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The Truth About Race, Religion, And The Honor Code At BYU
Luke O'Brien and Darron Smith — The Truth About Race, Religion, And The Honor Code At BYU / Brigham Young CougarsOver the past month, BYU has been held up as a symbol of all that is decent in college sports for its unsparing treatment of Brandon Davies, the African-American basketball player who violated the school's honor code by reportedly having sex with his girlfriend. Davies was suspended shortly before the NCAA tournament, and a braying mainstream press lauded BYU for sticking to its principles. Sports Illustrated's website even wondered if a values-driven, "non-hypocritical" BYU was "on the verge of becoming America's team."
The reality isn't so appealing. While it's impossible to know how many students disobey BYU's honor code, which prohibits fornication and alcohol use, among other things, the honor code violations that come to light almost always involve student-athletes. And they almost always involve athletes of color. Since 1993, according to our research, at least 70 athletes have been suspended, dismissed, put on probation, or forced to withdraw from their teams or the school after running afoul of the honor code. Fifty-four of them, or nearly 80 percent, are minorities. Forty-one, or almost 60 percent, are black men. These are conservative numbers, compiled from media reports and interviews. In several cases, we could not confirm an honor code violation. In other cases, we could not establish the race or ethnicity of the athlete involved. We excluded those cases from our tally.
No Honor: A Deadspin Investigation
The Truth About Race, Religion, And The Honor Code At BYU / Brigham Young Cougars Athletes who've run afoul of BYU's honor code since 1993. VIEW »
Clearly, though, something is amiss at BYU, where around 23 percent of the athletes are minorities, according to the university. Only .6 percent of the student body is black (176 out of the 32,947 students enrolled in 2010). Yet a majority of the honor code violations involve black athletes. Do these numbers mean these athletes "sin" more than everyone else? Hardly. Several former BYU football players told us that their white teammates routinely broke the honor code and got away with it, either because they didn't get caught or because their violations were covered up. (To a lesser extent, this holds true for Polynesian athletes, 14 of whom are included in our honor code tally. More on that later.) Mormon athletes can turn to bishops and church leaders from their own homogeneous communities — people who look like them and might even be related to them — to "repent" and avoid official punishment. Black athletes, who are typically non-Mormon, rarely have this option.
Leave aside the impossibility of requiring over 30,000 hormonal young adults to abstain from sex or alcohol in college. The dreary truth about the honor code is that athletes of color — particularly black athletes — are rarely afforded the same treatment as their white peers. This double standard exists because of the honor code, not in spite of it. Several black BYU athletes, including one who is still in school, say that little mention was made of the honor code during their recruitment. BYU was like any other college, they were led to believe. One former athlete recalls going to a party at a football players' house during a recruiting visit — an "orgy," in his words — and coming away thinking that "everything was kept on the hush." Only later, after the athletes had arrived on campus, did they realize the implications of the compact they had signed: that they had entered an environment where official morality is unevenly applied, where snitches and spies abound, and where, above all, an interplay of race and religion affects every decision and allows the school, at least publicly, to take a righteous stand that only advances the missionary aims of the church that owns it. In short, BYU creates the conditions for certain athletes to fail and, when they do, expresses only dismay.