli women's basketball team came on an American tour in the fall. What are the odds that the hosting university would schedule a game on Yom Kippur, the holiest of the Jewish High Holy Days? Or even the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which is not as important. Would the hosting university disregard that fact or would they make scheduling accommodations to avoid the conflict? It just seems to me we are often willing to bend over backwards for everyone else, but we're squeamish about making demands on issues that matter to us.
Conference Saturday for Latter-day Saints is probably comparable to Rosh Hashanah, in that it's important but not as important as our Sabbath, or Yom Kippur, for Jews. The Church made accommodations last Saturday by tape delaying priesthood session in the U Institute, but it will never budge on Sundays.
Herby from Hurricane: "What about NFL players who play on Sunday Vai? Did it ever cross your mind to avoid entering in the NFL to avoid playing on Sundays??? It's like the pot calling the kettle black."
Despite the sarcastic tone of Herby's post and as one who sometimes resorts to sarcasm, I'll address it because Herby echoed the sentiments of other posters. I'll give a quick response here because it's an issue that dogs LDS pro athletes and an issue that most guys (and a few gals) feel is a no-win situation. I will, however, attempt to discuss the subject more extensively in coming weeks.
Yes, I played my sport on Sundays. It was my career, temporary as it was.
Most careers will require, at some point, working or traveling on Sundays, maybe both. But you'd be foolhardy to ignore counsel from someone who has had that experience. If you're LDS, you likely sustained Elder Gifford Nielsen last year to the Quorum of Seventy during General Conference. If he happens to preside at your stake conference and speaks on Sabbath observance, would you dismiss it because he played for the Houston Oilers? Or if you're a member of Danny Ainge's ward in Boston where he's a bishop, would you do the same? Or if your son or daughter just received his/her call to serve in the Florida Tampa Mission, would you tell your child to follow all of mission president Bruce Summerhays' counsel unless he's talking about the Sabbath because he spent 16 years on the Champions Tour earning $9 million by golfing on Sundays?
Do Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham have credibility to encourage kids to serve missions or should they be ignored since they chose not to serve missions themselves? Few of us have the conviction of Eli Herring to pass up playing pro sports when we're given the opportunity. True, none of us who played professionally can claim the blessings Herring received, but that doesn't mean the Lord abandoned us or that we abandoned Him. Just as President Boyd K.
Packer shared of his life last weekend when he admitted to not having much of a testimony at 17, most of us grow into our core beliefs over time. And like Pres. Packer, the Lord is patient with us and eventually allows us to serve in His Kingdom. Though our careers required us to work on Sundays, many of us kept our covenants and did our best.
Am I a hypocrite for playing on Sundays in the NFL, yet didn't allow my children to play baseball or football in little league and Pop Warner because many of the tournaments and games were on Sunday? Or for advocating that the Pac-12 respect the dominant culture and religion in Utah because many of the athletes, even in a state school, are LDS? I don't think so, even if you do. Because it's not their careers.
Mid-Major Cougars of San Diego, CA: "Vai is just jealous of Utah being in the Pac-12. Vai is just jealous that Utah has left BYU way behind in football. How did you enjoy that 54-10 shellacking/debacle loss, Vai?"
Nope, not the least bit jealous. Actually, really, really excited for the U. It may sound arrogant, but after playing in the NFL, I'm not really awed by the Pac-12 or SEC or Big Ten or Big12, know what I mean? I think both BYU and Utah made the right decisions in going independent and entering the Pac-12. This might surprise you and annoy Cougar Nation, but I cheered heartily on the U's last TD that made it 54. Know why? My nephew VJ Fehoko scored it. His father, Vili, University of Hawaii's famous mascot, Vili The Warrior, is my close cousin. I stood with him when he blessed VJ as an infant and I've changed VJ's diaper. To see him running down the field with that fumble for 56 yards was a thing of beauty. I also cheered for another nephew, Star Lotulelei, when he jarred the ball loose from JJ DiLuigi inside the Utes' 10-yard line. Sorry Cougs.
Family comes first.