If history has shown us anything, it is that the largely Mormon population of Utah will bend over backward to disclaim its deplorable past racist policies. Former U.S. Rep. Mia Love no doubt benefited from a form of collective Mormon guilt, which helped get her elected to represent Utah's 4th Congressional District. Now, Burgess Owens, the affable ex-NFL player and Republican candidate, is vying for the same House seat, hoping to capitalize on the same sense of Latter-day remorse.
There is no question that, until the 1978 repeal of its highly criticized doctrine prohibiting Blacks from the priesthood and temple ceremonies, Mormonism stood out among Christian religions as the undisputed winner of the racial prejudice trophy. It treated Blacks as a separate and non-equal class of people, something that was taught in both local congregations and church-wide conferences for over 148 years.
But Owens—a Latter-day Saint—has compromised his chances by aligning himself with the White House, intent on riding the coattails of the slimiest of Washington swamp creatures. In doing so, he has allowed himself to be a misleading advertising mascot for the Trump campaign, which is desperate to round-up minority votes.
Trump had enough Blacks appear at the Republican National Committee to prove his love for people of color—all while he embraces and cultivates the hooded monsters of the Klan, neo-Nazis and a gun lobby that shares some responsibility for the number of Blacks being killed daily.
Owens may have been a great football player, but his recent masquerade as a champion of American values obscures his true outlook. He has made a bold statement—that any sports player making a political statement on the court or playing field should expect to be fired, and that includes all those who take a knee during the playing of the national anthem. The reality is that those players need to speak out. That's the best way to be heard. They're the ones who are really serving the country.
Owens was a fine athlete, but, despite his Super Bowl Ring, he's no champion. A champion is someone who espouses the cause of the under trodden and works to lift them from their trials. Instead, he has criticized the greatness of Rep. John Lewis, characterizing him as someone who promoted socialism, noting that it was socialism his own dad fought against during World War II. (Somehow, I missed that in my world history class.)
Every time Owens opens his mouth, he sounds like a battery-operated Trump clone, characterizing dissent as people who hate our country. He forgets that peaceful dissent is the key to changing the things that are wrong.
While looking like a legitimate choice for the voter, Owens himself seems to have a history of being less than honest. He was a co-plaintiff in the big lawsuit against the NFL, seeking a huge settlement for a permanent brain injury. He claimed that it had caused a variety of symptoms, including loss of memory and impulse control.When doctors determined his brain had not been affected, he quickly withdrew his name from the action. Does that mean his brain injury miraculously vanished?
Additionally, he has been less than honest with his latest book, Why I Stand: From Freedom to the Killing Fields of Socialism. While he took credit for writing the radical right-wing book, much of it was directly plagiarized from other people's work. His excuse for the fraud was, at least in part, that he had graduated in biology, not in journalism. And yet, most Americans understand that plagiarism is an indefensible act of the theft of intellectual property. The copy and pastes weren't just little snippets here and there, but dozens of passages and pages that were copied verbatim from their legitimate authors.
To top it off, Owens appeared on a QAnon program this past May. Now, he claims that he didn't know who was behind it. QAnon is a conspiracy movement that maintains that there's a far-left, deep-state cabal dedicated to bringing down Donald Trump and comprised of devil-worshipping pedophiles who traffic children and drink a component of their blood in order to gain strength. It is one of the Trump Playbook mega-lies. While on the show, Owens made anti-Muslim statements and comments about transgender. He has voiced similar attacks on social media and has been a brutal critic of immigration.
Sadly, there are enough poorly informed people to give even the most ridiculous conspiracy theories a useful lifespan for political gain. It's a prime Trumper strategy. Actually, to believe in QAnon, it helps to be at least bat-shit crazy.
Some Utahns may find Burgess Owens a useful opportunity to prove that systemic racism is not Utah's problem. But when one looks closely at his offensive rhetoric and questionable ties, he's simply a fraud—just another of those Trump sycophants who's willing to sell his soul to win an election.
The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.