This week on Twitter the Georgia Tech play-by-play announcer posted his surprise at the BYU player pronunciation guide, published to help him (and announcers everywhere) through the names that you aren't likely to pronounce correctly on your first try (you know like Manumaleuna and Hine). What won't be there to help him further this week will be the player's names on the back of their jerseys.
Jesey-gate, as the Twitterverse called it, exploded on August 8th of this year when the players put on their uniforms for the first time to take some pictures. They found that their NOB (name on back) had been replaced by one of the 3 values of the football team: Traditon, Spirit or Honor. While Bronco Mendenhall had originally thought this could be a season long change, he and team members quickly decided to keep the normal NOB throughout the year, and only wear Spirit, Tradition, and Honor for just one game (this week's homecoming game).
In the initial aftermath I was frankly appalled at the outrage shown, apparently nobody liked the idea, except maybe me. I loved the idea of wearing them, even for the whole season, I even tweeted my support to Bronco. I would like to explain here why I think it was not a bad idea. (And if it is not a bad idea, then it is an acceptable idea, and if it is acceptable then who are we to tell Bronco "no.")
I think the primary issue that people took with the idea was that it takes away from the players identity and individuality. I think that while this may be true, I think that minimizing individuality is actually kind of a good thing. The purpose of wearing uniforms are so that the team looks uniform, aka the same. Wearing the uniform creates a sense of unity and teamwork, most other BYU athletic teams have NNOB (no name on back) so names are clearly not that important, right? Even some college football teams across the nation play without names.
Some of you might say that those are other sports, and this is football, and football is different, special, etc. Well I say that there are a number of well respected teams that have NNOB jerseys. Some of them always do it that way, some of them have gone seasons with, seasons without, and some do it periodically. Who are these well respected teams? oh just Notre Dame, USC, Boston College, and Alabama. But that's not all, Iowa State, Penn State, and Temple also do and have done NNOB before.
Then the hater's respond, "Well that's nothing on the name plate, this is something." Again, BYU is not the first (nor will be the last) to temporarily replace their names with other words. Most often it is done as a tribute to the military, etc. which many people think is tacky, and I might agree (mostly because stars and stripes don't really belong mixed into uniforms IMHO).
BYU's tribute to it's own core values is so much more appropriate, and so much less gaudy. Anyone who's a fan of BYU knows those words, has heard them many times in reference to the football program, and for me I greatly appreciate the focus on non-football things. I think BYU is a special school, and there's nothing wrong with letting others know what we believe in, and that is primarily why I like the change, and would support it full time. BYU football is not about Van Noy, or Hill or Mathews, it's about spiritual growth, and the honor code (just ask Spencer Hadley) and representing Brigham Young University and the church, something that is bigger than the sum of it's parts. (I'm not saying that BYU or its students are automatically holier or better than anyone else, just that the university represents something bigger than most other schools.)
One more thing, I really love Bronco and what he's done for the program. Recently I took a tour of the SAB (Student Athlete Building) and at one wall where Spirit, Honor, Tradition are displayed, our tour guide mentioned that those are the 3 core values of Bronco's football program, and when he says spirit he doesn't mean gusto or enthusiasm, he means spiritual strength. Bronco has said that his priories for his team are (in order) spiritual development, academic achievement, character advancement, service, and football. Most colleges would say they put football after academics and character, but Bronco doesn't just say that, he lives it. He is doing the best he can to fulfill the mission of the athletics department, and not at all passively, for that I respect him and his ideas to continue to bring Spirit, Honor and Tradition to the forefront of BYU football.
Let me leave you with the mission statement of BYU Athletics:
Build a distinctive, exceptional athletic program that is fully aligned with the mission and values of Brigham Young University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three Program Pillars are to: 1) Develop student-athletes into leaders. 2) Live faith-based values of morality, charity and honor. 3) Win at the conference and national level, while displaying world-class sportsmanship.
Enjoy the game!