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Brandon Davies: Justice Vs. Injustice-Martin Luther King, Jr. and Socrates

March 7, 2011

Brandon Davies had started 26 of 29 games and averaged 11.1 points and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds.

Recently, Brandon Davies, forward for the Brigham Young University Men’s basketball team was dismissed from the team for breaking the school’s honor code. Each student who attends the University signs off on an honor code which they pledge to uphold. What did he do you might ask? Brandon Davies was booted from the BYU men’s basketball team (ranked # 3 in the nation)  for having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend. After hearing about this incident my mind was sparked to think back to earlier in the semester when we spoke in class about justice versus injustice. It is interesting to consider how Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates, if still around today would have looked at this issue. Would they have decided the punishment was just or unjust? Would they feel that Brandon Davies got what he deserved and therefore must live with his punishment as Socrates did when he was sentenced to death?

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King, Jr. discusses the issue of just versus unjust. According to Dr. King, in any nonviolent campaign one step is the collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist. In collecting the facts in Brandon Davies situation, it is clear that he broke a code which he vowed to uphold. Having pre-marital sex does break the portion of BYU’s honor code which states, “Live a chaste and virtuous life.” Davies himself admitted to the pre-marital sex and therefore helps prove the school’s decision to be just. There is no brutality taking place, no racial violence, or inequality. The school has had this honor code for many years and felt that letting Davies off would prove detrimental to the values which the school has upheld for many years. In fact, in 2010, Harvey Unga, BYU’s all-time leading rusher, withdrew from school after being kicked off the football team for a violation the honor code by having pre-marital sex. As king states “ An unjust law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.” In this case BYU is punishing Davies for breaking a code which everyone at the University has decided to uphold. Both the minority and the majority are willing to follow this code and therefore according to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. the code is just and therefore so are the consequences that must be faced if the code is broken.

In my opinion, based on his Speech of the Laws in Crito, Socrates would feel that Davies has never previously complained about the honor code and therefore must accept the consequence that have been placed on him just as Socrates accepted his death sentence. Socrates had never previously complained about the government and therefore decides it would be wrong for him not to accept their punishment. This idea is supported in the Speech of the Laws when Socrates states, “You have had seventy years during which you could have gone away if you did not like us, and if you thought our agreements unjust. You did not choose to go to Sparta or to Crete…(53e)”. Under Socrates beliefs it seems he would say that Brandon Davies must accept his consequences. He agreed to this honor code when deciding to attend Brigham Young University and therefore must be willing to accept the consequences of breaking this code.


“Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Martin Luther King, Jr.” Birmingham, Alabama. 16, April. 1963.

“Crito” in The Trial and Death of Socrates, translated by G. M. A. Grube, revised by John M. Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company 2001).

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Video via: ESPN:

  1. Jake Winn permalink
    March 7, 2011 4:04 PM

    I know that the video is not embedded by request but I feel it gives a good interpretation of the debate behind BYU’s honor code. The video can be watch by just clicking on the link which will take you to youtube.

  2. Kathaleen Kokotilo permalink
    March 7, 2011 4:23 PM

    This brings up an interesting point about claims of Socratic knowledge. In order for Socrates to know whether or not the action was just, he would first have to know the definition of Justice, a definition which would shed light on a quality that extends to all instances of justice. It would be interesting to reference to the Republic, Book 1, and to then again consider the case, as Socrates speaks about the definitional knowledge of Justice in this piece.

  3. Bobby Marshall permalink
    March 7, 2011 4:35 PM

    First off i wanted to say that i thought that this was a great post. Good job using a contemporary and relevant issue in the sports world today to compare the ideas of MLK JR and Sorcrates and what is just. I agree with you completely that Socrates would agree with the suspension of Brandon Davies. I feel that one of Socrates’ main beliefs was that any society is controlled by laws and only exists because of the laws it upholds. In this case the society would be BYU, as Davies chose that society at his own volition. Since Davies is attending BYU at his own volition and is not there against his will, Socrates would agree that Davies has broken the laws of the society and must be punished. Similar to Socrates’ own trial, the case brought against Davies seems somewhat sceewed and Davies is, i am sure, not the only one at BYU violating this rule, Socrates would still argue, i believe, that Davies should be suspended as he has chosen to take part in a society that has certain laws and while being a part of that society has broken the laws. In contrast i feel that MLK would argue in Davies defense. I feel that MLK would argue that Davies is certainly in the minority, people violating the rules, but is not the only one. I feel that MLK would argue that since there is no clear concensus that everyone in this society, school, is abiding the laws, then how could you charge one man by himself. Overall i thought the article is very thought provoking and a great discussion topic.

  4. Anthony Sinishtaj permalink
    March 7, 2011 6:00 PM

    I think this interpretation of what Socrates would think of the incidence is perfect. Though the BYU honor code could be seen as “over the top”, Davies did not complain to try to change the rule prior to the incident, so he shouldn’t complain about the punishment. Davies doesn’t seem to be complaining, and is being very Socratic in his approach to the problem.

  5. Emily Slaga permalink
    March 7, 2011 8:39 PM

    I agree with you that Socrates would say Davies should live with the consequences. He did explicitly agreed to live under those rules by choosing to attend the college and signing the honor code. Therefore, when he broke BYU “laws”, he needs to face the punishment.
    Personally though, I don’t know if BYU ever had the right to make him or anyone else sign that. Like Locke said, our bodies are our own property. We have a right to property, and according to that idea, if we own it, no one has the right to tell us what to do with it. Nor can they take away those rights as long as no one is being harmed, right?

    • jasonkraman permalink
      March 7, 2011 10:02 PM

      I would agree that since he never spoke out against the honor code, Davies must suffer the consequences of violating it. As stated, Socrates would believe this because he himself never complained against the government and therefore accepted his punishment. However, Locke would also voice that Davies must accept his punishment under the principle of tacit consent. Although as previously mentioned many people break the honor code, the signing of the honor code can still be seen as a tacit agreement to abide by the schools regulations. Davies had the benefit of an education, playing for the basketball team and using all the other resources a university affords to its students. Therefore whether Davies expressly voiced his commitment to the honor code, he has benefited from the society(BYU) and thus must be subjected to any punishment handed down by that society.

  6. March 7, 2011 9:36 PM

    Davies knowingly and willingly agreed to BYU’s terms and honor code so he is obligated to accept the consequences of his actions. He would have had to have known the seriousness of the punishment from the previous offense of Harvey Unga. I would agree that in Socrates and MLK’s eyes this punishment is just. I must say as well Emily Slaga brings up and interesting question regarding the right to do what we want with our bodies. The only problem with Davies’s situation is that since BYU is a private institution it is allowed to say, “If you want to attend you must agree to these rules”, and can take away his right to play basketball.

  7. jdeclaire permalink
    March 7, 2011 10:20 PM

    First of all, great post. I really enjoyed the connection of this situation to the thoughts of MLK and Socrates, who are from two completely different eras. For both Socrates and MLK, I agree that they would have thought this situation between Davies and BYU was just. Davies signed a contract to the school, and it is his duty to own up to his actions. As you said, MLK would have agreed it was just because everyone in the school agreed to the policies. In this situation, there was never really a majority or minority since the students had a choice whether or not to enter the contract. Similarly, Socrates was almost in the same situation with Davies when he accepted his death penalty. Davies had been living under this rule, and agreed to the rule, so he must be responsible if he breaks the rule, even if he disagrees with it. Ultimately, this was a very-well written post and pointed out many good points.

  8. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    March 7, 2011 11:41 PM

    Similar to everyone else who commented, I think it is really interesting to look at a contemporary issue through the eyes of old political thinkers. You made a lot of good points that I agree with. I agree that MLK would think that Davies’ punishment was just because he was not told by a higher power to follow the honor code without other people following it as well. Everyone at the school follows the honor code, and I think I read somewhere that the code was created by students, so it is obviously an important part of the school culture at BYU. I think I remember part of another article on the situation where someone said that Davies shouldn’t be held accountable because he is only a college kid and too young to make big decisions such as attending a school with an honor code. I think this ties in nicely with your comparison to Socrates. Davies knew what he was doing when he signed his letter of intent to play at BYU, and thus shows that he knew there was an honor code to follow. Since he has stayed at BYU with no complaints he must agree with the honor code, so the school has a right to punish him if he breaks the code. On a side note it is nice to see a school stick to their beliefs. They might have thrown away their chances at a NCAA championship, but they sent the right message by sticking to the laws of the university, even if the laws seem extreme to most college students.

  9. John D'Adamo permalink
    March 8, 2011 1:06 PM

    I’m with everyone else who commented. Socrates would undoubtedly have told Davies that because he chose to play at BYU, he chose to abide by the laws of that university. You even used a direct quote from the Crito text, which I thought was cool.

    Although I personally disagree with the idea that a school can punish a student because they simply had sex with their girlfriend (something that happens with millions of college students, athletes or no), the fact is Davies knew about this rule before he signed with the university. Clearly they had something that endeared him, like being the #3 college basketball team in the nation, but he broke a rule and must pay the consequences. BYU is simply enforcing a rule that Davies agreed to before dribbling the basketball once on their grounds.

  10. Michael Isaacson permalink
    March 8, 2011 1:23 PM

    Great post, I have been discussing this topic since it came out and think that it is ridiculous, however it is definitely not unjust. I certainly disagree with the honor code at BYU, but as previously mentioned, Davies knew of the honor code before he came to school. I believe that both Socrates and Martin Luther King Jr. would most likely agree that the punishment was completely fair, but there is a point that MLK makes during his “Letters From a Birmingham Jail” that I wonder about. He claims that “a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself.” If it is the case in which the President of BYU and its board members do not apply the same rules to themselves as they do to their students, then I am not sure if MLK would agree with the punishment.

  11. March 8, 2011 2:14 PM

    As many people before me have stated, I think that is was very interesting the way you combined the thoughts of MLK and Socrates, two men of different eras, and related them to a present day issue. I am an avid sports fan and have been well aware of the Brandon Davies story, as well as the media coverage and different opinions from all different people in the sports industry. I agree with the point you made that Davies should have been kicked off the team, because he never spoke out against the honor code. He signed the honor code when he decided to attend BYU and he never once brought up his desire to the school to break the honor code system. Though it may seem a little “over the top”, all students agreed to the honor code when they decided to attend BYU, and no athlete should receive special treatment. I do personally feel that the school is a little strict in terms of being against premarital sex even with a girlfriend or boyfriend, but I did not sign the honor code and decide to attend BYU. MLK would have agreed with the schools decisions because Davies agreed to the honor code and therefor he is responsible for his actions. I enjoyed this article and enjoyed reading everyones comments discussing this issue.

  12. Josh Langer permalink
    March 8, 2011 4:54 PM

    I agree that Davies should have been kicked off the team. BYU is allowing Davies to sit on the bench during their games and even let him cut down part of the net after they won their Conference. I do not think this should be allowed because he violated the Honors Code. BYU has every right to kick him off the team because Davies agreed to this code and as far as Locke is concerned, BYU is not acting tyrannical. Additionally, this sort of thing has happened to a player at the University and he opted to leave the school altogether. For more information on this visit this link:

  13. bwand permalink
    March 9, 2011 12:46 AM

    The decision by BYU is the correct one. When he signed the contract to follow the honor code, he knew what he was doing and by doing so he allowed himself to be put into this situation. Rules are rules, and it is good to see a major athletic program honor them (unlike Ohio State). I think all of the political theorists we have studies so far in this class would agree with BYU’s decisions because Davies signed the contract, fully aware of what it meant, and then failed to follow by its rules. Because of the intentional giving up of these rights, which do not involve his property or his life, most would agree with the decision.

    • Jacob Saslow permalink
      March 9, 2011 4:32 PM

      Would Dr. King agree with Davie’s punishment? While the rules seemingly apply equally to both the majority (the student body) and the minority (faculty), given a closer look, maybe it is less equal than first thought. Applying regulations on premarital sex to both a group of adults and a group of college students clearly discriminates against the latter. While a survey conducted estimated that 22 percent of students at BYU are married, nearly 60 percent of adults in the U.S. are married. Is this a fair standard? So while yes, it seems admirable that both the students and faculty are held to the same standard, Dr. King would have seen through this front and deemed in unjust. Also, while it seems that the school is treating Davies well by allowing him to cut down the net after his teams conference victory, many people are overlooking the fact that this twenty-something young male, who just had his livelihood taken from him, is now up for expulsion from the university. While yes, athletes should be held to the same standard as all other students, what sort of standard are they applying?

  14. Justin Kucera permalink
    March 9, 2011 4:45 PM

    This is a great way to relate old readings to a real-world everyday story. Interesting that it has to do with sports. Even though the honor code may seem bogus to us, it is the law of their school and he did have to sign it. I don’t think Socrates would have to observe this guy at all to get his opinion. He consented in the form of his signature to the honor code. He knew that he had to uphold the honor code, and he very well knew the punishment for his actions. I think the most intriguing part of this story is the fact that he admitted to his wrong-doing. I think that is being overlooked in this situation, and I think we need to give him more credit.

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