In the wake of pandemonium, a Black BYU quarterback threw his arms around a white BYU kicker and held him close — and didn’t let him go until the kicker, Jake Oldroyd, knew exactly how the quarterback, Jaren Hall, felt about him, and how much the team needed him moving forward.
Oldroyd had just missed two game-winning field goals from distances that he typically could make in his sleep. The Cougars found another way to beat No. 9 Baylor in one of the biggest victories in school history, but the junior kicker was down in the dumps and his junior quarterback didn’t hesitate to lift him up.
The embrace was undeterred by their euphoric teammates and the rabid fans that ran past them as BYU celebrated a 26-20 win in double overtime. The ESPN television cameras caught just a glimpse of Hall and Oldroyd, but enough to capture an emotional moment far different from the events that rocked the BYU campus two weeks earlier.
A visiting Black volleyball player alleged she was racially heckled by fans during a BYU volleyball match at the Smith Fieldhouse. A family member who was not in attendance proclaimed on social media that the player was peppered with the N-word throughout the match and that no one did anything about it.
While a thorough investigation by BYU failed to turn up a single piece of supporting evidence, or even a single witness who may have heard such a damning slur at least once, let alone “all night long,” including none of her teammates, the damage was done and it was significant.
National and local media wasted little time labeling BYU, its student body, its alumni and school sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as people who are out of touch with the race issues of the day — or were at least slow to respond.
The facts of the allegation didn’t support the narrative, so some outlets just removed the facts and kept going. They had a story that was hot and spicy and emotionally divisive and there are factions in this nation that love to divide people.
Saturday night’s postgame meet-and-greet between Hall and Oldroyd had absolutely nothing to do with the volleyball allegation, but it had everything to do with unity, love and compassion. The visual spoke louder than any verbal utterance could offer. Here you have a Black student-athlete consoling a white student-athlete. A teammate helping another teammate through a difficult time.
Hall and Oldroyd share the same religion and are both returned Latter-day Saint missionaries, but in a world that sometimes only sees color, we got a chance to see that at BYU, the only color that mattered on Saturday was the royal blue both players were dressed in.
What a great story. Where are the rants on ESPN? Where is The New York Times? Where is the panel on CNN to explain what was really going on?
No, they don’t have time for that. They aren’t interested because it doesn’t divide. It doesn’t infuriate. It doesn’t cause rage — it does just the opposite. The scene of Hall and Oldroyd together screams unity, loyalty and the ability to lift up someone who is down. It is a moment everyone connected with humanity can appreciate.
“There are dark powers that love division,” said Dr. Derwin Gray, a Black former BYU football player who started the Transformation Church and is the author of the book “How to Heal Our Racial Divide. “They love to divide politically, socioeconomically, male and female and Jesus is the ultimate unifier if we are willing to trust him. A lot of times, when we have fear, it comes from a lack of understanding. When I can understand someone, I don’t have to agree with you — to love you.”
Gray appeared on “BYU SportsNation GameDay” prior to kickoff after meeting with students and leaders on campus last week. His visit was scheduled months before the alleged volleyball incident.
“Jesus not only forgives sins but he creates a family of different colored skins,” he said. “And as this family learns to love each other the world will know that we are his disciples.”
To reiterate, Hall’s actions after the game are not connected to the alleged volleyball incident in any way, or to shrink the nation’s racial divide. It was a direct reflection on the kind of person he is. He is the leader of the team and a good leader is sensitive to those in need and not afraid to do something about it.
Hall is smart enough to know that he can’t win by himself. He and his teammates need Oldroyd, just as they need everybody else.
There will be games ahead when Hall’s third-down passes will sail off target and it will be Oldroyd that saves the day with his foot. Hall needs his kicker like we all need each other. Whether it’s stopping to help someone with a flat tire, feeding the hungry, comforting a wayward soul or embracing a kicker who missed two consecutive would-be game-winning field goals on national television and in front of a sold-out home football stadium, it’s all the same.
If the last two weeks have reminded us of anything, it is that human beings aren’t perfect, accusations aren’t always true and field goal attempts don’t always fly through the uprights (although Oldroyd was 13 for 13 during the 2020 season).
It’s the overcoming that triggers true celebration — whether publicly or in private. It’s when we overcome our faults and still find a way to succeed. The home crowd would have certainly roared had Oldroyd made one of those kicks, but the decibel level during Baylor’s ensuing and final possession, including the false start penalties and Blake Shapen’s last incomplete pass, was second to none.
Grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat sent fans storming onto the field to celebrate together and somewhere in the melee, Hall grabbed Oldroyd and didn’t let him go until he knew that his kicker understood that everything was OK.
As kids we used to play the game “follow the leader.” BYU has a leader in Hall that they can follow in and out of Eugene, Oregon, this weekend and everywhere else this season. Hall made his case loud and clear on Saturday night and after a couple of rough weeks.
It felt good to see.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.