Revolution #231, May 1, 2011
The "Honor Coding" of Brandon Davies
The Dishonor of Brigham Young—The University and the Man
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The fundamental immorality and inhumanity of the Mormon Church once again raised its ugly head when in early March the "official university" of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young University (BYU), kicked one of their star players—one of their rare Black players, one of their rare Black students—Brandon Davies, off of the basketball team for violating one of the tenets ("Live a chaste and virtuous life") of the Mormon school's so-called "honor code." In juxtaposition with the story around Brandon Davies, the media has been full of praise for another BYU basketball player, Jimmer Fredette—the latest incarnation of "the great white hope/hype."
The BYU honor code and the putrid culture of the imperialist sports media
Davies, a young adult, was persecuted by the University for having sex—"pre-marital"—with his young adult girlfriend. An intolerable and reactionary moral culture running like a toxic artery through the society was exposed as sports commentator after commentator upheld "BYU's willingness to damage its own short-term athletic interests in the name of its honor code...,"1 pitting this so-called honorable stance against other universities which will break any rule, overlook any transgression, to win at any cost. 2
To get a little taste of the actually horrible morality exhibited in the moral posturing by most in the fraternity of sports writers, witness Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel [see endnote #2 for article citation] gushing over the Dark Ages3 ideology of the Mormon Church: "How easy would it have been for BYU to do what all other big-time institutions of higher learning would do—sweep Brandon Davies' transgression under the rug and keep right on rolling toward a national championship?...This is why BYU advancing to the Sweet 16 is so remarkable and so refreshing. Here's a program that enforced a rule that many believe is archaic, theological extremism." Jim Rome, ESPN commentator, in his nationally syndicated radio show, upheld the basic immorality of BYU, saying, "Credit to [BYU] for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could've made for a deep run in the NCAA tournament." Rome went on to say, "How many programs would've let a player skate for violating a rule right before the (NCAA) tourney, especially if you're looking at your best season ever?… I respect it. I definitely respect that."4
In a refreshing, voice in the wilderness, counterpoint, Boston Globe sportswriter Charlie Pierce disagreed with many of his colleagues who upheld Brandon Davies' punishment as righteous: "This Blog has grown fatigued with the 'rules is rules' argument, as compelling as a lot of This Blog's colleagues may find it…. It should be stated that the 'honor code' that he has been punished for violating really has nothing to do with 'honor' at all. It has to do with conduct, and control, and a revoltingly retrograde attitude toward human sexuality that ought to embarrass any institution of higher learning."5 (Bewilderingly, Pierce then went on to favorably compare the U.S. military's approach to sexuality with that of BYU's. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the U.S. military's historical and present-day practice of rape and religious-based misogyny, and its role as an upholder of oppression of women, within its ranks and all over the world—but this part of Pierce's statements could not be allowed to stand without any comment.)
Apparently New York Knicks basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire put out a twitter feed blasting BYU for suspending Davies; but the next day, likely after pressure coming from somewhere in the NBA hierarchy, Stoudemire completely reversed his stand, tweeting, "I totally understand the actions of BYU, I totally respect the school and the conduct rules. BYU has a great athletic program." This was too much for some of his followers on the social networking site ("That's quite a retreat," said one. "Man you can't just change your stance like that, that's lame. You can't take back what you said about them…," said another.)
Of course missing from the commentary around this, with few exceptions, were two major social issues raised by this action: 1) the historical persecution of Black people and the institutional racism of the Mormon Church; 2) any exposure of the historical repression of women and the patriarchal (male domination in the society and within the family) outlook and historical practice of the Mormon Church which inform and underlie the so-called honor code of chastity.
There is no honor associated with Brigham Young—the man or the university
The history of the BYU honor code seems to be rooted in the 1960s as part of a mission by ultraconservative BYU President Ernest Wilkinson to preserve the campus against the radicalism of the times. More on this later—because the first question which must be asked is, how can any university named after Brigham Young make any claim to honor? Brigham Young was a major historical leader of the Mormon Church who in his prophecies stated [below quotes are taken from Brigham Young in Extract from Journal of Discourses, 7: p. 290-291, Brigham Young, October 9, 1859]:
"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind." The only thing I can say about the above is that anyone knowing this history (which is not hidden) and who does not loudly condemn the man and the school named after him—and still proudly retaining that name—has the morality of a slaveholder and oppressor.
"The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings." (Note: In Mormon biblical interpretation, Cain was Black and a curse was put on him for killing his brother, and all his descendents, Black people, are also cursed.) Given this interpretation that Black people are the line of humans descending from Cain, is not the logic of Brigham Young's words here nothing more than a religious-based rationale for the extermination/genocide of Black people all over the world?
"This [speaking to the "termination" above] was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed." To be clear, according to Brigham Young all humans are servants of God, so here he is speaking to Black people as servants of white people. This is nothing more than a straight-up religious-based argument for slavery, upholding centuries of inhumane oppression of Black people.
This was not just some theological mutterings of a crazed Mormon leader. In 1852, at the behest of Brigham Young (then leader of the Mormon Church and territorial governor of Utah), the Utah legislature passed the "An Act in Relation to Service" law which codified slavery and gave slaveholders in Utah the legal right to own slaves.
And what about this honor code and its tenet to "Live a chaste and virtuous life"?
What is this rooted in? First of all, as a matter of record it should be noted that this "virginity" clause goes hand in hand with BYU's social coercion that its students get married—the so-called "marriage culture" promoted on its campuses. Approximately 51% of the graduates in BYU's class of 2005 were married. This is compared to a national marriage average among college graduates of 11%.6 Second, this "chaste" honor code tenet and this "culture of marriage" is rooted deeply in the whole Judeo-Christian tradition of the coerced "virginity" of women before marriage, which historically and today is a patriarchal instrument to force women to be subservient to men.7 Third, it is worth noting that the Twilight series of novels is written by Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon and graduate of BYU. It has been noted that Mormon religious themes strongly inform her novels.8 Her novels are steeped in sexual abstinence: the main female character in Twilight, Bella, is an essentially dependent and powerless "heroine" in an abusive, unhealthy relationship with a vampire.9 Fourth, the particular history of the Mormon Church is that it is rooted in polygamy (a marriage in which one person has multiple spouses) and more specifically polygyny—where a man has more than one wife. Polygamy was fervently fought for by Mormon leaders; this is made very clear in the following from a prominent Mormon elder in the 1800s [from Journal of Discourses 7:226, Orson Pratt, August 14, 1859]:
"Where can you put your finger on a law passed by the American Congress which deprives a man of the rights guaranteed to him relative to the government of his family, no matter whether he takes one wife or many? Undertake to deprive the people of this one domestic institution, and you can, upon the same principle, deprive them of all others.
"Imprison the polygamist for having more than one wife, and you have the same right to imprison a man for having more than one child, or to punish the slaveholder for having more than one slave. The same Constitution [referencing the U.S. Constitution in 1859] that protects the latter [speaking of slavery] also protects the former."
This whole package, which one sees here, is an expression of a religion which is aggressively asserting a very repressive patriarchy as well as upholding other horrific forms of oppression. While the mainstream Mormon Church does not today officially sanction polygamy, it is well known that various Mormon sects still practice this, and the main Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has never repudiated the original underlying theological tenets of polygamy. It is true that in the late 1800s, as a pre-condition to Utah's becoming a state, the Mormons had to repudiate the practice and codification in Utah law of polygamy (some Mormon elder had a talk with god, who told him to give up polygamy!). But this fact notwithstanding, Mormons still uphold and revere the two main leaders of the church, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—both of whom were proselytizers for polygamy and had multiple wives themselves.
Of course, those of the Mormon Church and their apologists will say that this is "history" and that Mormon doctrine is more enlightened these days. Bullshit! It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail exposing the lie of such contentions, but if in fact Mormons today are more enlightened, then the question comes down to this: If Mormons no longer think this way, then why do they still uphold Brigham Young, the successor to the founder of the religion (Joseph Smith) as a central leader of their religion? Why have they not thoroughly repudiated him? Why is their university named after this malevolent oppressor?
The particular history of the BYU honor code
It seems that BYU's honor code, as now crafted and enforced, was part of a quest during the 1960s by ultra-conservative BYU President Ernest Wilkinson to preserve the campus against the radical thinking and upheaval sweeping college campuses during that period. Wilkinson wanted to "make BYU a national resource for patriotic anti-communism" and to "root out problem students," recall historians Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel. This honor code has been used to bait and target gays and liberals and to shut down student anti-war protests. Clerical leaders serving BYU student congregations have been expected to report content from private confession and counseling interactions to University authorities.10
BYU's Jimmer Fredette—the latest great white hope/hype
"Too Black"—Get Back!
Those Black athletes who do not "act Black"—that is, in one way or another show their subordination to the system, these days mainly by insufferable shout-outs to "the lord"—are allowed to thrive and are even feted. But "show" your Blackness, i.e., show any disrespect or rebelliousness, and you will get shot down.
Think of Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay), who became close with Black nationalists like Malcolm X and who refused to be drafted into the imperialist army, declaring he had no quarrel with the "Viet Cong" (that is, the Vietnamese people's army fighting for national liberation against the U.S.). After he was convicted of draft evasion, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title and received scorn from most of the mainstream media and sports hacks (Howard Cosell being a notable exception). Jack Olsen, writing years later in Sports Illustrated, recalled how "The noise became a din, the drumbeats of a holy war. TV and radio commentators, little old ladies..., bookmakers and parish priests, armchair strategists at the Pentagon and politicians all over the place joined in a crescendo of get-Cassius clamor."
Think of one of the greatest basketball players ever, Connie Hawkins, who gave expression in a very exciting way to the "City Game" back in the day (beginning in the late 1950s). Because he associated with some people involved in a point shaving case, he was kicked off his University of Iowa team (1961) as a freshman and then was unofficially blacklisted (the NBA refused to draft him) before being officially banned from the NBA in 1966. (During this time he was blacklisted and banned, Hawkins did play for smaller leagues such as the American Basketball Association. Hawkins fought the NBA ban, and finally did get to play in the NBA for 7 years.)
Think of Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, giving the Black power salute from the victory stand in the 1968 Olympics and then getting kicked out of the Olympic Village by the U.S. Olympic Committee and greeted "back home" by the likes of Brent Musburger, who called them "black-skinned storm troopers." For years they were blacklisted, both of them had problems making a living, while Musburger (who for years refused to call Muhammad Ali by his chosen Muslim name) has never even been criticized, let alone vilified, by the sports establishment, and is still today a prominent sports announcer.
Why is it that someone like Latrell Sprewell, then with the Golden State Warriors, attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, during a 1997 practice and was immediately fined (losing millions in salary) and then suspended for a year, while Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes and Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight were well known for hitting players, but went for years without being punished (both were for a long time held up as models of success and icons, and were only forced out from the universities where they coached for years when their winning ways started to wane)?
Why is it Barry Bonds, who along with most of the sluggers of his time is alleged to have taken some kind of steroid or growth hormone, is one of the most harassed and hounded athletes in this country, while Ty Cobb, a known racist and all-around asshole, is still feted as a "baseball great"?
Jimmer Fredette, who was the BYU basketball team's star player this year, has been honored by many as college basketball player of the year. Look, Fredette can play basketball. He has developed the coordination and skill of a "shooter" and along with this has developed a style of play which allows him to drive to the basket and make all kinds of shots from very weird and unconventional angles. At the same time, he seems to have a reputation for not being the greatest defender, and it is not clear how well he will do against NBA-level competition where the particular style he has evolved will be challenged every game by more athletic competition than he faced in his college contests.
That being said, the point here is not about Fredette the basketball player, but about "Jimmer" and the great white hope/hype which has been created around him. He has hands down become the "darling" of the sports media: Teams that play BYU are "Jimmered"—his personal biography has been blasted out as "unique and special" (he was groomed from a very early age for basketball by his father and brother, and his mom nicknamed him "Jimmer," and he's a Mormon—wow!...Oh, and most important, he's a white religious boy!). There are YouTube videos of him all over the place. It goes on and on. Even when he performs poorly, as he did when BYU lost to Florida in the NCAA round of 16, he is praised and praised. In this game against a team which was not highly ranked but did have much more athletic players than Fredette normally faces, Fredette scored 32 points, but took 29 shots to do it (and was 3-for-15 from the 3-point arc) and committed six turnovers. Still he was feted. But as Colin Cowherd of ESPN notes, calling out his colleagues in the sports broadcasting "fraternity": "If Allen Iverson gave you that night, you'd call him a ballhog. Jimmer gives you that night? You somehow find a way to call it magical."
This last comment gets to the point of all of this. Why is it that Allen Iverson, who is Black and clearly has been a great college and NBA basketball player, is often a target of derision, both as a basketball player and as a person, while white players who excel rarely receive this treatment and more often are praised and hyped? I think that there are two major reasons: 1) the fact remains that "America," that is, the dominant white supremacist culture in this country, has always done its best to insult and undermine the achievements and character of Black athletes (especially those who in one way or other more represent the inner city in their "game" and swagger), while always on the prowl for the next great white hope; 2) Especially today, white religious fundamentalist athletes who excel are literally turned into "demigods" by the media and by a white Christian segment of this country.
While Black athletes, the majority of whom have a much more dramatic and hard life story than Jimmer Fredette (or football player Tim Tebow), are continually attacked for not being the correct role model types, maybe for just hanging out with the folks they grew up with in the "bantustans of America," white Christian fundamentalist athletes are called heroes for upholding and promoting Dark Ages religious ideologies and religious ruling class institutions which are rife with the most horrific forms of oppression and repression.
Those Black athletes who do not "act Black" and in one way or another show their subordination to the system (these days mainly by insufferable shout-outs to "the lord") are allowed to thrive and are even feted. But "show" your Blackness, i.e. show any disrespect for constituted authority and any rebelliousness, and you will get shot down. [See sidebar "'Too Black'—Get Back!"]
Why Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski Are Beloved By the Powers-That-Be
Anyone who follows basketball has a sense of how the "City Game" style of Black basketball, which in essence evolved from and was heavily informed by the '50s and '60s rebellious swagger of inner-city Black youth refusing to be kept down, has been pitted against a style of basketball which is more "white" (even when played by Blacks), that is, meant to represent the prevailing values of the dominant ruling white culture and outlook.
It is beyond the scope of this article to get deeply into this, but here is a simple breakdown of the two types of games and what is at stake:
The "City Game" style develops offense and defense based on unleashing the talent, athleticism, individual uniqueness and creativity of the individuals playing, meshing all of this into a team; whereas the style favored and promoted by the powers-that-be is one which "molds"/subordinates players' talent and athleticism to fit into a "system" of offense and defense.
One style gives reign to the defiant attitude of Black youth, and the other style is meant to suppress this, and as part of this, to better showcase the type of white athlete (not necessarily all white athletes) who fares better in the more controlled or engineered style of basketball—which represents a pathetic attempt to establish white supremacy in basketball. Coaches like Bobby Knight (University of Indiana) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University) excel at this "suppression" type basketball, and this is the reason they are so feted in the basketball "establishment."
And the sports establishment closes ranks very quickly if anyone dares to expose even aspects of people like Knight or Krzyzewski. Recently, Jalen Rose, now a basketball commentator and in the early 1990s a star player on one of the most influential basketball teams in college history, University of Michigan's "Fab Five," made some critical remarks about the Duke program. The "Fab Five" was the starting lineup of five freshmen recruited mainly from the inner city, who embodied the "City Game" style; in contrast to Duke, which in its style of play and recruiting is known to ooze establishment entitlement and respectability. Anyone with any honesty would have deeply considered and reflected on these comments, given the history of how institutional racism is played out in sports. But no, both Grant Hill (a Black player who played for Duke in the '90s and is now in the NBA) and Mike Krzyzewski issued very snarky, mean-spirited comments (Hill actually responded in a New York Times op-ed article). NCAA basketball announcer Jim Nantz disrupted his play-by-play of the recent Duke/Michigan NCAA Tournament game to actually refer to the "Fab Five" as the "Fabricated Five" and to blame them for ruining the Michigan basketball program (due to a scandal involving pay-offs to one or more members of the "Fab Five," a practice which is widespread in college sports—but is very selectively clamped down on). The suggestion that the "Fab Five" was anything but one of the most exciting college basketball teams, which had tremendous influence on young players and the game (something which is pretty universally acknowledged), only confirms how important it is to the powers-that-be to slander this style of play and to uphold people and institutions which play a role in opposing and in different ways beating back the "City Game" style and what that represents.
It is obviously harder and takes a deeper understanding of basketball and the social forces involved to coach the "City Game," but coaches who have excelled at this, such as Guy Lewis (University of Houston where his "Phi Slamma Jamma" teams of the early 1980s became famous), Nolan Richardson (whose University of Arkansas men's team won the NCAA championship in 1994), or Jerry Tarkanian (who coached the University of Las Vegas men's team to the NCAA championship in 1990), to name a few, are not feted as they deserve to be, and in fact are often maligned because in essence they are being punished for unleashing a certain style of game and in so doing giving initiative to what this "City Game" represents in society.
And all of this has been very concentrated in college basketball, where the "city game" style of Black basketball—which in essence evolved from and was heavily informed by the 1950s and '60s rebellious swagger of inner-city Black youth refusing to be kept down—has been pitted against a style of basketball which is more "white" (even when played by Blacks), or meant to represent the prevailing values of the dominant ruling white culture and outlook. [See sidebar "Why Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski Are Beloved By the Powers-That-Be"]
But let's face it, the real hero treatment is bestowed on white boy athletes coming out of and assertively promoting fundamentalist religious backgrounds and viewpoints. There is a direct line to be drawn between the sports establishment's "semper fi"-like acclamation for BYU's "honor coding" of Brandon Davies and its overwhelming gushing over Jimmer Fredette. Or look at the great acclaim bestowed on the Christian fascist football player Tim Tebow (known for exhibiting bible quotes under his eyes). How did the sports establishment react to Tebow's appearing in a reactionary anti-abortion ad in the 2010 Super Bowl? This was typified by ESPN.com sports columnist Jemele Hill: "Tebow's decision to appear in this ad should be considered just as courageous as Muhammad Ali's decision to not enter the draft, or Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' black power salute at the 1968 summer Olympics."11 Such a statement is both ridiculous and outrageous, and turns reality upside down: these Black athletes were in revolt against the oppression enforced by the prevailing ruling class structure and its political culture; Tebow's ad was in the service of the oppression of women by this same ruling class and in the service of the ideological expressions of this by reactionary Christian fundamentalist forces which have played the most atrocious role in decreeing and enforcing the most egregious forms of oppression of, and domination over, women. Ali, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy price [see sidebar "'Too Black'—Get Back!"), exacted by the same ruling establishment which they so courageously stood up against; whereas for Tim Tebow, his actions have raised his "stock" among the same ruling establishment. These three Black athletes lost their livelihood (and Ali was handed a felony conviction for refusing to enter the U.S. military, faced years in jail as a result, and was driven out of boxing for many years, when he was in his prime, before his conviction was finally overturned), whereas Tim Tebow's career continues to flourish and be promoted. Which side are you on, Hill, which side are you on?!
While all of this is outrageous and makes it hard to even take a breath in the putrid and revolting cultural atmosphere of this country, revolutionaries and those who want to change all of this must take note: The phenomena spoken to in this article have a tremendous social impact in relation to revolution and counter-revolution, which those building a movement for revolution must take into account. The fascist, jingoistic, white supremacist and Christian fundamentalist social base in this country is pumped up by the ruling class—or powerful sections of that ruling class—while the oppressed, and any who dare to exhibit any of the qualities of non-conformity and rebellion which reflect resistance to oppression—are continually told they are immoral, no good, have no right to voice their resistance in any form. All this is yet another manifestation of the fact that, as Bob Avakian has emphasized, there is howling need for "a radical revolt against a revolting culture," which those of us who understand the profound need for revolution against this whole system must approach and foster as part of building a movement for that revolution.12
1. Eamonn Brennan, March 24, 2011, ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [back]
2. See Mike Bianchi, Sports Commentary, Orlando Sentinel, March 23, 2011 [back]
3. End of 400 to 1000 AD when church rule and repression literally kept humanity in the dark as to understanding the world in its reality, thus holding back people's ability to transform the world and themselves. [back]
4. Quoted in Deseret News, March 5, 2011. [back]
5. See Charles P. Pierce Blog on Boston Globe website, March 4, 2011 [back]
6. Clark, Natalie (2005-10-03). "BYU marriage rates higher than national average." Daily Universe. BYU. http://nn.byu.edu/story.cfm/56823. [back]
7. For a thoroughgoing and materialist understanding of this fact, refer to Bob Avakian's discussion of this in Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World (Insight Press, 2008). [back]
8. See Time magazine, Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008, "Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?" By Lev Grossman [back]
10. "The Dark Side of BYU's Honor Code" by Joanna Brooks, March 15, 2011, online at ReligionDispatches.org [back]
11. "Laud the Courage in Tim Tebow's Stand," ESPN.com, February 2, 2010 [back]
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