Last month, the Brigham Young University men's basketball team drew headlines for more than just star guard Jimmer Fredette scoring a lot of points.
News broke that BYU had kicked starting forward Brandon Davies off the team for violating the university's honor code. The violation was later revealed to be having sex with his girlfriend. BYU's honor code is signed by all students and prohibits alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, and caffeine among other things.
Davies' suspension drew national attention as it likely jeopardized a likely lengthy run by BYU in the NCAA tournament. Many criticized the university for such a harsh punishment for a relatively common act, particularly for college students. But at the same time, commentators praised the school for sticking to its moral standards, which is seen as a rarity in the presumably corrupt world of college athletics.
The traditional mainstream media didn't explore the story any further than finding out what the honor code violation was. The media didn't poke into previous athletes who had violated the honor code. If they pursued the story any further, they simply asked famous BYU alums like Steve Young about the enforcement of the code. In-depth reporting was lacking, for whatever reason.
It took a blog -- Deadspin -- to do this, which shows the void that blogs can potentially fill in telling the whole story. Today, Deadspin published a piece that examines the history of enforcement of the honor code at BYU. Using former athletes' testimony, Deadspin found that BYU treated white athletes and black athletes differently. While it is important to note that the athletes who provided information to Deadspin may have an ax to grind with BYU, the findings are still fascinating.
Deadspin reports that an overwhelming majority of athletes who were suspended for violating the code were minorities, despite minorities making up an incredibly small portion of athletes at the university. The piece also alleges that BYU treats Mormon students differently than non-Mormons as it often allows Mormon athletes who violate the honor code to escape without punishment. Mormon students are allowed to "repent" for their actions while non-Mormons are not given this option. The article also alleges that recruits are taken to parties with alcohol and sex on recruiting visit, implying the honor code is not strictly enforced.
Because of the lack of restraints placed on the blogosphere, Deadspin had the opportunity to pursue the story further. Deadspin benefits from not having to rely on official sources for its coverage like a newspaper would. Instead, the blog can rely on other sources with knowledge of the situation. Deadspin never has to worry about relying on the university for information in the future so it is more free to print its findings. Deadspin is also not restrained by the fast-moving news cycle. As a blog, it had the chance to thoroughly examine the issue, even after it had left the minds of the general public. Because it can link to previous stories as a blog, Deadspin has the luxury of refreshing the memory of its audience before providing further information about a topic.
The actual content of the report is troubling. BYU had been praised for their ethics and morality in the situation, which is something Arthur Raney argued we value as consumers of sports content. But, in reality, BYU may not have been as moral as it seemed. BYU was not fair in its enforcement of its own rules.
The more troubling issue regarding BYU is the race factor. BYU can be seen as reinforcing the perception of black males as rule breakers. While violating the honor code is not a crime, the idea of violating rules and laws are similar. In a society where black men are overrepresented as suspects of crime and where black athletes are more often viewed as criminal, BYU's actions do nothing but reinforce these perceptions. This reinforces the notion that black athletes are out of control compared to their white counterparts. It also reinforces the idea that black athletes are hypersexual. By punishing mainly black athletes, BYU makes it seem that only black athletes have a problem sticking to the honor code. Deadspin reveals that as untrue. All athletes at BYU struggle to maintain the code. But BYU's actions make it seem as if the problem is with black athletes, rather than just students in general.
If sport can influence what the media covers and the media influence society, then sport should be able to influence society. While it appears Davies is being targeted for his race, reports like the one by Deadspin can help to educate readers about the ongoing racism in sports and society. While some acts of "colorblindness," when minorities are attacked indirectly by condemning the sports they play, occur regularly in the sports world, this issue at BYU appears to essentially be racism. By serving as an example of the difficulties of black students at the university, Davies can act as a Jackie Robinson-like figure for BYU and black citizens around the nation. Robinson was chosen to break the baseball color barrier for his off-the-field characteristics, not only his athletic ability. By accepting his punishment and serving the suspension with class, Davies is presenting a good image while garnering national publicity. With the reports of unfair useage of BYU's honor code, it can serve to show a seemingly classy, black athlete can still be unfairly persecuted in today's world.