Empty apologies for anti-Mormon chants
Here’s what I see under the surface. It's par for the course when ignorance drives the conversation and the media.
Back in the days when Donald Trump lived in the White House, when insults, slurs and bullying were the rule, Trump never uttered an unkind word against Mitt Romney’s faith. Yes, in 2019, Trump called Romney “a pompous ass” who never knew how to win, but he didn’t go after Mormons as a group—and as a group many Mormons despised him, and still do.
A few weeks ago, a small kerfuffle erupted when a Duke volleyball player accused BYU fans of calling her a racial slur. USA Today writer Mike Freeman believed Rachel Richardson—at least that she believed her own story—that it wasn’t made up. Initially, the media went with “what occurred” as the true version of those events. He blamed MAGA for the “she made it up” storyline (which is odd, given what I wrote above). Freeman also went deep into the racial history of Utah and BYU as proof this must have happened.
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BYU first banned a fan for the slur, then reversed itself, concluding after an investigation there was no evidence the whole thing even happened. The New York Times reported last week,
“Despite being unable to find supporting evidence of racial slurs in the many recordings and interviews,” the school’s statement said, “we hope that all those involved will understand our sincere efforts to ensure that all student-athletes competing at B.Y.U. feel safe,.”
Last Saturday, a small group of fans chanted “F*** the Mormons” at the University of Oregon football game against the BYU Cougars held at Autzen Stadium at UO’s Eugene campus. Utah Gov. In response, Spencer Cox tweeted, “Religious bigotry alive and celebrated in Oregon.”
This event did happen. It’s recorded on video. There is no question it happened. No further investigation is necessary, other than to determine who did the shouting, and hopefully to expel them from the school.
OU’s interim president, Patrick Phillips, wrote a statement condemning the chant. Here’s the final two paragraphs.
These actions remind us that discrimination can affect each of us along some dimension of our lives — faith, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical or cognitive ability, socioeconomic background — but for some, it is part and parcel of their daily experience, and it can weigh heavily. We have students from all backgrounds at the UO. Without question, some have been more vulnerable to discrimination than others, as are many of the groups of faculty and staff who have spoken to me over the last few years with true distress in their voices.
I condemn the behavior of these fans on Saturday. It angers me. It disgusts me. It also provides a moment to remind ourselves that these actions, as well as any other actions of a similar flavor, are anathema to who we are as a community. These types of incidents call upon us to stand up against such behavior when we witness it — a task made easier when we stand together. This is who we seek to be as a university, and the standard to which we hold ourselves. We will continue to educate our community about our values and how to live them in words and actions.
The Washington Post noted that an almost-identical event occurred less than a year ago in Los Angeles, while playing USC. It’s not at all uncommon for drunk, stupid kids to chant idiotic things.
Here’s what I see under the surface.
It’s okay for the news coverage of BYU, which is owned by the LDS Church, to go into the racial history of the Mormons. Past discrimination, BYU’s “honor code,” the tiny percentage of Blacks and minorities in the LDS and in its leadership, the “weird” parts of their religion, the history of Utah, and the violent past of some LDS members is not off limits, and is peppered in coverage to provide “context.”
But when reporting on Oregon, which is lily white with only 2.3 percent of residents being Black, with a history of KKK support, none of those facts find their way into print. I don’t think this is some kind of whitewashing away of Oregon’s past sins (or LA’s), because the context of the articles is based on the idiocy of a few fans.
Yet why is it okay to report all that background when reporting a “might have” event at BYU, and use it to justify believing the person who reported it, that it happened as they said, despite the school’s finding that there’s no evidence, but not when something clearly happened at a different school?
I don’t think this is political. In 2020, Democrats were counting on Mormon votes against Trump, but two-thirds of Mormons still voted Republican. Half of those younger than 40 voted for Biden. Perhaps, as white evangelical protestants decided in 2012 about Mitt Romney, Trump was “the lesser of two evils.”
Talking to friends who are LDS members, I’m told this is par for the course. It’s okay to mock Mormons. It’s okay to wrap that criticism in history and the religion’s “strange” practices. But Mormon adherents really do their best to live “virtuous lives.” It’s generally agreed among non-Mormons that Mormons are trustworthy in honoring contracts; in keeping their word; in treating others respectfully; in not reacting violently to criticism or outright hate. They make up a large part of the staff of Las Vegas casinos precisely because of this (and because gambling is prohibited by the LDS Church).
I don’t subscribe to any of the distinctive religious beliefs of the LDS Church. It would be futile for Mormons to try to move me on my beliefs, which I describe as orthodox trinitarian, spirit-filled Christianity, based on the Old and New Testaments, and no other divine source. But I do believe this: it’s wrong to mock Mormons, or to unequally yoke them to their own morality while offering empty apologies for those who spout hate against them.
As one who is born a Jew and grew up in Jewish culture, I have sympathy for the Mormons. So much ignorance by others and so many attacks are part of their lives.
If the OU or USC students had been chanting “F*** Jews!” or against Muslims, the backlash would be immediate and harsh. The deepest roots of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia would be probed for weeks. But against Mormons, a simple apology ends the crisis with “this isn’t part of our values.” No deeper dive is necessary; it’s an anomaly (except it isn’t—ask any Mormon).
It’s telling that those who are okay accusing the Mormons of racial slurs are fine with tying that to MAGA, but those who chant against Mormons are not tied to it. They are anomalies. Perhaps it’s because Mormons tend to vote Republican, even if they don’t like Trump himself. The media tends to be Democrat, and just maybe they see the world in the light of “if Mormons weren’t MAGA, they’d be Democrats too.”
Or maybe 18-year old college freshman drinking beer in the stands are just being idiots, parroting one ignorant schmuck who can’t come up with better trash talk than to attack the religion of the other team.
Either way, OU’s apology is empty. I’ll take the consistent efforts of Mormons to live virtuously over the ouroboros beliefs of progressive liberals running public universities when dealing with apologies and actions. BYU banned a fan, then reversed its decision. At least BYU followed the facts where they led. OU offered a genuflection to liberal culture: though I’m sure it’s sincere, it’s empty.