BYU’s True ColorsPosted 13 April 2011 by Pony Boy
A friend of mine was having a big party. This wasn’t the typical college-boy crap, with sticky floors in the basement from spilled drinks and a line 15 minutes long just to get to a keg of Busch Lite. No, this was an honest-to-God party. She rented out a facility near the uppity St. Paul suburb of Stillwater. Christian Laettner lived out there during his playing days, as does actress Jessica Lange and a bunch of other famous people who have to … er … choose to be in Minnesota.
It was the January of 1999. I think. I don’t write this stuff down on notebooks. Or I didn’t when I was 21. This was, by all accounts, an epic party. I was on sober patrol. Make sure the kegs got rotated and nobody got stupid. Kick them out if they start to get stupid. Work with the staff at the facility to keep everything cool. Somewhere in the woods of Stillwater Township, a bunch of possibly-under-21 white kids got trashed. Because my friend was rather attractive, there was an above average female attendance. I took photos with my mind that I keep stashed under the bed.
Around 11:30 p.m., I was making the rounds. Outside of facility staff, I hadn’t seen anybody over the age of 25 all night. And then I noticed the one guy in the middle of it all, sort of against the wall. He was checking out all the girls. He had a big brown mustache and a brown leather jacket. He was clearly looking to score.
What the hell was Jack Morris doing at this party?
I knew almost immediately. It became a running joke between me and my friends at the party: Watch out for Jack. He’s watching you.
Partying is something that you can easily associate with Morris. He seems like that kind of guy. Which makes his choice of college all the more unusual. Cap’n Jack attended Brigham Young University in scenic Provo, Utah. How he did this, I was never quite sure in my time living in that state. This is the same school, after all, that kicked Jim McMahon out of school when he had two pottery classes standing between him and a degree — after his senior season as quarterback for the Cougars, of course.
There are tales in Utah of McMahon walking across the grass at BYU — which is strongly discouraged — with a can of beer and a chew in his lips. You can guess how fondly the BYU Honor Code looks upon those activities. Morris seemingly led a lower profile. Or he was simply a smaller name around campus at the time.
Whatever the case, the school was willing to tolerate boys being boys. Make that white boys being boys.
If you haven’t heard, Deadspin has done a solid feature looking at exactly who is getting kicked out of school at BYU from the athletic programs. The answer: People with dark skin. There’s a lot of subtext to go along with this story that we won’t cover here. There’s simply too much theology and rules explaining and I won’t hold your interest while doing it. Check out the link to Deadspin’s report at the end of this article.
On an anecdotal level, reports of racism at BYU don’t shock me at all. A few years ago the BYU athletic department sent out a Christmas card. It featured all-white cheerleaders, clad in all-white uniforms, cheering in front of a student section. I broke out a magnifying glass and scanned faces in the crowd for at least 10 minutes before I found one guy in the crowd who might have been a Pacific Islander.
But it isn’t just BYU that shows a preference for the fairer-skinned. The state’s only major pro team, the Utah Jazz, legendarily had trouble with African Americans. “You go live in Utah,” Dallas Maverick Derek Harper famously told reporters after he refused to join the Jazz in a trade. A few years ago, the Jazz might have been the only NBA team capable of fielding an entirely caucasian lineup without playing guys out of position: Kyrylo Fesenko (center), Mehmet Okur (power forward), Matt Harpring (small forward), Kyle Korver (shooting guard), Andrei Kirilenko (point guard — a stretch, but he did play there). You go live in Utah.
The problems of Utah are not problems of intentional racism. It’s more complex than that. It delves into church doctorine and the fact that the general population of Utah just isn’t around that many people of color, specifically African Americans, who are outnumbered by Pacific Islanders and hispanics in the state. I believe the people of Utah are good and well-meaning people. But at the very least, it seems clear BYU needs to examine how it deals with problem athletes. Or how it deems who is a problem. If Jack Morris and Jim McMahon fit under the bar, but unsubstantiated claims against black players are taken at face value, that’s where the real problem is.