The word “Mormon” conjures up a variety images: a clean-cut family, young men with black name tags, or even (inaccurately) a group of wives with long hair and long dresses. But whatever you think of when you hear the word “Mormon,” baseball player Bryce Harper probably isn’t it. The Washington Nationals outfielder doesn’t doesn’t fit in quite right with the assumptions people make about Mormons. For more than one reason, this man who’s been described as having ” shaggy hair, a beard and a brash style,” is breaking Mormon stereotypes all over the place and proving that being Mormon is what you make it.
What’s never in a picture of Mormon people? A wad of chew. But that’s not true of Bryce Harper’s photos.
Mormons believe that just like God wants His children to care for their spirits through things like prayer and going to church, He wants them to care for their bodies. This idea is not new; throughout the Bible there are many examples of faithful disciples choosing to only eat certain foods because of their faith. Mormons still believe that caring for their bodies makes them closer to God. In order to teach us how to care for our bodies, God outlined a code of health. Mormons refer to this as the Word of Wisdom. As part of the Word of Wisdom, God warns against the use of tobacco.
Because Mormons choose to follow the Word of Wisdom and avoid chewing tobacco, the photo of Harper with some chew in his mouth was upsetting to many people. However, Nationals manager, Matt Williams negated the assumptions that Harper was going against his Mormon values. “He doesn’t do [tobacco] but that herbal stuff is available as an alternative to chew tobacco.”
So while it may appear that Harper is choosing to follow the style of his teammates by chewing, in actuality, Harper is keeping his Mormon standards by choosing not to chew tobacco.
He doesn’t like BYU
In an interview with the Major League Baseball Network, Bryce Harper said that his least favorite Mormon stereotype was that all Mormons like Brigham Young University. He admitted that he was one of the Mormons who doesn’t align with this particular assumption:
” I hate BYU. I mean, BYU is just — I can be a fan, but I don’t like them. There are a lot of Mormons that don’t like BYU.”
While many professional Mormon athletes start their career at Brigham Young University, Harper did not. In order to move up his eligibility for the MLB, Harper dropped out of high school after his sophomore year and enrolled in the College of Southern Nevada where he earned his GED. This choice paid off; because he started college earlier, he was eligible for the 2010 MLB draft and he was the number one pick.
He didn’t serve a mission
Another popular image, that of a Mormon missionary, popularized by Broadway musicals or first-hand view, is another picture that Harper just can’t fit into.
Although Harper may have chosen not to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he believes that he can use his fame as a baseball player to be a missionary for his church. He said,
“My mom always told me, ‘You can touch a lot more lives playing baseball and doing good things than you would on a mission.’ It’s very true. Shoot, I’ll tweet about God and get 1,500 retweets and it’s like, that just went to 1,500 people or more.
Even though he’s not fitting into the expected picture of a Mormon by walking streets with a Book of Mormon in hand, Harper does say,
“I try to be the best walking Book of Mormon I can.”
The Chosen One of Baseball
Bryce Harper may not fit the stereotypical Mormon, but he doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical baseball either. He was voted the rookie of the year and is the youngest player ever to unanimously be voted the Most Valuable Player. Whether due to his faith or his skill on the baseball diamond, Bryce Harper is a man breaking molds all over the place and proving that stereotypes are nothing more than assumptions meant to be broken.