I have fond memories of attending BYU football games during elementary school years. My Dad had season tickets from the time I was seven or so and I loved going to the games with my parents. Occasionally I got to bring a friend and we’d think we were on top of the world watching the Cougars play at home. I remember when I was around the age of seven, there was an auction in my ward. I do not remember where the funds were being contributed to, nor did I care at that age. What I do remember was spending all of my paper route money bidding on a football signed by the entire BYU football from that season. I was the happiest kid in the room that night and I still have that football to this day. I do not think that any players went on to the NFL from that team and it is likely not worth much but it doesn’t matter, it’s mine :)
College football is immensely popular in Utah, there being no NFL team; however, at that point in time many Utahns were San Francisco 49ers fans because of Steve Young a Mormon, BYU alum, and three time Super Bowl champion. As a kid I idolized the guy and read every book on him that my school library had. I loved the stories of him drinking milk at parties where everyone else was drinking alcohol. My Mom once told me that he took the sacrament on Saturdays because he was playing football nearly every Sunday. I thought that was so cool that he still tried to do the right thing despite breaking the sabbath. To this day, if a Utahn is not a Denver Broncos fan, I’d bet money they’re a 49ers fan.
I recall being slightly disturbed when I learned that John Stockton was not a Mormon. I was a huge Jazz fan (and I still hate the Chicago Bulls) and he was my favorite. I would always want to sport number 12 when participating in city basketball leagues. He undoubtedly was a great player and, in my childish naivete, I always assumed he was Mormon and played basketball for BYU before playing in the NBA, just like Steve Young. I did not however assume the same things of Stockton’s counterpart Karl Malone. I’m sure there was plenty of unconscious racial bias at play in both of those assumptions, something which I am still trying to shake to this day. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t know many, if any black Mormons. When an organization deprives its members of color of the same rights as their white members until the late 1970s, there tends to not be many members of color.
Recently a co-worker was amazed at all the knowledge I had about BYU basketball and football players and their subsequent professional careers. And he had good reason. Here are some facts about Mormon BYU athletes that I can honestly name from the top of my head:
As you can tell, I’m definitely a sports fan, and being raised Mormon, I tend to know much more than the average person about Mormon athletes. Growing up in Provo, BYU is my hometown team, and I still enjoy watching their games even as an exmo. However, I will admit to a very real internal ethical struggle concerning my support of their programs. This is driven by the institution’s homophobic, racist, and all around oppressive history. For this reason, I will not sport any paraphernalia with their name or logo in public, which I often do for other sports teams I follow. Even so, the strict implementation of the school’s Honor Code to students that are not athletes versus the lax implementation of it to those that are have made me question the ethics supporting their athletics by simply following their teams.1