“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” — author unknown.

Here in the 21st century, that old saying could use a little update, as the BYU football team discovered on Saturday. Oregon linebackers and tackles may break your bones, but words will always hurt you too, especially in this era.

The Cougars, ranked a gaudy (and inflated) 12th in the national polls at the time, got embarrassed on the football field by the University of Oregon Saturday. Then, for good measure — because it’s not enough to merely defeat someone these days — the Ducks’ student-fans rubbed their faces in it by directing a vile chant at the religion the school represents.

They got the Joe Biden treatment.

The same treatment BYU received from USC fans last season.


By now you’ve read all about it. Oregon officials were quick to condemn the students’ behavior (but not as swift as Utah’s governor), and they vow to investigate the incident, although no mention was made of punishment (and what would be a proper punishment anyway — forcing the students to wear blue and white for a year, or, better yet, adhere to the BYU honor code for a semester). Anyway, the damage was done, and hypocrisy and inconsistency were laid bare. Certain races and certain religions are protected, and others … not so much. 

We all know this.

“In Oregon, we strive to be a welcoming, inclusive state to all, regardless of religion, gender, or background,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement. “The state and nation have an ugly history of discrimination and bigotry. The chant at yesterday’s Oregon-BYU game was unacceptable. We must do better.”

Oregon apologizes for ‘despicable chants’ directed at BYU fans and their religion during Saturday’s game at Autzen Stadium
What Oregon’s governor said about the chant at the BYU-Oregon football game

BYU has been on both sides of this nonsense in the last three weeks, with a huge caveat. During a BYU volleyball match in Provo, an opposing player from Duke (who is Black) claimed she was called the Word-We-Do-Not-Say by a fan throughout much of the match. The national media, notably ESPN, CNN and ABC, pumped out story after story immediately following the incident — they couldn’t pump them out fast enough. BYU was quick to fall on the sword, all before the facts were known.

Later, when it was determined that not one other person in the whole arena heard such abuse — including the player’s coaches and teammates — the whole thing was deemed to be either a misunderstanding (she heard something) or the latest in a long line of similar hoaxes on college campuses — theme: If you can’t find racism, create it.

The same media outlets that had done so much to inflame the incident were strangely silent. They felt no obligation to correct the record and their part in erroneous accusations against the school. (CNN anchor John Avlon eventually called out his own network for this failure and its rush to judgment, and two weeks after the incident the network did finally report there was no evidence to support the player’s claim.)

CNN and MSNBC have also been silent about last Saturday’s chant at the University of Oregon, and, unlike the incident in Provo, there’s clear video evidence in this case. Apparently, it’s wrong to hate one group, but not another, and it’s not even worth covering.

“Religious bigotry is alive and celebrated in Oregon,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted.

It didn’t matter that there are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Oregon football team.

All the way around, it was not a good weekend for the BYU football team. And to think BYU worked so hard to win membership in the Pac-12 at one time. We know now that the Pac-12 did the Cougars a favor by rejecting them; the Cougars have since been accepted into the Big 12, a much superior conference, and the Pac-12 is in freefall after USC and UCLA announced they are leaving to join the Big Ten.

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But back to this business of yelling obscenities at the opponent, using words that were once confined to the middle of a lake when the big fish got away. The country is in a foul mood and it’s showing up in sports arenas.

Fans have chanted with increasing frequency the Other-Word-You-Do-Not-Say. The Golden State Warriors complained that Boston Celtics fans directed that word at Draymond Green. Star forward Klay Thompson said afterward. “Dropping (that word) with children in the crowd. Real classy. Good job, Boston.” Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks said he received the same treatment from New York Knicks fans. Biden famously got the same treatment from college football fans in stadiums around the country last year, even when he wasn’t present.

Meanwhile, Kris Winter, Oregon’s interim vice president for student life, released a statement Saturday night saying, “The university apologizes for the despicable chants made by some University of Oregon fans at today’s football game with Brigham Young University. There is no place for hate, bias or bigotry at the University of Oregon. … These actions are simply unacceptable. We will investigate, and we call on our students and campus community to refuse to accept or tolerate this type of behavior.”

Let’s close with another old maxim, author unknown: Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.

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