This is probably going to be one of the more personal posts I've done on Block U. But I feel the need to delve into some personal history to help articulate a point that I think is being lost in this whole core values debate.
If you're unfamiliar with the debate, it revolves around the posting of core values in Utah's new football facility. Those values are as stated:
- No Drugs
- Treat Women With Respect
- No Stealing
- No DUI's
It's not an unusual move, as both Ohio State and Louisville have posted similar codes to live by. Yet in conservative Utah, where a hint of urban lifestyle is often met with shock and surprise, the response has been overwhelmingly negative. Especially from the Utes' rivals.
A great deal of people are mocking these values, as if the players need to be reminded to not do drugs or to not drink and drive. But reality tells us that it's something we should continue to teach - regardless of age! Drinking and driving is not an isolated incident. It happens every weekend and it's not just high school or college kids who are at fault. In fact, DUI's don't discriminate based on gender or age. Why shouldn't we continue to pound it into the heads of players, and kids, that drinking and then driving is absolutely, positively inexcusable?
It's easy to dismiss the problem because it's too negative to discuss. But here at Utah, it has been a problem and just ignoring it won't change the fact student athletes are sometimes endangering their lives, and then the lives of others, after a night of drinking. We should continue to remind people that drinking and driving is a crime, and worse, it's reckless and dangerous.
If you look through the 10 Commandments, you're not going to find any that are positive. You have a list, a creed, if you will, of core values that Christianity, the predominant religion in this country, was built on - including a constant reminder to not steal or kill. I think, after all these years, most Christians understand it's not appropriate to mow down their neighbor just, you know, because.
But it doesn't make the 10 Commandments, or any other value associated with faith, irrelevant or open to mockery.
When I was a kid, I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. My parents didn't have much money. We didn't even own a home. Most my childhood, I lived in a rental unit on a street filled with nothing but rentals. For the most part, in the 1990s, the area was overrun by drug addicts, gang members and other lowlives who looked like they were right out of an episode of COPS.
I saw a lot of stuff as a kid. Neglected children. Abused children. Gangs. Fights. And drug addicts overdosing. It definitely weighed on me and because of that, I've always looked at life a bit differently than most Utahns. My experience, most definitely, was very dissimilar to what many of you experienced as a child. I had two parents who, while wonderful, hardworking individuals, never graduated college. I had a dad who, sadly, often medicated his Vietnam demons with booze, and a childhood that was often shaped by drive-bys and drug addicts.
I had family who often were in and out of a jail. I saw a man die on the side of a neighbor's house because he took one too many hits of heroin. I've been around drunks and losers and deadbeats. What I've come to realize through it all, though, is that every situation is different and that our moral failings are not always equal.
The University of Utah is unique in the sense they often recruit players who haven't grown up in a lifestyle that we're used to here in Utah. Many either come from broken homes or tough neighborhoods and while I never want to sound like I'm excusing certain actions, you are shaped by where you grew up. My dad didn't have the best of childhoods, and it showed because, even though I think he was an amazing man who served his country and then paid the ultimate price for that service, he still had problems that took pretty much his whole life to work through.
So, in all these years, mostly because of my experience, I've come to realize judging is absolutely not an admirable trait. I've seen first hand the struggles of many who grew up around the use of drugs and alcoholism and how it often became a cycle that couldn't easily be broken. Some of my cousins, unfortunately, have failed to break the cycle of their parents and that's the reality for millions of people who, for whatever reason, grew up in a family, or neighborhood, that didn't provide the structure or support that I was fortunate to have as a child.
You see, I think I have a unique perspective on this because I've seen both sides of the fence. While I grew up in a working poor household, with parents who were not college educated or had jobs that paid well at all, I still had a family. I still had a loving mother and father who worked until their bones ached just to provide for my brother and me. But because we struggled financially, and my dad's family had some skeletons of their own, I saw the plight of the broken. I saw it every day of my life as a kid - whether it was a shooting or a drug raid or a gang fight.
I saw that cycle. I saw how difficult it was to break. How difficult it remains for many of those past associations.
What the University offers is a chance to break that cycle. For many of the kids who sign on to come to play for Utah, this is their last lifeline. This is their last shot at redemption. For many of these kids, it's their only chance at a college education.
I don't want to make it sound like these kids are degenerates or troublemakers, because I don't think they are, I just want to point out that life is often complex and diverse and hardly easy. For someone who grew up without a father, or struggled in an economically depressed area, there is a kind of predisposition to the way you're supposed to live your life. It's that cycle I talk about that can manifest itself in a variety of ways like drug use, mistreatment of women and drinking and driving.
Those are not commendable traits. What is commendable is actually realizing they exist and then trying to do something about it. Because, in America, there is often a fear of discussing these problems. It's the secret no one wants to ever talk about because it often shines a negative light on a school or coach or a city.
The fact Utah realizes this problem should be commended. It's too easy to pretend it doesn't exist or not confront it upfront. But we've been doing that for a long time in this country and it hasn't worked. We don't talk about poverty or a certain culture that inflicts many inner-city neighborhoods. We're afraid to open up about the gang problem in this country, or even the growing drug use among high schoolers. The latter isn't just a poor person problem anymore. We might associate it with the homeless and the dregs of society - but drug use is every bit the problem in suburbia as it is in Rose Park.
Sure, the drugs might be different. It might be meth on the west side and prescription painkillers in Sandy, but drugs are drugs and it's an issue that often seems too taboo to discuss. Especially for college students.
It exists and we should not be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it. DUI's happen. So does drug use. It happens at Utah and BYU and Utah State and Dixie State and Weber State and no amount of pretending it doesn't is going to change the fact it does.
So, we should own it and fix it. Why would anyone mock a coaching staff or university for putting these issues front and center?
Finally, I want to speak about one that is maybe the most important on this list because it's often the most ignored - treating women with respect.
Society is still evolving in this regard, so, it's not just college athletes who mistreat women. I see it daily. I hear the rape and kitchen jokes. I hear the terms used toward women by men that no one would dare say to their own mother, or grandmother, and yet have no problem saying to a girlfriend or a sister or another woman. I see the abuse, both physically and emotionally, that often dominates our culture, and much of it is ignored or dismissed because, for whatever reason, some men have a very difficult time treating women with respect.
It's not just sports, either. It's music and entertainment all around. They glamorize and celebrate misogyny and to an impressionable 18 or 19 year old, it's defining.
It's also wrong and it needs to stop.
You know, I guess Kyle Whittingham and the staff could have fashioned these values around likable standards like toughness and competitiveness and honor. But that would have been a fraud because those are too conventional and easy. They're not real.
This is real. These are real problems that exist in American society and it's about time we address them. Maybe doing that, maybe opening up the discussion on drug use and other abject realities that often are neglected, will help break the cycle that unfortunately has gripped a great deal of our youth.
We can't fear our faults. If we're going to fix the problem, the first step is always admitting it exists.