The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

University of Oregon apologizes for anti-Mormon chant at BYU football game

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox denounced the obscene chant as ‘religious bigotry’

Oregon students and fans cheer during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Brigham Young University on Sept. 17 in Eugene, Ore. (Andy Nelson/AP)
5 min

University of Oregon students erupted in a chant trashing their opponents just moments after the Brigham Young University Cougars scored their first touchdown during Saturday’s football game.

They didn’t mention the Cougars or the university, specifically. Instead, the students homed in on something intrinsically tied to BYU — religion — in an obscene, anti-Mormon chant in the sold-out crowd of 54,000 packed into Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

The chorus marred a 41-20 victory for the Ducks, who were ranked 25th entering the game against the No. 12 Cougars. Hours after the game, Utah’s governor denounced the chant as “religious bigotry.” On Sunday afternoon, University of Oregon officials apologized, calling the chant “offensive and disgraceful.” Students said they were “ashamed” of their classmates.

BYU, located in Provo, Utah, was founded in 1875 by Brigham Young, who served from 1847 to 1877 as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nearly all of the more than 30,000 students at BYU are Mormon.

A BYU graduate sat next to the student section and captured the chant in a seven-second video that has since been viewed more than 1 million times on Twitter. Aubrey, the graduate identified only by her first name, told KSTU she attended the Cougars-Ducks game with a close friend from college as part of their tradition of visiting an opposing team’s stadium for a BYU road game.

Aubrey said the student section had shouted the chant twice before she recorded her video with 14:53 left in the second quarter. BYU scored a touchdown and was preparing to kick an extra point that made the score 10-7. She told KSTU she heard the chant two more times but didn’t confront the students “because I felt that would make the situation worse.” Instead, she told the station, she alerted a stadium staffer.

“It was really disappointing,” she told the TV station, adding “there’s an unfortunate acceptance in a lot of areas that you don’t make fun of a lot of religions, but Mormons are free game to make fun of. And I would like that to stop.”

Aubrey’s video caught the attention of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), who said hours after the game that “religious bigotry [is] alive and celebrated in Oregon.”

Cox’s counterpart in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown (D), said that’s not true — or at least it shouldn’t be.

“In Oregon, we strive to be a welcoming, inclusive state to all, regardless of race, religion, gender, or background,” Brown said in a statement. “Our 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.”

Officials at the University of Oregon agree. On Sunday afternoon, they apologized for “an offensive and disgraceful chant coming from the student section during yesterday’s game.”

On Monday, the university’s interim president, Patrick Phillips, condemned the behavior of “a small group of fans,” saying in a statement that it angered and disgusted him. He said that there are Mormons on the Ducks football team, and “there were members of that faith wearing green and yellow sitting right next to those chanting on Saturday.”

“How did they feel in that moment? I hope that everyone will reflect on the reality that, what may seem like a lark to some, tells someone else in our community that they are not welcome, and that they should be afraid based on who they are and what they believe,” Phillips said.

Kris Winter, the university’s interim vice president for the Division of Student Life, said in a statement sent to The Washington Post that officials would investigate what happened.

The Oregon Pit Crew, the official Twitter account of the Ducks’ student section, also said it was sorry, adding it does “not condone or support any hateful speech directed towards one’s religion.”

BYU officials issued a statement Monday saying they appreciated Oregon’s “sincere apology” about what happened. “We recognize that this isolated behavior does not reflect the values of the University of Oregon,” they said in an email to The Post. “As we all work together to address incidents that seek to divide us, we are grateful for those who are willing to come together to build bridges of understanding.”

An almost identical incident happened last college football season on Nov. 27, when the Cougars beat the University of Southern California Trojans, 35-31, in Los Angeles. Several BYU fans at the game told the Deseret News that on at least five occasions USC students yelled the same obscene, anti-Mormon chant.

USC officials apologized a day later, denouncing the chant as “distasteful” and saying it did “not align with our Trojan values.”

BYU says probe found no evidence of racial slurs at Duke volleyball player

Last month BYU found itself under fire when a Duke women’s volleyball player accused a Cougars fan of repeatedly yelling a racial slur at outside hitter Rachel Richardson “every time she served” during an Aug. 26 match in Provo. Richardson was later “threatened by a white male that told her to watch her back going to the team bus,” her godmother, Fort Worth attorney Lesa Pamplin, tweeted after the match.

While BYU initially apologized to the Blue Devils and banned the student accused of yelling racial slurs at Richardson, it announced Sept. 9 that an investigation into the incident didn’t find “any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event.”