BYU is one mega-authoritarian place.
Yeah, I get it, tell everybody something they don’t already know.
But that’s a mere side issue — still, not an insignificant one — secondary to the main topic addressed here. The real matter in question is: Why are the Cougars trying so hard — to the point of dressing down and dressing up some of their own fans — to please, to gain the respect of, to acquiesce to a short-timing Big 12 opponent that couldn’t care less what BYU thinks of it?
But the Provo school goes ahead and plays the role of a whimpering puppy dog in this narrative against a dominant Doberman, made even more comical on account of the fact that the pup winds up embracing victory at game’s end.
The sad-and-sorry recent example of this complaisance, which occurred before the BYU-Texas game at the Marriott Center on Saturday — has caught some fire around college basketball, burning bright, and that burn underscores a handful of things, foremost among them that BYU is too concerned about its image, too wrapped up in presenting a sweet-faced picture to outsiders, especially powerful outsiders who the Cougars mistakenly believe are paying close attention to what they do. Another is akin to that: the push to control student behavior as a top priority, as though those students/fans are part of the presentation, a backdrop to it, demonstrating how polite and reverential those students/fans can be.
It could be that BYU is super-sensitized to the example their students/fans set, particularly after what has happened — or has been accused of happening — at some of its home sporting events in the past. But that can be taken too far, to the extreme of looking as though BYU is tending to its children, overseeing and keeping in line a crowded, snot-nosed Romper Room.
You may have heard about what happened the other day at the Marriott Center, where a smattering of BYU fans sitting on the front row of the student section wore “Horns Down” T-shirts, furthering a sparse tradition among Texas opponents of mocking the Longhorns’ prideful … well, “Horns Up” mantra. The hook-em-horns hand signal Texas players and fans so often flash with the index finger and pinkie extended is well-known and easily and often ridiculed by opposing players and fans, as they point the horns down.
It’s been done elsewhere in the past and will go on being done.
By the reaction of some folks connected to Texas, and, in a recent case, basketball coach Rodney Terry, who objected to previous opponents who threw that upside-down hand signal at the Longhorns in jubilant victory, you would have thought those opponents had countered the horny hand signal with a hand signal of a different kind, one with profane intentions, the one with the index finger down, the pinkie down, the ring finger down, and the middle finger extended.
No one saw that degree of nastiness at the Marriott Center, but the students were behaving … um, the way students at some other colleges behave at basketball games.
BYU does not see itself as some other college.
School officials gave the students/fans the what-for, making those wearing the aforementioned T-shirts cover them up, cover them or replace them with other, more proper T-shirts, and that move is not just a reminder of the heavy-handed approach BYU so often takes with its students, forming one more completely different hand signal, one with a clenched fist, but also highlighted the Cougars’ allegiance to image and acquiescence to Texas.
BYU coach Mark Pope acted dismayed by the students’/fans’ original choice of clothing, barking afterward that “that’s just not us.”
Here’s the thing: It is them. Top-down direction from somebody in charge to make it appear as though that’s just not them doesn’t make it so. Moreover, there was nothing really objectionable to who those students/fans really are.
It’s a freaking basketball game, not a Sunday school class.
Texas has its abundance of pride, much of it false, at least in cases like this. You would have thought from the way BYU officials reacted that somebody disrespected the lone star at the center of the Dallas Cowboys’ field or some such. Let’s not even get started on that nonsense from long ago. But BYU’s reverent nod to the Longhorns, its enforced aversion to offending them, to the point of telling its students/fans to alter their harmless clothing, furthers a reputation the school suffers from among more than a few of its own students, and people watching from the outside.
Ironically enough, sometimes the sweet face BYU seeks to put forth to outsiders ends up looking more like a fierce snarl. The school wants to use sports and its sports teams as a means of spreading its religious message, but when it swings a hammer on its own in attempting to do so, which message is more loudly heard?
I’ve complained in the past about the way BYU’s Honor Code is enforced, among athletes and students, the way that enforcement makes the school look like a harsh place, not a loving one where charity abides, a place that would tell its students/fans what T-shirts to wear and not wear, a place that would forbid beards, a place that would tell football players with too much growth on their faces to shave in the locker room during halftime, a place that instructs its male athletes and students how they can style their hair, a regulation that stems from some fear from leaders 70 or so years ago that beatniks and hippies, or people who look like them, would or could take over the world and ruin it.
And the emphasis on control runs much deeper than just that, spanning from limitations of academic freedom to behavioral strictures to cultural weirdness that does much more harm than good. Somewhere in much of it is lost the idea behind the quote by Joseph Smith: “Teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”
At BYU, they do not govern themselves. They are governed.
The pity here is that BYU has some great causes and courses, great people who are professors, great students and fans who do the best they can to live principled, decent lives. People who would give you the shirt off their backs because you are in need, not because you wear a “Horns Down” shirt in the Marriott Center.
The fault in and surrounding this case is multi-sided. 1) It is that some Longhorns are so easily bothered by such silliness, as though they are a proud and defiant breakaway republic — OK, that isn’t so funny in these wacky political times — whose flag has been spat upon; and 2) that the Cougars would be worried about the impression an opponent like Texas would have of them; and 3) that BYU is so caught up in its own righteousness, in its image, so ossified as to order wardrobes at a basketball game to be shifted.
Shift happens, even at BYU.
It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is.