BYU fans love New Orleans (really)

With Brigham Young University still alive in March Madness, the news ripples continue to expand from the earlier coverage of the suspension of hoops star Brandon Davies for violating the school’s moral code. It isn’t surprising, in other words, that editors still have Mormon moral dilemmas on their minds.

On top of that, the Washington Post sports-section story about BYU fans setting up camp in New Orleans for the Sweet 16 was an easy variation on a predictable story that many journalists find irresistible. I am referring, of course, to the “strange religious people visit sinful city for a convention” template that has been around for decades. Think Southern Baptists holding one of their national conventions in Las Vegas, etc., etc.

Thus, here is the top of the story:

NEW ORLEANS – Jeff Kimball and his father, Cy, both live in Provo, Utah, and have been following the Brigham Young men’s basketball team throughout this season, a journey that now finds the Cougars in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981. Cy says he’s maybe missed four BYU games — home or away — over the past 30 years.

Upon arriving in New Orleans on Tuesday for the Cougars’ matchup with Florida on Thursday night in the Southeast Region semifinals, Jeff Kimball realized he had yet to purchase a copy of Sports Illustrated, which features Cougars star Jimmer Fredette on the cover this week.

That, though, is harder than it sounds in this town.

“All I could find were Playboys and Hustlers,” Jeff Kimball said with a grin as he watched BYU’s open practice at New Orleans Arena on Wednesday afternoon.

(cue: rim shot and cymbal splash)

The surprise is that this is a rather restrained “Mormons do Bourbon Street” story, if one can imagine such a thing. There are a few inky smirks, of course. But some punches were pulled, or the logical connections were missed. Consider, for example, the doctrinal implications of this passage:

For some, like 27-year-old BYU graduate and lifelong Provo native Alex Grow, this week has been his first taste of New Orleans. He and his friend Trent Tueller have followed the Cougars since they won the Mountain West tournament two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Tueller joked that the college basketball gods “have been sending us to the cities of sin.”

But when the two touched down in New Orleans, they made it a point to visit Bourbon Street before they did anything else. They grabbed some beignets, deep-fried doughnut-like pastries that have long been a staple of the city’s cuisine.

OK, if you have spent much time in Nawlins — I grew up in Cajun country on the Texas-Louisiana border — you KNOW what beignets are all about. What does one eat beignets with? Coffee, of course. And, as everyone knows, who abstains from coffee? Mormons, of course.

All needling aside, the story does seek out some interesting people — such as the leader of the only Mormon ward inside New Orleans, proper — to discuss the realities of life in the Crescent City. Like I said, this is a better than average winking-at-Mormons news story.

But here is the missed connection that disappointed me. Think logically. Young people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are justifiably famous for the discipline and dedication that they show as they conduct their two-year missions to nations around the world, which one reason that so many Mormons know one or more foreign languages (a valuable skill, in this age of globalization).

Yet, this commitment to evangelism also places waves of young Mormons in some of the world’s most exciting, and tempting, cities. Once again, think logically. Is New Orleans really a tougher moral environment than, let’s say, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam or Johannesburg? Something tells me that these folks are used to talking about temptations.

In fact, did anyone at the Post think to talk to some of the young Mormons who are currently serving as missionaries in — wait for it — New Orleans?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • jh

    Somtimes I really hate these New Orleans themed stories. There is a lot more to do and about New Orleans than a few streets of the quarter. I am glad the Mormon guy from Nola seemed to set that straight

  • Jay Jonson

    “Think Southern Baptists holding one of their annual conventions in Las Vegas, etc. etc.”

    Tmatt, you just don’t around very much. In 1996, when the delegates to the Southern Baptist annual meeting overwhelmingly adopted a resolution threatening a boycott of the Walt Disney Corporation unless Disney changed its gay-friendly employment policies, they were meeting in–drum roll, please–New Orleans. …

  • Jerry

    I don’t think the story is as bad as you characterized it. It’s not perfect, of course, but I was surprised to find the following after reading your review. It does not quote Mormon missionaries but it does, significantly, quote a Mormon who lives in New Orleans:

    What few realize, though, is that despite its reputation, New Orleans actually holds a bit of historical significance for Mormons. During the 19th century, many immigrated into the United States via the Port of New Orleans and then made their way up the Mississippi River before heading west.

    Bishop Terry Seamons of the New Orleans 1st Ward, the lone Mormon meeting place within the city’s limits, said there are more than 3,000 people of Mormon faith living in the greater New Orleans area. He said the perception that the city presents a dilemma of sorts for BYU fans is unfounded, and that his phone has been ringing off the hook with fans searching for tickets this week.

    “There may be some parts of the city that aren’t as desirable for people of our faith, but we have found living in New Orleans is a very pleasant experience and it’s not hard for us to live our religion,” said Seamons, who is also a BYU alumni board member.

  • tmatt

    Yes Jerry, my post praised that part of the story — the reference to the Nawlins Ward leader.

    I didn’t say the story was bad. I said it was better than I expected, yet there was a missed opportunity.

  • tmatt



    What does that have to do with the subject of the post, which is the BYU story in the WPost?

    I’ve attended an SBC convention in Nawlins, as a reporter. I have written about several. I know a couple of great stories about religion writers there.

    Please address the actual journalistic subject of the post, which, again, is the WPost article on BYU and its fans being in this world-unto-itself American city.

  • Amanda

    Growing up in Baton Rouge, I found hot chocolate is better for dunking beignets than coffee or cafe au lait is.

    On the coffee point: I believe chocolate, and hot chocolate, may be relatively more acceptable to the LDS community. Perhaps that’s the beverage of choice at Cafe du Monde?

  • tmatt


    The official drink in Nawlins with beignets is French chicory coffee:

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: The official drink in Nawlins with beignets is French chicory coffee:

    If you made coffee with ALL chicory (that isn’t how chicory coffee is normally made, but it was commonly done during the Depression, as well as in third world countries today) then it wouldn’t have caffeine in it. Presumably a Mormon could drink 100% chicory coffee in good conscience?

  • astorian

    About a decade ago, the Brigham Young football team was 13-1, while the Nebraska football team was only 9-3. BYU certainly should have received an at-large invitation to appear in a major bowl game, but that didn’t happen. The Sugar Bowl invited the clearly inferior Nebraska team.

    No one would explain why on the record. But off the record, several New Orleans businessmen repeated the same joke: “A Mormon comes to town with a hundred dollar bill in one pocket and the Ten Commandments in the other. And he never breaks either one of them.”

    Point being, while there’s certainly more to New Orleans than drinking in the French Quarter, the fact remains that New Orleans’own civic leaders DO think their town’s appeal rests on drinking and carousing in the French Quarter. And they don’t want visitors who aren’t planning to party and spend money!

  • northcoast

    Can you get beignets on Bourbon Street? I don’t remember seeing anyone with a go cup in one hand and pastry in the other.

  • tmatt

    HECTOR: We will need insider help on that one. Let’s see what Mormon readers say.

    ASTORIAN: That 10 Commandments line is also used in the stories about the Southern Baptists meeting in sin cities.

    NORTHCOAST: The beignets zone is back toward the river and the cathedral, but easy walking from Bourbon Street.

  • NolaGirl

    FWIW, I don’t usually drink coffee (I’m not Mormon, I just don’t like it) and I’m a New Orleans native. I still eat beignets occasionally, and the city hasn’t kicked me out yet! Cafe du Monde is overrated anyway. I hope our BYU visitors find the better beignet shops outside of the French Quarter. :)

    All in all, I found this story rather patronizing — not only to BYU fans, but also to New Orleans. Gasp! Look at these weird religious folks! Look at Bourbon Street! (As if there’s nothing in the New Orleans area besides Bourbon Street…) The New Orleans Times-Picayune thankfully hasn’t published any stories with the look-at-the-weird-religious-folks storyline of this WashPost story.

  • Marie

    Hector: it is not the caffeine in coffee that is the problem. It is the coffee in coffee that is the problem. I don’t know the difference between chicory coffee and regular coffee. I would say that if it involves coffee beans it is going to be a no-go for us Mormons.

  • Amanda


    The official drink with beignets is either chicory coffee or cafe au lait made with chicory coffee. You forget, however, that there are no prohibitions against multiple beverages. Or sharing.

    Therefore, for four people eating beignets, you order 4 coffees + 1 hot chocolate + 2 erm, 4, orders of beignets. And share the dipping cup. Delicious.

  • Sarah

    “But when the two touched down in New Orleans, they made it a point to visit Bourbon Street before they did anything else. They grabbed some beignets, deep-fried doughnut-like pastries that have long been a staple of the city’s cuisine.”

    The most famous place to get beignets in New Orleans is Cafe Du Monde, which is not on Bourbon Street. The article made it seem like Bourbon Street is the only street in New Orleans where you can find something to do.