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Monson: BYU should offer an open hand, not a clenched fist
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In an era of rule bending in and around college sports, it's easy to be impressed by BYU's clenched-iron-fist adherence to its standards in the case of Brandon Davies and his recent run-in with the school's honor code.

But there's another side to that adherence that might be improved upon: the human side.

The 19-year-old Davies, according to BYU, broke the strict code, a list of rules that prohibits, among other bits of unrighteousness, dishonesty, premarital sex, use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, and was kicked off the school's basketball team after a quick review by administrators on Tuesday. Davies acknowledged to school officials that he had premarital sex. The sophomore center is said to be remorseful and heartbroken.

BYU's third-ranked team, which was crushed by New Mexico on Wednesday night at the Marriott Center, is fairly busted up, as well. The Cougars had been projected as a No. 1 seed in the coming NCAA Tournament, and Davies' sudden departure has left a devastating hole in a team that had been enjoying the best regular season in school history. Had been.

But this discussion isn't about what could have happened on the court. It's about what could — and maybe should — have happened off it.

Advance warning: We're going to talk religion here, so if you have an aversion to that, stop reading here and now.

A lot of BYU fans and other observers of the Davies saga, in specific, and the honor-code issue, in general, fall into one of two camps: 1) The Rules-Are-Rules-and-Consequences-Are-Consequences faction, and 2) The Application-of-the-Honor-Code-Is-Too-Extreme group.

The former views BYU's honor code as a binding contract that students willfully agree to obey and then sign, committing themselves to living the strictures and conforming their behavior to those rules, end of story. They know what they're getting into, and it is left to them to govern themselves accordingly. If they don't, they pay the price — some form of discipline from the school, ranging from probation to expulsion.

The latter acknowledges that students, including student-athletes, at BYU agree to live by the honor code, that many of them want to follow the code, but that they remain, in fact, human, and are therefore subject to the frailties and failures of the human condition. Short of the most egregious cases, such as instances where a perpetrator is a predator among other students, the imperfect should be worked with and helped toward abiding by the code. They should not be expelled, or banished, or kicked off the basketball team for even a series of moral transgressions.

BYU's behavioral code is, in fact, stricter than the one dictated by the LDS Church to its general membership. That spans from rules for dress and grooming to discipline for wrongdoing. The BYU version often amounts to regular church standards on steroids.

In a comprehensive sense, if a church member makes a mistake that is deemed serious by ecclesiastical leaders, only in the most extraordinary cases is that member excommunicated. There are disciplinary councils where wayward Mormons, members who have gone well beyond what Davies did, are given liberal chances to realign themselves with LDS ideals. Those chances are theoretically, at least, offered in a spirit of understanding and forgiveness, not by way of a punitive hammer.

I have interviewed student-athletes at BYU who have run afoul of the honor code, student-athletes who have worked, on the one hand, with an LDS bishop, and, then, on the other, with the honor-code office. In some cases, they said they felt as though their bishop was there to help them, and honor-code officials were there to prosecute and punish them.

Question: Why the disparity?

Another question: Why the need for the honor-code office, at all?

If the code is based on honor and honesty, in the cases of marginal wandering or outright transgression, why not simply have students at BYU work with, and set up a redemptive plan with, their ecclesiastical leaders, whatever their faith. That's what LDS church members everywhere else do, without the bolstered standard and extra layer of the honor-code office.

If the LDS Church is about helping its faithful, including BYU students — at least those who actually want to be there and make things better — stay on the path, through their own free will and free agency, which is, by my view, what they attempt to do, why have armed guards line that path in Provo?

Some say playing basketball, or football, at BYU is a privilege, and maybe it is. But it's not a priesthood ordinance. Is it a church calling? Is it a mission call? If so, then why are nonbelievers who are able to help BYU win games not required to believe LDS doctrine? It's not the equivalent of being "temple worthy" or partaking of the sacrament at a Sunday service. It's not a privilege that should be revoked because of a human being's temporary struggle with a sexual transgression with his girlfriend. Is it?

I don't have all the answers, and don't pretend to know all.

But it seems to me a noble faith like the LDS faith is based on helping others gain spiritual strength and forgiveness, preferably by confidential means, not subjecting them, even when they are imperfect, to the hot burn of the national spotlight, the way Davies has been the past few days. When it comes to personal spiritual and moral issues, there should be no spotlight at all — on anyone.

Just quiet love and gentle progression forward, especially after a step or two backward. I've seen it time and time again among members of the LDS Church.

In this case, let the man play basketball while he addresses and corrects his missteps; don't kick him out or off.

That's not naïve, nor is it soft or irresponsible. If there are steep and severe abuses in some instances, deal with them individually. Otherwise, celebrate free agency and champion good people and good faith, even when mistakes are made. Offer an open, helping hand.

It's a proven formula that works, better than a clenched iron fist.

Even at BYU.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com.

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