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An expensive T-shirt and mea culpas

Fans cheer as BYU and Utah compete at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17.
Fans cheer as BYU and Utah compete during the l game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. A controversial T-shirt worn by a Ute fan has since made headlines.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

I’m not sure this is a good idea, but I’m having lunch with Todd Noall. Yeah, the T-shirt guy. It might be dangerous to sit with him in a crowded restaurant. I should probably social-distance from him — two tables over.

Noall is the Draper business owner and gung-ho Utah football fan who has suddenly found himself in the middle of a full-scale controversy that just won’t go away. He and a few friends wore T-shirts to last weekend’s BYU-Utah football game. The T-shirts — if somehow you don’t know this by now — showed the mug shot of former BYU quarterback Max Hall under the words, “Max Hall’s Coke is caffeine free.”

It was a fairly obvious reference to Hall’s cocaine addiction, and even in today’s contentious world it was viewed as a low blow, this making fun of a recovering addict. Noall wore the shirt to the game, where it drew mostly amused comments and little pushback, but then he made the mistake of posting a photo of it on his private Facebook page. One of his Facebook connections took a screenshot of it and posted it on Cougar Board, which led to a posting on Twitter (there’s a lesson here somewhere). That’s when it blew up, everyone being more confrontational on the internet than face to face.

It’s gotten ugly. Bad manners are being answered with more bad manners. There have been veiled threats of violence against Noall and his family, social media posts that state that the writer knows where Noall lives and works and that there are pictures of his wife and kids online and therefore it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out where they are. Some stated they hoped he’d lose his job and his family and his house. Others have called the Make-A-Wish Foundation — where Noall sits on the board of directors — demanding Noall’s head. On Friday, after the controversy got a second wind with an online posting by Hall Wednesday night, Make-A-Wish asked Noall to resign.

“I’m really sad,” Noall said. “I love Make-A-Wish.”

I must mention here that I know Noall. Despite our 20-year age difference, we struck up a friendship several years ago. He’s a witty, charming hipster in his mid-40s, who, his faux pas notwithstanding, is the fun, friendly guy in a crowd. No, really. His biggest weakness is that he is a fan — in his case, a Ute fan — and he took it too far. Imagine that, a fan taking things too far. The Utah-BYU rivalry has fomented many distasteful moments among fans and players, but both sides seemed to agree that this one crossed a line.

“My true regret is that his family saw it,” he says as he picks at a taco. “It brought up the past to his family. That, I regret — that I hurt his family.” I ask him about the threats to him and his family. “I can’t say these things publicly because I know I’m not the victim here,” he says. “I’m a big boy. I made a mistake. I made my bed.”

Noall has apologized to Hall both publicly on his Make-A-Wish page and privately via text and offered to partner with him to do charity work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but Hall declined. Over lunch, Noall showed me the text to Hall, which said, among other things, that he wanted to personally apologize to Hall for “my insensitive and juvenile choice of rivalry apparel. In no way did I intend to hurt you or your family. After reading your recovery story, I am even more filled with regret. I hope you and your family can forgive me.”

Noall has also been accused of selling the T-shirt online and, indeed, you can find it for sale several places on the internet, one of them under the heading, “Low life Todd Noall is selling the offensive Max Hall T-shirt.” Those might be legitimate places to buy the shirt, but Noall says, “I have not sold any T-shirts, let alone shirts featuring Mr. Hall’s likeness, online or otherwise. This is an obvious attempt to make me look worse.”

He also says he did not block Hall’s wife on Twitter, as he has been accused — “It’s a private account so only connections can message me,” he says. “I never saw her messages.”

Hall declined to comment for this column when I contacted him via text Thursday evening. He did post a lengthy online letter addressed to Noall Wednesday night. He wrote, among other things, “You are aware, after my career my life played out on the big screen. There was no hiding or covering up the fact that I was arrested for shoplifting while I was under the influence of drugs.

“Can you imagine making a mistake so big that your face was plastered all over the newspaper, television and internet? I believed at that moment all my accomplishments, relationships and future were over, and I would forever be known as a drug addict. … My recovery journey was long, public and demanding. I want you to understand that recovering out loud takes some serious courage.”

There’s no one who wouldn’t sympathize with Hall.

So where do we go from here? Two hundred years ago they might have had a midfield duel in Cougar Stadium (Hall gets the home-field advantage) a la Hamilton and Burr. Today we are much more civilized: We publicly shame people for their mistakes and call for their jobs.

There are some good things to come out of this. It brought attention to addiction and all that that can entail. It also brought attention to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Early on, some forward-thinking BYU fan started a campaign to donate $26.17 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation — that being the score of the BYU-Utah game. Noall said he would match each donation dollar for dollar, and as of Friday afternoon he was on the hook for $26,000.

That’s one expensive T-shirt.