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Alex Karmazin: A sports boycott over LGBTQ students might get BYU’s attention

Hitting the school in the sports pocketbook might move BYU to change its attitude.

(Isaac Hale | Special to The Tribune) Brigham Young University’s starting lineups are announced before a game between the BYU Cougars and the Saint Mary’s College of California Gaels held at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

There are multiple ways to prompt change in human or institutional behavior. The most effective of these tend to focus on monetary factors and prestige.

When Brigham Young University chooses to remain silent while one of the school’s religion professors uses a derogatory term on social media against one of its students, simply bringing the professor’s actions to the attention of the public is unlikely to prompt BYU (at least based on the school’s previous behavior) to discipline or censure the professor. Having the university sustain a financial setback or lose face, however, is more likely to have school officials take notice.

This would be accomplished most easily with a specific approach taken by other universities to BYU’s athletic program. In 2010, the school, presuming its football program was on par with Notre Dame in terms of national popularity, self-inflicted a wound that continues to fester a decade later. BYU elected to resign from the Mountain West Conference the following year to be an independent in football and join the West Coast Conference (all relatively small, church-affiliated colleges) in most other sports.

As a result, the football team does compete against schools such as USC, Washington and Boise State, but must also fill several games on the schedule with teams such as UMass, Liberty, Georgia Southern and Idaho State. Other sports languish in a minor conference. (Sorry, Gonzaga’s prowess in basketball does not lift all boats.)

What if other universities (supported by their alumni, current students and student athletes), in protest of BYU’s treatment of its LGBTQ students, refused to schedule games with the school? What if the NCAA elected to take a firmer position on member institutions’ codes of conduct toward LGBTQ inclusivity? Would BYU’s administration sit up and pay attention? Would they allow the athletic department (and a portion of the school’s reputation) to continue its downward trajectory?

BYU is a private, church-owned university. They are free to make policy without regard to state funding or public opinion (both within and outside of the church), so long as those policies do not violate federal, state or local laws.

The school, however, must realize that we live in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world that extends far outside of Provo and Utah County. Its graduates must know or learn how to interact and work with individuals from different religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Reluctance by other universities to interact with BYU on the fields and courts of sport would force a momentous decision — will the school administration begin to support its LGBTQ and other marginalized students? Or will it be relegated to isolation akin to the bison on Antelope Island?

Alex Karmazin

Alex Karmazin, Draper, is a physician who practices medicine in Provo and Salt Lake City.

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