College Hoops Star Suspended For Premarital Sex

When is a college athlete's sex life fair game? That's the question raised by the suspension of a basketball player on Brigham Young University's nationally-ranked team. Brandon Davies was reportedly suspended from the Cougars for the rest of the season, for violating the school's honor code provision that forbids premarital sex. Host Michel Martin discusses the issue with Brigham Young University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins and Richmond University professor of religion and literature, Terryl Givens, who has written about the Mormon faith.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

And we continue our focus on faith today by turning now to the intersection of faith and big-time college sports. Brigham Young University has suspended one of its top players on the men's basketball team - currently ranked number three in the country - because that player is suspended because of violations of the school's honor code. According to reports in the Salt Lake Tribune, the transgression was having sex outside of marriage.

Now, BYU is owned and run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - the Mormon Church, to non-Mormons. The student, Brandon Davies, is a sophomore who grew up in Provo, Utah, where Brigham Young is located. News reports say he is a member of the church.

Now, Davies' absence was clearly felt. The BYU team was crushed, 80 to 64 by the unranked New Mexico on Wednesday. But the story has gotten quite a lot of attention beyond sports circles.

Here's Brigham Young's athletic director Tom Holmoe responding to questions about why such a penalty was called for.

TOM HOLMOE: People won't understand. This is something for us. We live this. This is who we are. And most people that come to this school, hopefully all, understand it's one of the reasons they come to BYU. So we understand that people across the country might think this is foreign to them and they're shocked and surprised. But, for us, we deal with this quite often.

MARTIN: To learn more about BYU's honor code and the role it plays in student life, we'll hear from a scholar on the Mormon faith and a BYU grad in a few minutes.

But first, we called upon Carri Jenkins. She is the assistant to the president for university communications at Brigham Young. She's with us now. Thank you so much for joining us.

CARRI JENKINS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, Carri, I understand that you can't talk specifics, but we did mention that we are relying on media reports. So I did want to ask if you can confirm that the transgression in question was having sex outside of marriage.

JENKINS: I can't. BYU does not make public details regarding violations of the honor code, so I would not be able to discuss the violation.

MARTIN: But can you tell us if this - this does not involve conduct that would be illegal in some other context, for example. This is not a matter of a sexual assault, for example. It's strictly a matter of the university's policies. Can you confirm that?

JENKINS: That is correct.

MARTIN: Now, can I ask if it would matter if the student in question were not a member of the faith? Is there a difference in how students are treated?

JENKINS: No, there isn't. Everyone who comes to BYU agrees to uphold the honor code. We are very open about our honor code. I think that's one of the main reasons it works so well is that when a student applies to BYU, we ask them to carefully study the honor code and then to sign it, that they agree to uphold it. And that's true for those who are members of our faith, as well as those who are not.

MARTIN: And I do want to mention, we'll have a link to this - the honor code on our website, coming from the BYU's website so that people can read it for themselves. But it includes, be honest with a chaste and virtuous life. Abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee and substance abuse. And where would - I assume that live a chaste and virtuous life is one of the elements that is an issue here. Broadly speaking...

JENKINS: Yes, that's one of the tenants (unintelligible).

MARTIN: That's one of the tenants. Can I ask what role you believe the honor code plays in the life of the school? Why is it important to the school?

JENKINS: The honor code provides guidelines for a conduct for everyone within our university community. It aligns with the core principles and mission of the university. It's something that is very important to all of us here and it's a reason that students come to the university.

MARTIN: Now, is the punishment spelled out for each infraction? Is suspension the consequence suspension from an activity, the consequence for, you know, any violation?

JENKINS: That's a good question. And every case is handled on an individual basis. Our strong desire is that if a student is going through a review process, that the student has the opportunity to work directly with the university and we really want their voice to be heard through that process.

MARTIN: And it's been noted that the student, as I understand it, from media reports, is suspended from the activity, from the team, but not from school. Is this common in such cases, and is there a message that the university is seeking to send either to the community or to the larger community with that decision? Because some might argue, well, if it's that - if the transgressions are that serious, why is he still at school - any student still at school?

JENKINS: Yes. And I can understand that question. The university was aware of this violation, became aware of it on Monday. On Tuesday we did release a statement that Brandon will not be representing the university on the men's basketball team throughout the remainder of this season. Underway right now is an honor code review in which Brandon will participate in that review. But some decisions such as his status as a student still has of yet to be determined.

MARTIN: Carri Jenkins is assistant to the president for university communications at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. And she was kind enough to join us from there. Thank you so much for joining us.

JENKINS: Thank you.

MARTIN: We want to turn now to Terryl Givens. He's professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and author of "The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction." He's also a BYU grad. Thank you so much for joining us.

TERRYL GIVENS: Good to be here. Thank you.

MARTIN: So tell us a bit more about what role you feel the honor code plays in the life of that university. You heard Carri Jenkins just tell us that that is why some students come there. Do you think that's true?

GIVENS: Oh, absolutely. I think there are three groups that are involved in the honor code and any possible violations that may occur. First, of course, are the students themselves. They have a vested interest in the honor code and the integrity with which it's upheld. I think that probably the single factor that most differentiates Brigham Young University from other American universities is that honor code. So students who come there are choosing to immerse themselves in an environment where they know that certain standards of behavior are going to prevail.

MARTIN: Do you have an opinion about the severity of the penalty? There are those who - you know, obviously you want - you're hearing from all sides on this. Some are saying, you know, the rules are the rules and students know what the rules are going in. But others are saying, well, how is that a teaching opportunity when you suspend the student for the rest of the season?

Some people think that's too much. Others are saying, well, you know, if the transgression is so serious, why is he still at school? I'm just interested if you have a perspective on that.

GIVENS: Well, I don't really. I think that there are too many factors involved in the mix that we're totally oblivious to. We don't know what kind of an attitude the student has, how long the transgression has been in progress. We don't know what, you know, how the deliberations and the discussions went when he met with administrators. And I think all of those would have to feed into the total outcome.

MARTIN: Let's just take for the sake of argument that sex is involved here, premarital sex here. Is there statement you think the university is making about the importance of that particular conduct in that particular area by this kind of penalty?

GIVENS: Well, I think they are not so much the penalty as by its inclusion in the honor code itself. Most people would say it's highly unrealistic today for a university to expect its college students to abide by a policy of total abstinence from sex before marriage. I think that's just another example of a kind of bigotry of low expectations for our youth today. I think what Brigham Young University and what the church are saying is that it may be daunting, may be a daunting challenge, but it's actually paying a compliment to today's youth to say you're not helpless victims of your hormonal impulses. You can master and control your sexuality if that's a decision that you want to make. And if you want to make it, then you're welcome to come here to Brigham Young University.

MARTIN: Terryl Givens is professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, where he also teaches classes on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He's also author of "The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction." And he was kind enough to join us from his home office.

Professor, thank you so much for joining us.

GIVENS: Thank you.

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