BYU Honor Code & Brandon Davies

Brandon Davies during happier times at BYU

by Tom Walker
March 13, 2011

American cultural schizophrenia is alive and well. When it comes to athletes and celebrities, we often turn a blind eye to behaviors we otherwise scorn and sometimes even punish under the law.

Witness the latest American fascination with all things Charlie Sheen and his very public self-destruction. Radio airwaves and television play his delusional rantings on perpetual loop as audiences hang on every word, whether for entertainment or to glimpse preliminary signs that the next headline may scream that his lifeless body has been recovered in a ravine somewhere. Sheen’s affinity for drugs and hookers is public knowledge, so how exactly is it that he has seemingly escaped the attention of law enforcement, and why do Americans fuel his popularity when we would be angry with our own loved ones for behaving similarly?

In my own home, ‘angry’ would be a gross underestimation of the consequences for living the life of Charlie. I have been assured that ‘rusty garden shears’ would somehow be mentioned in the Coroner’s report.

In the sports world, there is never a shortage of misbehaving athletes to grab the public attention. Mention the names Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, or Tiger Woods, and odds are that even the non-sports fans are aware of their off-the-field indiscretions. Each has managed his respective fall from grace differently, some with more success than others. Some have jeopardized their chances for Hall of Fame consideration, and others will deservedly be followed by asterisks for life.

College athletes are not immune from making headlines for unsavory reasons such as cheating, substance abuse, or various forms of assault. Often the severity and the timing of punishment is influenced by the potential impact on a university’s championship aspirations.

Addressing the state of college sports discipline, TIME magazine’s Sean Gregory commented:

“At Seton Hall University last season, for example, a basketball player who caused an accident while driving under the influence, causing an injury to the other driver, was suspended for only eight games. This year, a top player from Robert Morris University got a four-game penalty after a drunk-driving incident. In February, two players from Marshall University were charged with battery over a bar fight; they played in a game the next evening. Schools often let athletes off easy for on-field transgressions too. Two seasons ago, a University of Florida football player intentionally gouged an opponent’s eyes. He was suspended for a half.”

And so it is against this cultural backdrop that the honor code of Brigham Young University has recently captured the interest of sports fans and become fodder for national discussion.

On March 1, 2011, BYU dismissed sophomore center Brandon Davies from its then third-ranked basketball team for violating the university’s honor code. It didn’t take long for word to get out that Davies’ violation involved having sex with his girlfriend.

At 99% of colleges throughout the country, such an honor code provision doesn’t even exist. If anything, America has largely accepted pre-marital sex as a fact of life, particularly among star athletes. As long as you’re not guilty of rape, most universities couldn’t care less what happens off the field.

But Brigham Young University isn’t just any institution of higher learning. Privately owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), BYU takes its name from the famed prophet-leader who guided the church from a period of fatal persecution in the 19th century Midwest to relative security in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Though membership in the church is not required to attend the university, adherence to strict rules of conduct and grooming are.

The internet link to BYU’s honor code states clearly that the collection of church-owned schools, “exist to provide an education in an atmosphere consistent with the ideals and principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That atmosphere is created and preserved through commitment to conduct that reflects those ideals and principles. Members of the faculty, administration, staff, and student body … are selected and retained from among those who voluntarily live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ” as taught by the LDS Church.

The key word in that phrase is ‘voluntary.’ Whether or not one agrees with the strictness of BYU’s honor code – and it’s safe to say many if not most Americans view it as anachronistic – no one can claim that students enter the university unaware of the expectations that they are committing themselves to. The code is emphasized quite clearly to all incoming students, whether or not they are members of the Church.

The university’s website goes on to specify key portions of the honor code as follows:

Be honest
Live a chaste and virtuous life
Obey the law and all campus policies
Use clean language
Respect others
Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance abuse
Participate regularly in church services
Observe the Dress and Grooming Standards
Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code

Looking at that list may cause many to pause and wonder, “How the heck did Jim McMahon survive for four years?” McMahon addressed that very question in an interview with Gino Torretta and Steve White on South Florida’s WQAM Sportsradio 560.

Well, sort of.

The former Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl winning QB acknowledged that the code existed during his tenure at BYU, but didn’t actually discuss specifically whether his own behaviors warranted university action, except to say generally, “they’re college kids, man they’re going to do things. You know sometimes people will tell on you and sometimes they won’t.”

Later in the interview, McMahon commented “I’m sure there’s other players on that team and probably in the whole school who are still doing things they probably shouldn’t according to the honor code, but it happens.” And he’s probably right about that to some degree. The question in this case, then, isn’t so much whether or not people always live up to their highest ideals, but whether the university is consistent in its handling of honor code violations when it is made aware of them.

If last year’s withdrawal of BYU football’s all-time leading rusher, Harvey Unga, is any indication, the answer appears to be affirmative. Unga was a campus superstar and still had his senior year ahead of him, but the honor code put an abrupt end to his collegiate career last April. In July, Unga became a father, got married, and signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bears, in that order.

Widely regarded as a quarterback factory, BYU has turned out the occasional NBA star, including Danny Ainge and Shawn Bradley. Once upon a time, the Cougar faithful heralded the 7’6” Bradley as their bright hope for a Final Four appearance. After his freshman year and a two-year Church mission in Australia, however, he opted to turn pro and was selected 2nd in the 1993 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Responding to the Davies story, Bradley discussed the challenges of living the BYU honor code with TIME.

“It was difficult for me. We all have those urges. You’re dealing with hormones, which are out in full force. But you have to stay focused, and put yourself in the right places to protect yourself.”

Ainge, the current President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics who also currently serves as a Mormon bishop, defended the honor code in an interview with Fox Sports.

“I think it’s a great code of conduct. It teaches discipline, teaches kids to not live in a world of instant gratification. It’s a different culture — and I love that culture.” Nonetheless Ainge, a multi-sport athlete who also played professional baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays, expressed concern at how the public would respond to the Davies incident.

“People will ridicule it because they don’t understand it.” Remarkably, at least in the media, reaction to the story has been quite positive for BYU.

Jim Rome, one of the most outspoken sports commentators on the planet, immediately took to the air with his take:

“Look, you can criticize BYU for being too rigid,… but that’s their honor code and you know what you’re signing up for when you go there. And credit to the school for not compromising its integrity and selling out for the millions they could have made for a deep run in the tourney. How many programs would have let a player skate for violating a rule right before the NCAA tourney? Especially, if they were looking at their best season ever. Most of them? All of them?…not BYU.”

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times also weighed in on the subject. He recently remarked:

“That might not be your rule. That might be the kind of rule that makes you titter and wince and wonder, how can any school not attached to a seminary demand celibacy of college kids in a world in which seven out of 10 Americans have had sexual intercourse by age 19? But the point is, it is BYU’s rule, and kudos to the school for publicly enforcing it at the worst possible time with one of the most visible of students while risking damage to the school’s athletic reputation and national stature.”

Even Jon Stewart of The Daily Show expressed amazement that a star athlete would be sidelined over an honor code violation:

“Also sticking to its principles, Brigham Young University. The school with the #3 ranked D-1 basketball team, who believe it or not just dropped one of their star players from their team. … Wow, D-1 squad losing a star player on an honor code violation? Well I wonder what loophole they’re going to exploit to get him to play. After all, it’s March Madness, they’re not gonna lose a game because of the honor code. … They actually sat the guy? A star player? What was his honor code violation? … BYU suspended one of their best players, right before the NCAA tournament, because he had consensual pre-marital sex with his girlfriend. You know what they call a Division One athlete that limits his sex to either just his girlfriend, or just to consent? A fictional character. So kudos to BYU for standing by the rules at great possible financial cost, and kudos to the athlete himself for accepting his punishment and still being at the game supporting all of his teammates.”

While there have also been negative commentaries to the story, most have portrayed BYU in a positive light for sticking with principle at the expense of success on the court.

To fully understand Brigham Young University and its honor code, one must first come to grips with the fact that the mission of the university and its sponsoring Church isn’t to win NCAA championships. Rather, it is to educate and send out generation after generation of young people who aspire to incorporate their understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives and bless the world by sharing them.

The university motto is “Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.” One of BYU’s proudest distinctions is its annual recognition by the Princeton Review as the #1 stone-cold sober university in the nation, a streak which recently increased to 13 straight years. The school also regularly ranks highly in Princeton Review’s “Got Milk?” list for low rates of beer drinking, the “Scotch and Soda, Hold the Scotch” list (self explanatory), the “Don’t Inhale” list for low rates of marijuana consumption, and the “Most Religious” list.

If one were to ask the Mormon Church, the BYU administration, or the Cougar student body whether they’d rather win a major NCAA championship every year or annually remain among the top schools in the aforementioned categories, there’s really no question which they would choose. How many universities and student bodies out there would make the same choice?

While BYU itself appears to be weathering the storm fairly well, there is also much interest in how Brandon Davies is doing. Some might assume he has become an outcast on campus or that a scarlet letter has been sewn onto his letterman’s jacket.

To the contrary, it seems that the only thing he might have to hide from right now is an avalanche of support from well-wishing fellow students. In the final game of the regular season, BYU secured the top seed in the Mountain West Conference tournament by defeating Wyoming 102-78 in front of the home crowd. Seated on the home bench, dressed in coat and tie, was Brandon Davies cheering his team to victory.

After the game, the celebrating Cougars each ascended a ladder with scissors to cut down a piece of the net. Though he did not play, Davies took his rightful turn climbing the ladder to the thunderous reaction of the fans who shouted “Davies! Davies!”

Steve Young, former BYU and San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and as a decendant of the actual Brigham Young perhaps the most famous of BYU’s numerous posterity, commented to TIME magazine about his alma mater:

“It’s really a pretty compassionate place. I guarantee you there’s a huge outreach to make sure that he’s O.K. If I could talk to him, I’d put my arm around him and say, ‘Hang in there, get back on the court when you can, and make it right.’” And so far, indications are that Davies may try to do just that.

Going into Saturday night’s Mountain West Conference championship game, the San Diego State Aztecs’ only two losses this year were to BYU. With Davies out of the lineup, the Aztecs easily dispatched the Cougars 72-54 to claim the conference crown. Both teams received easy selection to the NCAA Tournament, but Brigham Young has definitely begun feeling the sting which can accompany the courage of one’s convictions. In all likelihood, the pain will continue with a sooner-than-anticipated elimination in the early rounds. And yet, the university holds its head high, and deservedly so.

Getting back to where we started, contrast this story for a moment with a nation captivated by the Charlie Sheen spectacle, whose life epitomizes everything which is opposite of the BYU honor code. How refreshing it is in our mixed-message society to observe a university sticking by its principles at the peril of diminished Final Four aspirations, and to witness a young man – whose personal life has been mercilessly discussed at the national level – holding up so admirably with poise and class. Regardless of the outcome of this year’s tournament, the one word which may yet best describe the BYU honor code, and hopefully Brandon Davies, is this: Winning !

Tom Walker is a contributing writer for INSIDE SPORTS. Be sure to check out his article on the San Jose Sharks.

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2 Responses to BYU Honor Code & Brandon Davies

  1. Gigi Hartwig says:

    The Brandon Davis incident is very disturbing as it appears to be veiled racism on the part of the LDS organization. According to an msmbc.com report, Utah continues to have the highest birthrate sans marriage in the United States. Unsanctioned sexual activity is widespread among the youth in Utah. With this in mind, is one to believe that Brandon Davis is the only member of the team to have engaged in premarital sexual intercourse? Who brought his behavior to the attention of the powers that be; what was their motivation? The honor code is an admirable concept, singling Brandon Davis out is not.

    I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and was brought up to believe that black people were born under “the mark of Cain” according the LDS teachings. This belief was not acceptable to me then nor is it now. That being said, Brandon Davis should consider transferring to another college where there is more possibility of him being received as an equal.

    Please see the references regarding the LDS position on race.
    After the death of Joseph Smith Jr., the Prophet Brigham Young Sr. taught that “Negroes” were black due to the mark of Cain, which also meant that they were Canaanites and were under the curse of Ham. For this reason, most black people of African descent—along with a smaller number of non-black people that the Church also deemed to be Canaanites—were ineligible to be ordained to the Priesthood. They were also barred from participating in the Endowment and celestial marriage, but were allowed to enter the church’s temples to perform baptism for the dead.[5] While this policy existed for over a century, it was always with the promise that “the time will come when [black men] will have the privilege of all [white men] have the privilege of and more.”[6] In 1978, church leaders said they had received a revelation that this long-promised time had come, and the Priesthood was offered to black men. All women, black and white, remain ineligible to receive the priesthood.
    For critics, the fact that Blacks were not allowed into the priesthood until 1978 supports the on-going argument of racism within the Church. In 1981, a verse that used “white and delightsome” to describe the reward of dark-skinned people if they repented was changed to read, “pure and delightsome.”
    In 2005, the Intelligence Report published the following statements made by Warren Jeffs, President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
    • “The black race is the people through which the devil has always been able to bring evil unto the earth.”
    • “[Cain was] cursed with a black skin and he is the father of the Negro people. He has great power, can appear and disappear. He is used by the devil, as a mortal man, to do great evils.”
    • “Today you can see a black man with a white woman, et cetera. A great evil has happened on this land because the devil knows that if all the people have Negro blood, there will be nobody worthy to have the priesthood.”
    • “If you marry a person who has connections with a Negro, you would become cursed.”[
    • the exclusion of black men from the priesthood (abandoned by the LDS Church in 1978).

  2. Mike W. says:

    The officialinsidesports.com article on the BYU Honor Code and Brandon Davies brings quite a number of very timely topics to the forefront, among which are:

    – All too often, celebrity status allows an individual to be treated as if they are “above the law.”

    – The media’s obsession with loudly building up stars, only to herald their fall with even greater volume (read: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods, Amy Winehouse, and the aforementioned current kingpin, Charlie Sheen, et. al.).

    – The fact that, all too often, punishment meted out to a student athlete is gauged more in line with the university’s proximity to a national championship than to the severity of the deed itself.

    – The notion that a school would not only have the audacity to institute an honor code, not only have the temerity to actually enforce it, but – wonder-of-all-wonders – would even enforce said honor code the same way toward a star athlete as it would toward one of the thousands among the student body who will live their entire life in anonymity.

    – The notion that a university would not only walk away from potential millions of dollars in revenue, but do so knowing that the court of public opinion would find the decision controversial, to say the least.

    – The question, “Does it actually mean something when a student signs a document acknowledging that certain behaviors will bring on certain consequences?”

    – With ever-increasing frequency, the word “integrity”, when it comes to college sports, can only be found on the back of a milk carton (much like a missing child, for those who don’t immediately get the reference).

    – The overall role of national-theater athletics in an institution of academic higher learning.

    Given the gravitas of each of the above 8 points individually – not to mention taking them in total – I must say that I find it amazing that a) there has, as yet, been precious little reader commentary to writer Tom Walker’s article, and b) that the one response as yet submitted IGNORES EACH OF these seriously important talking points, while immediately using the article as a dumping ground for dubious, specious accusations aimed at the LDS Church as a whole.

    In the interest of disclosure, let me state up front that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and have been for 49 years. I have served both as a full-time missionary for the church, and as a Stake Mission President (a position in which I directed the member missionary work of a group of 10 congregations). I have taught LDS theology at the high school and college level. That I have enough “cred” to delineate the LDS position on the issue in question – both historically and currently – is not up for discussion; it’s a given.

    I am going to address Ms. Hartwig’s comments in serial fashion. In doing so, it is not my aim to mercilessly cut her to shreds, but to be completely certain that the doctrine and policy of the LDS Church is accurately represented.

    Ms. Harwig writes: “It appears to be veiled racism on the part of the LDS organization.”

    Seriously, Gigi? Come on, now…..is it really your intent that folks believe that African-Americans are being singled out for unfair treatment at BYU? While it is, thankfully, only a small number of students who receive some form of sanction for violation of the Honor Code, there is not the slightest micro-shred of evidence that African-American students receive said sanctions at a higher level than any other racial demographic. Over many years, I have known of a number of students who have had to work their way through Honor Code violation procedures, and Brandon Davies is only the second African-American among them. Young people make mistakes. There is no racial proclivity toward them, nor is there a racial barrier. And when those mistakes run afoul of the Honor Code, consequences are borne. End.

    Let me pose this question: Were there indeed some nefarious “veiled racism” at work here, would Davies have been allowed to continue to sit on the bench, alongside his teammates? Would Davies have been allowed to climb the ladder and cut the net after the win against Wyoming? Come on, now.

    Ms. Hartwig writes: “Utah continues to have the highest birthrate sans marriage in the United States.”

    Probably not so. Admittedly, there is not a whole lot of info readily available through a cursory check of the internet. I was unable to find anything at msnbc.com, which is what Ms. Hartwig refers to. What I could find, though, was a 2005 study on teen pregnancy by the highly respected Guttmacher Institute. In this study, Utah ranked 45th in pregnancies. What should also be mentioned is that Utah ranked 49th in teen abortions. Only New Hampshire ranked lower, and it is widely known that teens in New Hampshire tend to travel out of state for this particular procedure. Given the high percentage of out-of-wedlock births which occur in teenage women, one would not be inclined to think that enough unmarried Utah women between the ages of 20 and menopause are cranking out babies to move the state up 45 places.

    Ms. Hartwig writes: “Is one to believe that Brandon Davis is the only member of the team to have engaged in premarital sexual intercourse?”

    I don’t know. It’s none of my business. Nor is it hers, for that matter. It also bears mentioning that it’s not as if young Mr. Davies was caught in flagrante delicto. Having committed his offense, he took the initiative and brought the matter to the University on his own. The “consensual pre-marital sex with his girlfriend”? That was sin. We all do that. The INTEGRITY to own up to it, knowing that it could well create a firestorm of epic proportion? That was HUGE. Do we all have that level of integrity? If I’m Brandon Davies’ parent, I might well sorrow for my son’s sin, but my heart will swell with pride and gratitude as my son takes responsibility like an adult. At the end of the day, how honestly each member of any of BYU’s athletic teams deals with this issue is between the athlete and God. I am proud of Brandon Davies for not being found wanting.

    Ms. Hartwig writes: “Who brought his behavior to the attention of the powers that be; what was their motivation? The honor code is an admirable concept, singling Brandon Davis out is not.”

    Ms. Hartwig seems to treat this situation as if Davies was somehow “ratted out.” For someone claiming to have been “born in Salt Lake City” (she does not mention how long she actually lived there or whether she was ever LDS), she seems to be lacking in some of the most fundamental aspects of both LDS doctrine/policy and culture. I would take the position that, for those “on the outside”, it is probably very difficult to understand a) the diligence with which issues of chastity and virtuous living are taught, specific to LDS youth (for the record, Davies is a lifelong Mormon, raised in Provo, Utah), and b) the “desire for repentance” experienced by most LDS when they transgress what they consider to be a commandment of Jesus Christ, whether major or minor. In all likelihood, the couple at the root of the issue sought counsel from his or her Bishop, and notifying BYU of a major violation of the Honor Code was a part of the repentance process, no more and no less. What needs to be understood here is that the Honor Code embodies the LDS faith. It’s not just a college disciplinary system. If anyone “singled Brandon Davies out”, it was likely Brandon Davies.

    Ms. Hartwig writes: “I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and was brought up to believe that black people were born under “the mark of Cain” according the LDS teachings.”

    Ms. Hartwig studiously avoids mentioning whether she, herself, was raised LDS. If one takes the sentence exactly as written (sorry, folks, I teach high school…I can’t help myself), the impression is that she was brought up to believe that the LDS believe certain things….from the outside. I’m sure she can provide clarification if she so chooses. That said, while the so-called “mark of Cain” notion has certainly been bandied about from time to time, it is not – and indeed has not ever been – LDS canon. It may have been the musing of this or that member – even this or that member in high leadership – but it has never been the official doctrine of the LDS Church.

    Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Ms. Hartwig’s post is the fact that, within a discussion where the main topic is Integrity, she made the decision that over half of her words were directly lifted from other sources, and done without attribution. Indeed, she committed what for journalists would be THE cardinal sin: plagiarism.

    Nevertheless, I will address the racial aspect, so that clarity will prevail. It is indeed indisputable fact that, for a time, there was a prohibition on men of African descent holding the Priesthood. Does that, however, automatically mean that there was some nefarious discrimination going on which God would look askance at, were one to ask Him? If so, we have a host of problems which date all the way back to Old Testament times. “Back in the day”, you had to be specifically of the Tribe of Levi to officiate in the Priesthood. During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ Himself told his disciples to extend the blessings of the Gospel ONLY – at first – to the Jews. The sanctioned inclusion of the “Gentiles” into the Gospel of Jesus Christ did not occur until the Apostolic Period. Have we now uncovered some Godly form of discrimination? Of course not. There is an order to all things. Do we know “why” there was a prohibition in place which was not lifted until 1978? No. And anyone who claims to have “the” answer is whistling in the dark. This, of course, does not prevent individual members – in or out of leadership – from seeing a piece of the picture here, another piece there, and “extrapolating” until it makes sense to them. This is the same process that takes folks from “there is a prohibition on coffee and tea” to “the church has a stand against caffeine”, simply because it is an ingredient common to the two beverages. Simply put, if you are a faithful Latter-day Saint, you will eschew coffee and tea – even the decaffeinated variety – but no one’s going to wag their finger at your stash of Diet Pepsi.

    Item Next: Convicted felon Warren Jeffs has never been associated with the LDS Church, the official name of his sect notwithstanding. He does not have, and has never had, standing to delineate the doctrine of the LDS Church.

    Time for a little more “disclosure”. I have something in common with Brandon Davies’ mother: We are both Caucasians who are the adoptive parent of African-American children. As the father of 2 African-American girls growing up LDS, I can state definitively that, were there institutional racism – veiled or otherwise – going on in the LDS Church, I would not put my children through that. I don’t just “guess” at the Church’s relationship toward its black members; I live it on a daily basis. I can guarantee, therefore, that both the Church, as an organization, and its members, as individuals, have wrapped their arms lovingly around Brandon Davies. For his sake, we wish him all the best as he works through this difficult period of his young life. He will certainly recover, and I believe that I can speak for all of “BYU Nation” when I say that we hope to see him back in uniform next season, leading the Cougars to their best season ever.

    Final piece of disclosure: I am a “California Mormon.” As such, I engage in the good-natured teasing that goes on between us and the “Utah Mormons.” It’s much like the “Dodger fan/Giants fan” thing. I am NOT a natural born BYU fan simply because I am LDS. Indeed, my college sports cheering tends to include the words “Fight On!” (Yeah, I know, not the easiest of places to be right at the moment.), and I have good-naturedly mocked my BYU-alum buddies after Cougar losses. But my respect for BYU – for having had the integrity to abide by a rule even when it hurts – and ALSO for having treated Brandon Davies not only with dignity but with an outpouring of sympathy and respect – has taken a quantum leap in recent days. I will cheer with them for as long as they last in the tournament, and I will cheer even more loudly the next time Brandon Davies suits up for the Cougars….even if it’s against USC.

    Concluding Thought: At the outset of this post, I included 8 topics, all of which deserve discussion. Having dispatched the anti-LDS sentiment expressed in the prior post, I humbly invite any and all for a discussion of any of those…all of which have a lot more to do with the actual article we read and are responding to.

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