Would it be ethically proper for Brigham Young University to put Jim McMahon in its sports Hall of Fame when he doesn't have a degree from the school?

As your Religion and Ethics referee here, I have to say "no."

Too many other exceptional athletes have been denied access to the hall for not getting their sheepskin. An exception for McMahon would make a mockery of the process. He needs to complete those last nine credits.

He should teach a seminar. Take a seminar. Write a paper comparing football to war strategies. Work through correspondence courses. He should get the diploma and get in the hall.

But I say that as someone who has a vested interest.

I owe my career at the Deseret News to Jim McMahon.

When I applied at the Deseret News in 1976, I was fresh off the turnip truck and wet behind the ears. I had an interview with George Ferguson, the sports editor. He phoned the next day to say his choice was down to me and one of Lee Benson's good buddies. He wanted to meet with me on Monday. I could see I needed to find an edge.

One of my friends, a history teacher at Roy High, told me they had a kid there who could punt a football 90 yards. I also knew Fergie was an old-style editor who appreciated hustle and initiative. So, I drove to Roy and interviewed the kid. We sat in the Roy lunchroom and chatted. He wasn't sure why I was there. I remember he kept twitching his neck and looking out the window. He wanted to get back to punting a football.

I penned a wooden little story about him and brought it with me to my Monday interview. Fergie read it.

"We already know about Jim McMahon," he told me. "But I like the way you went after the story."

I got the job.

Back in the heyday of the Chicago Bears, Mike Royko wrote a column about McMahon. Television chatterbox Joe Theismann had been going after McMahon for being a renegade and not behaving well (the same kind of stories that followed him around at BYU). Royko, however, would have none of it. McMahon was a Bear and no Washington "personality" was going to run him down. After pointing out Theismann's own messy life — a high-profile divorce and other foibles — Royko said by all accounts McMahon was a good dad. He painted him as a guy who could be hard-nosed on the field but show a soft side at home.

I bought it all.

I was a fan.

What I'm getting at is BYU and McMahon may not have seen eye-to-eye on things. The Roy High jock was always an odd fit at BYU. But he did choose the school and he got the job done there. BYU needs him in its Hall of Fame.

Get a tutor, Jim. Take extension courses in origami. Do what it takes but get the diploma. I feel I can't retire here until you do. And no editor wants me hanging around this place at age 85.

Do it for the editors.

Do it for BYU.

Do it for your dad.

But most of all, do it for yourself.


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