A Commitment to Principles

Even those uncomfortable with Mormon institutions should appreciate BYU's suspension of star basketball player Brandon Davies.

In a year in which Cal was put on probation and West Coast college basketball is down, the most important thing to come out of the season might be Brigham Young University’s suspension of a star basketball player for an honor code violation. Given the rising tide of hypocrisy in public life, we should respect those who stick to their principles.

This year, traditional Pac-10 basketball powerhouses are having poor seasons, with only Arizona currently ranked in the Top 25. But two less prestigious schools, Brigham Young University and San Diego State University, are playing big-time basketball and have — or had — a legitimate chance of being crowned the kings of March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament. These two teams played a scintillating game in San Diego on February 28, with Brigham Young and its player-of-the-year candidate Jimmer Fredette handily beating San Diego State to garner a likely No. 1 seed in the upcoming national tournament.

That game had all that great college basketball games are famous for — wonderful teamwork, individual brilliance, and heart-pumping action. As often occurs, the crowd included a rude student section. Despite entreaties to respect the religion of the BYU athletes, many in the San Diego State student section mockingly dressed like Mormon missionaries, in white, short-sleeved dress shirts, black ties, and bike helmets. Also in attendance in the center of the first row was a ten-year-old boy who was holding a red poster that read, “Hi Mom(s).” He was quoted at CNNSI.com as saying that his mom made it for him. “She told me that the BYU players have more than one mom.”

But just a few days later, BYU fans were crushed as their leading rebounder, Brandon Davies, was suspended from the team for a violation of the BYU Honor Code. Losing Davies probably dooms BYU’s chances for a national championship. Davies, a sophomore power forward, had been a star Utah high school player. When he came out of high school, Cal had hoped to lure him to Berkeley, but Davies chose to stay in his home state.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Davies apparently violated the BYU Honor Code that requires students, consistent with the teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to abstain from premarital sex. Students are also required to be honest, attend church regularly, and abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse. Davies will be suspended from the team for the rest of the season. Speaking of the suspension, BYU basketball coach Dave Rose said, “Everybody who comes to BYU, every student, if they’re an athlete or not an athlete, they make a commitment when they come here.”

Having a commitment and sticking to it is a trait that is sorely lacking today. For that reason alone, I am impressed by BYU’s action.

We live in a world in which we are constantly assaulted by a tsunami of self-serving hypocrisy, even from many on “our” team. The corrosive effects of this hypocrisy should not be discounted. It is most obvious in our favorite spectator activities, sports and politics. Stories of dishonesty in college sports are legion; the recent revelations that the University of Oregon paid alleged fixers tens of thousands of dollars to assist in the delivery of star athletes to its football program is the just the latest.

Like the leadership of college sports, the leaders of the political class are in the same morass. Consistency to transparent commitments seems passé. We get weekly examples of hypocrisy from our speaker of the US House, John Boehner. He claims that the budget and the US government deficit is his highest priority and that unionized public school teachers are holding “a machine gun” at the heads of local governmental officials, yet he is a prime architect of the bi-partisan move to deliver multi-billion-dollar tax cuts to America’s wealthy. Even the libertarian Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips has called Boehner a fool for his inconsistency, saying “Charlie Sheen is now making more sense than John Boehner.”

But to be fair, faux allegiance to principles is a depressingly common feature of President Barack Obama‘s administration. His administration’s fealty to Bush torture policies and the horrifying treatment currently being meted out to Private Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, exhibits a shocking lack of consistent principles. Manning is being stripped of his clothes for hours on a daily basis for some claimed infraction. This comes after the president’s expressions of disdain for torture and support for the protection of government whistleblowers. So while our government condemns repression and human-rights abuses in countries across the Middle East, today, at a prison in our country, we are openly engaging in the psychological torture and debasement of a young soldier who appears to have made a principled choice based on a laudatory principle.

Like with Manning, one must never forget the human, and for BYU student Brandon Davies, I feel nothing but sympathy. He has lost his chance at the thrill that success in the NCAA tournament would have brought. And it seems to have happened because he had sex with his girlfriend. My hope is that he is going to be fine.

Given their activity in the Proposition 8 campaign, Mormon institutions are not well thought of among many caring Californians, and for good reason. Yet while consistency is supposed to be the hobgoblin of small minds, given today’s climate of hypocrisy in our politics and in our favorite diversions, consistency with principles needs to be recognized and applauded. As BYU coach Rose said, “A lot of people try to judge if this is right or wrong, but it’s a commitment they make. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about commitment.” In our current environment, I will take commitment over hypocrisy.


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