Sunday, February 18, 2007

An Acute Irony

I support BYU sports because the success of the athletic program provides positive exposure to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which should increase the number of people who join the church. Of course, living the gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately about doing good to and for others. So why is my first attitude towards LDS fans of the University of Utah--the Cougars' archrival--admittedly one of wanting to whack them on the back of the head and ask, "Wake up! What's your problem?"

Now, I know how that sounds. Before any of the aforementioned start trying to find out where I live so they can make me regret writing that, please allow me to explain--the final analysis hopefully won't be nearly as inflammatory as it currently appears.

I probably identify with BYU because I grew up outside of Utah--in other words, a religious minority as a "Mormon". BYU football was rising to national prominence as I entered my teen years, and people would make the connection between BYU and Mormons. Athletic success, legitimately achieved, is widely respected. I also like football, so BYU was a natural fit for me.

I know there can be many reasons for Latter-day Saints not to be Cougar fans. One prominent reason that I am aware causes Mormons to be against BYU is having been rejected entrance to the school--I am all but certain that was the reason for a colleague from years ago hating BYU. However, the fact that most LDS U of U fans are from Salt Lake City--and most LDS Utah State fans are from the Aggies' hometown of Logan, Utah--indicates to me that a large percentage of LDS fans who support one of the Utah schools at the expense of BYU do not fully comprehend what it means to be a religious minority and, more importantly, the significance of the Cougars' success nationally.

I have even found that recognition is not limited to our borders. I was midway through my mission to Japan in early 1985. My companion and I sometimes rode our bicycles past a university where they had an organized American football team. On one occasion, I heard one of the players say something (in Japanese, of course) about BYU as he saw us go by. I was momentarily amazed, but realized after further thought that the Cougars' national championship in the recent January must have made news among sports fans even in Japan.

So BYU's success increases exposure to the church, and I maintain that is a favorable outcome because more people ultimately come to the church. But to what end? It should be to make the world a better place as more people live the "two great commandments" of loving the Lord and loving their neighbors. So how can I reconcile that with the natural irritation I feel toward LDS fans of BYU's main rival?

The answer, of course, is that I can't. I wish that more of them recognized what BYU's success in the high-profile sports really means to the missionary efforts of the church. I wish more of them would look at the big picture beyond rooting for the local school against the one that represents the LDS Church in the minds of the vast majority of those outside the church both domestically and abroad. But going against the directive to love my fellow men because I disagree with their choice of school to support is highly unlikely to persuade them of the validity of my views, and will surely serve only to make them more antagonistic (or at least less favorable) toward BYU. Even more than that, my primary responsibility is to live that commandment to love others, regardless of the circumstances.

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