If you're reading this, you are probably a fan of BYU football. If you are someone important at BYU football, then please reach out to me and let's have a different conversation. But, if you're a fan like most of our readers are, let's have a very important conversation about what our jobs as fans are:
BYU's House Needs Construction Workers Trying To Expand Its Capacity, Not Security Guards Keeping People Out
You're a football fan, in all likelihood. That fandom, in the grand scheme of things, is completely meaningless. There is no doctrine saying what a BYU fan has to be. There are no interviews that determine whether you get a fan card or not. There is nothing. As a football fan, you get to choose the type of fan you want to be and nobody is going to stop you from being exactly what you want to be. As long as you aren't physically inflicting violence on another person, you get to fan however you want.
You want to paint your face, stand up in your seat and scream all game long? Be my guest.
You want to be one of those dudes who wears a banana costume all game long? Great.
You want to be the fan with the oversized stadium chair that everyone around you hates? Regrettably, there is nothing that says you can't do that, so do you.
You want to be the old fan who listens to Greg Wrubell in your headset and smuggles in caramel popcorn from home? Nobody is stopping you.
You want to be the kind of fan who actively tries to decide who should or should not wear BYU blue? You can do that, too. But today, we're begging you to not be that guy.
If you're a BYU fan, you probably saw the tweet that inspired this newsletter today. I'm not going to link it and give it a bigger platform than it has already been given, but suffice to say, this particular person does not like the direction that BYU is headed.
No, he was not referring to the Big 12 Conference or any specific coaching hire. He was talking about tattoos, hair and, well, non-membership in the Church. This particular fan believes that BYU players should represent the Church, and in this person's mind, only the cleanest cut of people get to represent the Church.
There is nothing that prevents this particular type of fan from getting on their Segway and putting on their best Paul Blart impression and actively trying to keep BYU's fan-tent small. If that's the type of fan you want to be, then fine, that's your right.
Today, though, I'm going to beg you to not be that type of fan. Instead of being a security guard that keeps people out of BYU's fan-tent, be a construction worker that is actively trying to expand the capacity of the fan-tent.
Let's get a little gospel-ey for a minute...
BYU represents The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and therefore, many people believe that it should be a shining pillar of the best that the Church has to offer. In the minds of many, that means clean-cut players, that means well-behaved fans, and that means that those who fall outside of what the Church teaches people to be should, therefore, fall outside of BYU fandom.
I moved into a new house a little over a year ago. The day I was moving in, my new next-door neighbor had some family members at their house who came over to introduce themselves to me. My brother-in-law was helping moving my family into the house. He's got tattoos, he's got a big, long beard, and he looks the opposite of this 'clean-cut' image that some believe the Church should represent.
I had a BYU shirt on and we got to talking about BYU football, turns out this gentlemen was a BYU fan as well. When my brother-in-law entered the conversation, he was asked if he wears Cougar blue too. His response was simple, "I don't know if that school likes people like me cheering for them."
The neighbor (who couldn't have been more sarcastic) responded quickly, "Oh, you must be a Godless heathen, then?"
He meant nothing by this comment. It was an obvious joke and nobody was offended. This neighbor is incredibly kind and generous. The more I get to know them, the more I've grown to love them.
His response on that day, though, represented something that by brother-in-law has felt on several different occasions when attending games at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The curious thing about his anecdotal experiences, and so many other anecdotal experiences of 'non-traditional' BYU fans is that this seems to be a direct contradiction of what the Church actually teaches.
"As disciples of Jesus Christ, all are equal, there are no second-class citizens," Elder Gerrit W. Gong.
"As individuals, we should “follow after the things which make for peace.” We should be personal peacemakers. We should live peacefully—as couples, families, and neighbors. We should live by the Golden Rule. We have writings of the descendants of Judah as now merged with writings of the descendants of Ephraim. We should employ them and expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family. We should bring divine love and revealed doctrines of restored religion to our neighbors and friends. We should serve them according to our abilities and opportunities. We should keep our principles on a high level and stand for the right. We should continue to gather scattered Israel from the four corners of the earth and offer the ordinances and covenants that seal families together forever. These blessings we are to bring to people of all nations," President Russell M. Nelson.
"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13:34-35
When it comes to the Church and the actual Gospel, sometimes, this can be a challenge for people. There are many people throughout the world who have felt discriminated against by the Church and its teachings. There are active members of the Church who grapple with the feelings of their heart and the teachings of their faith on an every day basis.
Ensuring that people always feel included inside the walls of the Church and within the teachings of the Gospel can be incredibly challenging for some. While it's clear that Christ's love and Atonement are for everyone, it's difficult for so many people to figure out where exactly they fit in that equation.
But when it comes to BYU football, there is no doctrine that makes belonging confusing. We're talking about football, folks. When it comes to football, the words of Elder Gong, President Nelson, and the Apostle John should be pretty easy to follow: Love Everyone.
If you really want BYU sports to represent the best of the Church, do everything within your power to ensure that the doors are open
For so many people, finding their place in the Church or within the teachings of the Gospel is a challenge. As such, BYU football (and basketball and pick a sport) and BYU football fans have an enormous opportunity in front of them. Many people might struggle on Sundays, but on Saturdays, they can feel like they belong, like they have people who love and care for them, and that there is a community of people who want the same things that they do.
That's, powerful, ladies and gentlemen.
As a young missionary in Madagascar, I had a friend who I was teaching. He lived at the top of the biggest mountain in Antananarivo. There was a steep staircase that led from the base of the mountain to the top (it was 581 stairs long, in case you wanted to know). After you reached the top of the staircase, you had to get your best mule deer impression on and scale the side of the mountain around to the backside to get to his house. From my house, it was about an hour trek.
This particular gentleman was hooked on cigarettes. He wanted to join the Church and felt a Spiritual power when he read the scriptures and believed that power would help him quit smoking cold-turkey. He asked for our help as he was establishing the habit of reading scriptures every morning.
"Elder Hansen and Elder Christensen, can you come to my house every morning and read scriptures with me before I go to work?" he asked.
We said yes before we got details. Turned out that his bus left for work at 4:45 each morning. We had already said yes, so we did what we had to do.
We woke up at 3:30 every morning, got dressed and ready to go, walked to the 581-stairs, climbed them, scaled the mountain, read 10 minutes of scriptures with this person every morning, and then went back home. We did this every day for two months. He was able to stop smoking. It was great.
Shortly after this man's baptism, we stopped going to his house every morning. Eventually, his picked up his smoking habit once again. He felt bad coming to Church smelling like cigarette smoke so he stopped coming. I was in the Ward Council meeting when his name was brought up in the meeting.
"I wish he knew we didn't care what he smelled like. How can we help him?" the bishop asked.
I explained what we used to do every morning to help this man feel like he could get through the day without smoking. It was the President of the Teacher's Quorum - yes, a 15-year old boy - who immediately volunteered to fill the void and visit this brother every morning for scripture study.
That 15-year old boy taught me more about belonging that day than anyone else has in my life. We're in this life together and we all have our ups and downs. But God's tent is big and all are welcome, no matter what we smell like or who we love or what color our skin is or whether we have tattoos or not. I don't know the details of how it all fits into the doctrine and Gospel plan, but God loves each of us. And it's our job to show that love.
BYU football gives us all a chance to act like that 15-year old boy every day. That is, to jump at the chance to ensure that people belong, no matter who, where, what their life circumstances are.
A few years ago, a die-hard BYU fan I knew had committed a crime. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to prison. His actions dramatically changed the lives of other people. It was a terrible, selfish decision that he had made.
He reached out to me when it became clear that he would ultimately end up in prison. He asked if I would give him weekly BYU updates while he was in prison. I was immediately reminded of the meeting with that 15-year Teacher and I jumped at the chance to show this man that he is still loved.
Each week, we exchanged emails. They started as BYU focused emails - recruit updates, which players looked good and who the rising stars were, etc. Over the course of these emails, the BYU updates became secondary. We talked more about his mistakes, the fallout from those mistakes, his family, his plan once he got out and his love for God.
To this day, those weekly emails are some of the most profound experiences that I've ever had in my life. There are few people who have helped me feel God's love more than my friend as he was writing me an email from prison. I only hope that I was able to return the favor to him.
This man, by any definition, didn't fit the 'perfect BYU fan' mold. Each week, in order to talk to him, I had to login to some prison email account. He couldn't attend games or wear BYU blue. But, it was football that helped us connect, and it was football that allowed me the chance to feel closer to God.
And it came from a prison. And it came from a convicted criminal.
And yet, I couldn't imagine this man not being included in the BYU tent. Cougar nation is better because he's inside the BYU tent.
This is my plea...
Doctrine is what it is. None of us can control what the Church is or is not teaching. I don't have answers to quell the heartache that so many people I love and care about feel when they try to attend Church on Sundays. I try to love them, and I hope we all do the same, but I can't control how they feel about the doctrine. All I can control is how much I love them.
But on Saturdays, we do get to control how they are treated. We do get to ensure that they are loved and that they belong. Some of the very best people I know are those who feel uncomfortable on Sundays. Please, please, please do everything you can to make sure they feel welcome on Saturdays.
I promise you that I will do the same for those who you love, no matter who they are or what they look like or whose hand they might be holding when they walk into LaVell Edwards Stadium.
BYU football's tent is wide today, and I will continue to do my part to make it even wider. Please join me in that quest.