Off-Campus Paper Took Heat for Expose on Athletes; Story Raised Questions about Brigham Young University Football Players and Their Alleged Ability to Escape Penalties Unless Their Transgressions Became Public Knowledge

Article excerpt

BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY has an honor code that follows strict Mormon principles -- no drinking, smoking, premarital sex, suggestive clothes, or other behavior forbidden by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (LDS).

Students caught violating the code any time during the year are placed on probation, suspended or expelled -- and many have been.

The Provo, Utah, campus has long debated whether football and basketball players -- major revenue producers -- have to worry about the code as much as other athletes and students.

Matthew MacLean, a 26-year-old BYU senior, investigated that issue after several minor-sports athletes said they were disciplined for honor code infractions that higher profile players had gotten away with.

MacLean's investigation, published March 16 in the Student Review, an independent, nonprofit, near bankrupt weekly student newspaper, was titled "Athletes and Alcohol: A Coverup Conspiracy?"

MacLean, writing in an advocacy style, said:

"Why don't we hear of football or basketball players being suspended for honor code violations? Are these athletes more clean than the rest?" And more pointedly: "Are the athletes, in effect, above the law at BYU?"

But the main thrust of MacLean's story focused on the BYU football players and their alleged ability to escape honor code penalties unless their transgressions became public knowledge.

"If what they do is leaked to the press or somehow gets out, then something is done," MacLean said in an interview.

Shortage of cash

The editorial staffers had to dip into their own pockets for the $800 they needed to pay the printing costs.

"They still owe me $300," said MacLean.

And the reaction the young journalists received before the issue even came out convinced them they couldn't wait for their accounts receivable to provide them with printing capital.

"Three or four sources called me up and asked to have their names taken off the story because they were afraid of what was going to happen to them," MacLean said. "I had to refer to them as sources. If I had finished the story a couple of weeks earlier, I probably would have been able to use their names."

The Student Review story got statewide media attention after half of the 1,500-press run disappeared from the free-distribution racks.

"It had never happened to us before," said Russell Fox, who was the student publisher of the eight-year-old publication when the story appeared.

Nick Zukin, the current publisher, said the newspaper office's answering machine also filled up with menacing telephone calls.

"We got one death threat," he said. "And people kept calling us afterwards. But no one ever accused us of being wrong."

The Student Review investigation alleged, among other things, that a group of BYU players were involved in a brawl after a drinking bout at the Port of Call, a Salt Lake City bar and restaurant.

MacLean, citing anonymous sources, said John Walsh, the team's star, non-Mormon quarterback, had been involved in the skirmish.

"I was told by athletes who were at the bar with him that Walsh was intoxicated and had to be protected from the University of Utah players," MacLean said.

An E&P investigation has confirmed that there was an angry face-off between a small group of BYU players and a much larger contingent of University of Utah players.

But none of the Port of Call employees who were at the early evening confrontation last November would confirm or deny wether Walsh was involved or at the bar that night.

Vale Hale, assistant to the athletic director for public and media relations, said Walsh denied vehemently that he has ever been to the Salt Lake City establishment.

"I don't know what those guys are talking about," Hale quoted Walsh as saying.

Hale also said that BYU football coach LaVell Edwards was unaware of any drinking or brawling by his players, conduct that would normally provoke an honor code inquiry. …