Mormons as Sports Fans

After reading the amazing conversation on gay marriage below, I am in the mood for something a little lighter. How about sports? Mormons enjoys sports as much as any group … maybe more than most, since we are sober at sporting events. Anyone out there who is associated with BYU knows that the football team is a passion for many Mormons, perhaps even more so after two straight losing seasons. Just visit Cougarboard or CougarBlueII and you can witness the continuing interest in BYU football, even though the season ended several weeks ago with an ignominious loss to the University of Utah by a score of 3-0.

Many fans are calling for Coach Gary Crowton’s job, but fortunately that will not happen this year. Meanwhile, the basketball program is thriving. Just a few years ago, fans were having similar doubts about Coach Steve Cleveland, but this year’s team recently defeated No. 25-ranked Oklahoma State, and star center Rafael Araujo was just selected by the Sporting News as the National Player of the Week.

Unfortunately, the game against Oklahoma State is now the subject of some controversy. You see, one of Oklahoma State’s starting players — Daniel Bobick — formerly played for BYU. During this recent game, BYU fans relentlessly booed Bobick, who nevertheless turned in Oklahoma State’s best performance and almost won the game for them. More details come from this BYU Newsnet story:

Saturday night’s defeat of Oklahoma State was a huge win for the BYU basketball squad, yet due to the fans, it resulted in an even larger loss for the university. “Coach Keller leaned over to me and said, ‘Daniel, what’s wrong with your church?'” said Daniel Bobik, Oklahoma State guard, former Cougar and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The BYU crowd at the Delta Center made a much stronger case than just the expected and semi-deserved boos that Bobik received. They took comments a step further by shouting remarks such as, “This is what happens when you leave the church” and “You’re a traitor to your religion.” “After Daniel got home and had some time to think, he said the comment from his coach was more painful than losing the game,” said Natalie Bobik, Daniel Bobik’s wife.

Val Hale, athletic director for BYU, issued a statement Monday, Dec. 8, encouraging fans to be more mindful of the impressions they leave with their behavior.

Now, I am happy to let the folks on Cougarboard sort out their views on this from the perspective of a fan (short for “fanatic”), but I am interested in thinking about this from from the perspective of a faithful Church member. What are the limits of appropriate behavior for a faithful Latter-day Saint at sporting events?

Here is one principle that I hope most of us can agree on: while LDS sports fans may not be distinguishable from every group of fans in the world, they should at least rise above the level of fans like those students at recent the University of Wisconsin football games, who abuse and insult and threaten opposing fans. That should be fairly uncontroversial.

How about this stricter standard: LDS sports fans should consider the effect of their behavior on the reputation of the Church, and thus, they should not boo referees, opposing players, or their own coach or team.

Two viewpoints from Cougarboard. First, pro-booing:

I think this whole thing is a joke. Before you guys tear me apart again and start quoting GA’s and Ensign articles (only on CougarBoard…), consider a couple of points.

This is D1 basketball. Getting harassed by the crowd comes with the territory. Shucks, it starts in High School! I for one would be really surprised if Bobik was shaken up by this. I’m sure he’s been razzed before.

If you think BYU fans were out of control on Saturday (and I wasn’t there, so I can’t have an opinion), consider some of the antics of other fans. The Cameron Crazies at Duke do things way worse than this. If Bobik was allegedly shaken up, he’d have cried like a 2nd string QB after a game at Cameron (Duke’s Court).

Now, anti-booing:

I personally think that it was silly, and annoying, to boo Daniel. It does create a negative image of BYU and, by association, the LDS Church. Those that were truly offended because of careless comments deserve an apology. Those that were offended because they were looking to take offense need to be more forgiving. Hopefully we as fans will improve our behavior but I believe that we are simply too mortal to live up to some expectations.

My impression is that BYU fans are held to a higher standard than fans at other universities. Is that fair?

9 comments for “Mormons as Sports Fans

  1. I would say that it probably is fair. BYU MBA and law school graduates are held to higher standards too. When you belong to a faith that teaches a high standard of personal conduct, you are a target and people will watch to see if the conduct matches the message. Call it the “by their fruits ye shall know them” effect.

    That said, I don’t know if booing by itself is a problem, if it the proper attitude attends the booing. Opposing teams should expect some booing at the home team’s venue, and referees making questionable calls also should expect a certain amount of criticism from the crowd. There were multiple highly questionable calls this season that contributed to huge momentum shifts against the Cougars. The problem is when booing is accompanied by derogatory comments, anger, hatred, etc. Comments to Bobick about “leaving the church” or being a “traitor to your religion” are beyond excessive. These show a complete lack of perspective. Sports exhibitions are fun, but they are only entertainment. They don’t have anything to do with eternal salvation nor are they necessary for happiness and peace in this life. Part of me is glad BYU had a couple of horrible seasons. I am a huge BYU football fan, but this season, after gentle rebuke from my good wife, I realized that the players and coaches have to feel the pain of their losses a whole lot more than I ever could imagine and that there is no reason to get worked up over wins or losses. Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts.

  2. This will obviously belie a little ignorance on my part (as to names, places, etc.) but I seem to remember being at a Yankees game this summer where the crowd booed a player from the opposing team for no apparent reason, until my husband explained that he had switched teams. If it wasn’t the Yankees, then it was a pro-football game we were watching. How is this different? A player that switches teams will always be booed at the ex-home court.

    So the question is, should it be different at/for BYU? No. Is there reason or justification for people outside the church to act this way? No. Players that change teams should always expect a little hassling — it’s part of the sport and the competition. However, acting as if the particpant’s relgious status and eternal progression are at stake is just plain silly, and only shows the ignorance of the accuser. It’s not a higher standard — it’s just the standard. Evangelicals shouldn’t bring religion into competition, Jews shouldn’t bring religion into competition, Muslims shouldn’t bring religion into competition. Bobik’s coach may have placed the burden on the church, but that’s his bias to work out, not ours.

    Higher standards for church members may exist, but they shouldn’t. And I really wonder if they do exist, or if members are just held more accountable. The world should expect these things from everyone – not just those who profess to have the true religion of Christ. These are moral standards that apply universally. When we expect the best, we’re more likely to get the best.

    And how about those BYU Ballroom Dancers?

  3. My husband graduated (and I attended) BYU “THE” year. Yes, the year of the national championship. They knew us by our fruits that year! Barry Switzer got to know us real well too. I am not sure we all were on our best behavior during that battle, but we did prevail!

    And don’t even get started with church sports – that T shirt that reads “The brawl that begins and ends with prayer” says it all.

    All in all I think we are generally more inclinced to be nice.

  4. Booing people who quit your team is, uh, required. You can’t be a fan if you don’t feel the betrayal.

    But dragging the church into it is clearly excessive.

    Also, insults shouldn’t be used unless they’re funny.

  5. I’ve always been impressed with schools like Nebraska that applaud opposing teams after the game.

    Notre Dame does the same thing for Navy, plus they play the opposing team’s fight song after every game.

    The idea of sports is to throw yourself wholeheartedly into the thrill and pleasure of competition, but show by various magnanimous gestures that one is the right sort and respects one’s opponent.

  6. Ah, how church sports have declined over the years. Last year I read a manual from the church form the 1970s–on church basketball leagues! It talks about strategy and sportsmanship, as well as the pyramid of church sports–from stake campionships all the way up to area championships, if I remember correctly. It was also seriously stated that every game must have a first aid station to tend to injuries and a training table for refreshments. I am not making this up. I’ve lived in three states since I played church ball as a priest, and the quality of organization has become worse each year, it seems. The explanation has always been that sportsmanship problems means we need to be less “serious” about the games. Oh well.

  7. As one the heathens from up north (the University of Utah), I am well aware of some of the unsportsman-like behavior on both sides. Every year when football season rolls around, my husband (a Cougar) and I go head to head. But I think as long as the ribbing is good-natured and fun, there’s no problem.

    However, I do think booing is required when a player really stabs his fans in the back e.g. Karl Malone joining the Lakers.

    Go Utes!!!

  8. You have every right to be disappointed by the end of the non-shutout streak, and losing to your rival, in Provo no less, but this year you should count yourselves lucky that you only lost to an 8-2 Utah team by 3.

  9. fly_killa: I agree wholeheartedly about Malone!!!! We have rooted for years against the evil empire called the Lakers. And living in SoCal, that is no easy feat! Then to have Carl saunter on over to get that ring…Ugh!

    Needless to say, I’m not booing or cheering.

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