Religions (Dec 2022)

The Real Cost to Remain Competitive: BYU Confronts Racist Past

  • Darron Smith,
  • Lori Latrice Martin

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 1
p. 61


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College sports is a multi-billion-dollar business, and universities are looking for ways to remain competitive, including recruiting and retaining athletes from historically underrepresented groups to predominantly white institutions (PWI), many of which have a documented history of excluding non-white students, including blacks, indigenous peoples, and other people of color (often referred to as BIPOC). This article will examine the legacy of the racist teachings, past controversies, and compromises of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormons) along with persistent struggles to shake off its 130-year-old racist past in efforts for its flagship school, Brigham Young University, to stay competitive in the lucrative Big 12 Athletic Conference. Deeply ingrained in the LDS culture is a politic of religious conservatism. Politics has often been intertwined with organized religion with much influence, and the LDS faith is no different. The cumulation of these interlocking systems generates thoughts, attitudes, and feelings that foster a racial climate at Brigham Young University where black students have reported feeling unsafe and unsupported. While this is a well-documented problem at predominately white institutions (PWIs) across the country, BYU is in many ways unique, given the discriminatory overt policies and practices employed for generations. We contend that the LDS Church’s history of racial marginalization and exclusion of black people made its way into the sports consciousness of the church’s flagship school and is not likely to change anytime soon. Understanding religion in the tradition of Charles Long as an orientation and utilizing Derrick Bell’s notion of racial realism are critical to our analyses. The confluence of politics, religion, race, and sport cannot be easily untangled.