What to do with BYU player haters talking anti-Mormon smack?

This week, Ask Mormon Girl takes a foray into the wild world of sports.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the unruly behavior San Diego State University Aztec basketball fans directed at Brigham Young University on Saturday, January 23, when a few dozen SDSU fans dressed up as LDS missionaries (complete with name tags and bike helmets), held signs taunting illness-stricken BYU guard Jimmer Fredette (“Jimmer, which one of your wives gave you mono?”), and compensated for their 71-69 loss by chanting “You’re still Mormon!” at departing BYU players and fans.

The episode caught national attention when Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis called the Aztec fan behavior “classless.”  Two days later, the Deseret News picked up the story, and the following letter appeared in the askmormongirl@gmail.com inbox:

Dear Mormon Girl:

Don’t you live in San Diego?  Don’t you work at San Diego State University?  Can’t you control your people???!!!


J. D.

Yes, J.D., it is true that both my husband and I are full-time employees of San Diego State University, where we have grown to love the beautiful campus and its diverse, bright, hardworking students (many of them first-generation college).  I adore the Aztecs who populate my lecture halls, especially when they manage to restrain themselves from thumb-typing illiterate little screeds into their magic phones and focus on the assigned reading.

But in the world of the sports arena crueler speech customs reign.  And my visiting teacher, a multi-generation local, tells me that SDSU animus towards BYU is deep and longstanding.  It gets unruly down here at the southwestern fringes of the Book-of-Mormon-belt, where we Mormons are numerous enough to constitute a definite element of the cultural landscape but still few enough to be a small minority.  And I bet many folks are feeling a little tender about homemade signs with polygamy jibes and anti-LDS chanting given that only a year has elapsed since the difficult days following the passage of California’s Proposition 8.

Among the Cougar faithful, reaction to the SDSU incident has broken two ways:  some giggle at the missionary dress-ups and dismiss the harsher jibes as regular trashtalking, while others call it “hate speech” and say it would have never been tolerated if the targets were, for example, gays or lesbians or Jews.

Not so fast, I say:  the question of what exactly constitutes “hate speech” deserves sober reflection, and anyone who thinks that gays and lesbians and Jews have it easy should sit down and read the latest California hate crime statistics. Personally, I’d feel more comfortable using the term “hate speech” if someone could identify for me a way in which Mormons are today systematically and structurally discriminated against as Mormons on the basis of our Mormon identity alone, besides encountering bias when one of us runs for president.  Does the simple fact of being born Mormon make it statistically more likely that we’ll be turned down for an apartment or a mortgage, or incarcerated, or targeted for public beating, or die an early death?  No, no, no, and no.

And yet, even as I was preparing to finish this column, my husband (who is Jewish) came home this afternoon and related the conversation he had with our neighbor (also Jewish), an SDSU basketball fan.  “I can’t stand that Jimmer Freddette,” the neighbor complained. “Man, I hate the Mormons.”

Did neighbor Aztec fan mean he actually hated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  Did he mean he hated me?  Or me and my husband’s children?  Or was there in his speech a quiet transformation of Mormons into mascots, a metonymic substitution with ugly side effects?  Do people say “I hate the Catholics” when they root against Notre Dame?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know.  I’m not sure I have a good handle on the strange, complex, and shifting place we Mormons occupy in American society, and I study religion and race for a living.

So, J. D., you asked mostly in jest, “Can’t you control those people?” And my unexpectedly serious answer is nope, no one can.  All we can control is the way we react to them.

As clever and giggle-worthy as the missionary dress-up routine was, no one likes to hear the name of their religion hurled as a taunt, especially Cougar fans who look forward to BYU games as a chance to bleacher-bond with the grandkids and other Mormons.

But it helps to remember that the word Mormon itself originated in the 1830s as a pejorative and has since become a word that we’re proud to own.

And in this we do have a clear common experience with other American minorities, including Black folks, Jews, women, and gays and lesbians, who know that the quickest way to neutralize a word designed to wound is to take it back and use it yourself–with pride, with style, and with flair.

So if this Mormon Girl were in the bleachers that night (I was just across the freeway at my daughter’s preschool benefit) and she heard the “You’re still Mormon!” jeers ringing across the arena, her very first instinct would have been to tuck her Young Womanhood medallion inside her blouse, shout out something in the key of J. Golden Kimball, and huck her leftover nachos at the offending Aztec fans.

Then, mustering a modicum of self-restraint, she might have quietly devised a clever counter-taunt, something along the lines of:  “That’s alright! That’s okay!  We’ll baptize your dead someday!”

Finally, reaching deeper, she would have resolved that the best response to the accusation “You’re still Mormon!” is a resounding “Yes, I am!”

Readers, what would you do or say?



Filed under anti-Mormon, BYU, hate speech, sports

17 responses to “What to do with BYU player haters talking anti-Mormon smack?

  1. Aaron

    It seems to me that anti-Mormon sentiment is in a class of its own. Effects of bias toward Mormons may not be as extreme as other forms of bigotry. But while racism, antisemitism, and bigotry towards most other minorities is generally viewed as backward and hateful, anti-Mormon sentiment, however, is totally socially acceptable. We endure it in the open. Other groups probably suffer through worse, but only when their backs are turned.

  2. Casey

    I think you missed the point. Of course we shouldn’t be offended.

    Everyone understands that some college students are idiots, and they do idiotic things, and with that understanding, I should choose not to offended, which I’m not.

    However, the University should not permit their students to engage in discriminatory behavior. The student body while chanting “You’re Still Mormon”, was intending to offend Latter-Day Saints. They were trying to offend a group of people because of their religious affiliation. SDSU could have taken away their signs, or removed the students from the arena who were practicing religious discrimination. The University has a right to compel their customers to abide to certain behavior, but they didn’t.

    They showed that the tolerate religious discrimination, and it sounds like instead of simply condemning their behavior, you say that we just shouldn’t be offended, completely ignoring the offenders. But then again I guess you shouldn’t expect such high values from such a prestigious university such as SDSU.

    Being an employee of the University, you have more weight to throw around than any normal visitor. You could write the school President, the Athletic Director, the Dean, etc. And say, I am a part of this University, I am also Mormon, and I will not tolerate the University condoning the behavior. The University owes Mormons an apology for allowing the student to try and oppress the Mormons and implying that Mormons should apologize for their religion. Then you can go on to explain that Mormons are resilient and they won’t be bothered by the incident, but we should strive to be a respectable university, try to adopt some values and make changes.

    Likewise your neighbor who claims to hate Mormons. He probably does hate Mormons. Why else would he say that? I guess he could be extremelly ignorant. But I’ve never heard an educated person say I hate ‘x’ or I hate ‘y’ unless they really did, or at least they felt they did.

  3. Brad

    Great article, thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and agree completely with your last two paragraphs.

  4. Hey, I really have enjoyed the little amount that I’ve read of your blog.

    Count me among those that thought that the missionary outfits were clever and that the “harsher jibes” were trash talk, but not terribly offensive. While I wouldn’t classify it as hate speech, I do have agree with those that believe that if such speech were directed towards other targets, a lot of people would be very upset. I find the double standard a little annoying, but not worth fretting about. I also liked all of your potential responses to the trash talkers.

    I may have to carve out some time from all the time I waste following BYU sports on various blogs and websites to follow your interesting and well-expressed perspective.


  5. Nebraska Nate

    I thought the costumes were an effort to be cute and while I initially was a little annoyed by the ploy, I wasn’t “offended” per se. However, as a former SoCal resident one year removed, I was reminded of a number of experiences where I felt friends or fellow saints were subjected to discriminatory actions or comments during the Prop 8 campaign. Some of the traditional measures of discrimination may not adequately reveal societal bias. We lack systemic measures for more subtle social interactions were religous bias may be manifested (eg. children being forbidden to associate with Mormon peers, etc). I think it is clear that the treatment of LDS fans and student-athletes was more in the neighborhood of “you’re still Mexican” than “you’re still left-handed.”

  6. marni campbell

    Hi Joanna! What a pleasure to be directed toward your blog. I would LOVE to comment on this, but I have a fairly public position in Seattle schools and so have to be careful when I post things online . . .

    Lovely to see you though and your thoughtful writing. Perhaps we can chat in person some day . . .


  7. Drew Emmick

    I love your attitude, Joanna! You perspective allows us to remain positive, even if SDSU fans crossed the line.

  8. Your post is very insightful and goes to the root that tolerance is not for long established religions in this country, (Christianity specifically) but for the ones we are trying to indoctrinate on college campuses.

  9. Scott

    I know many children who have been bullied and some who have been assaulted with the word “Mormon” on their persecutors’ lips. I know LDS adults who have been discriminated against in the work place because of their religion. I’ve seen parents shun their children and husbands abandon their wives for becoming Mormon. I have seen meeting houses vandalized and missionary car and bicycle tires slashed. Among other first-hand accounts of violence against church members that I’ve heard, I once saw a gun put to the head of a Mormon missionary in the middle of a discussion. (I didn’t technically see that, as the barrel was pressed against the short-cropped hair on the back of my head.)

    Discrimination and persecution are an unpleasant fact of life for many Mormons around the world. To ask whether Mormons suffer the same level of tangible “hate” as Jews or blacks misses the point. If Mormons ranked #28 on the “Most Persecuted Social Groups in America” chart, it would not justify slurs, discrimination, or persecution against them.

    Even if (improbably) there were no hate or malice at all behind the taunts at the sporting event, accepting the behavior sends the wrong message to those whose animus against Mormonism and Mormons lies closer to the point of action. Refusing to be offended and responding with good humor may defuse a situation or allow one some personal peace; but we do ourselves no favors if we condone the mainstreaming of hatred against Mormons (which, though diminished over time, has never really fallen out of fashion).

  10. I think that Mormonism as a whole is widely misunderstood by people that don’t follow that faith and because of that, is more susceptible to “hate” speech. I don’t think that that reason alone makes it any more appropriate to act that way.

  11. P Diddle

    So….I’m Mormon; I thought the missionary stunt was funny. I still laugh when I think of the bouncing bicycle helmets. Well done SDSU.

    But now that the game is over, let’s get back to things that really matter like curing cancer, serving our neighbors, and progressing as humans.
    I would only add “Do what is right, let the consequence follow”!!

  12. I`m black, and I have indured a lifetime of insults,as far as sports are concerned,nothing hurts he who razzes like kicking his team`s asses,because humility cures stupidity.

  13. Ted Michael Morgan

    That kind of attack is out-of-line. There are times when I think that Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a bit of a bully, but I admire Mormons. I lived in Oregon and knew Mormons there. I had Mormon friends in New Orleans and now in Baton Rouge.

    Plus, I got to attend summer school at the University of Oregon for three years over almost a decade.

    I lived in La Jolla once for a short interval. Love that area. Okay, folks let’s play fair and be kind to each other.

  14. Well done! I enjoyed your thoughts. As I’ve aged I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the idea that many are not going to be ok with my faith. I don’t mind it at all. We all can be a little afraid of the unknown.

    Reality is that others don’t think, and see the world like I do and that’s ok. I think my lack of defensiveness with their attitude has made it a lot more comfortable for those I meet with these types of attitudes to address questions they might have with my faith. Life is beautiful, and these silly pranks I don’t find the least be harmful. I’ll be back to see your blog often I’m sure. Go Utes!

  15. My response to, “You’re still Mormon!”:
    “Thank you for the compliment”, à la Gordon B. Hinckley.

  16. jack

    Lighten up a little, commenters! You can’t go around dressed like a dumbass and annoy people, then be offended when you’re made fun of!

  17. Darcy

    “That’s alright! That’s okay! We’ll baptize your dead someday!” Thanks for the laugh!!!!

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