On Thursday night, Brigham Young University’s men’s basketball team was narrowly defeated in its first NCAA tournament game in three years. Do athletes from the Mormon school wear temple garments during games?
No. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints allows athletes to forego the traditional underclothes during games because they’re impractical. Mormons are encouraged to wear the temple garments at all times, although they can swap them out if they’re playing sports or going for a swim. (Hall of Fame quarterback and devout Mormon Steve Young used to take off his temple garments before each 49ers game.) In situations where the garments might draw attention or mockery—like an army barracks, for example—Mormons can also put on regular underwear. Those willing to field questions from curious bunkmates, though, can pick up a set of brown, military-style temple garments.
Not everyone on the BYU team wears the temple garments when they’re off the court. Only church members who have gone through a ritual of commitment called endowment can don the special clothes. In this ceremony, members are washed, anointed, and dressed in ceremonial clothing before they are ushered through re-enactments of the Lord’s creation of the world. Members make formal promises and learn about sacred signs during this rite, which usually takes place before a Mormon goes on a two-year mission for the church or when a woman gets married. The basketball team probably has both players who have and have not been endowed.
According to Mormon doctrine, the garments are reminders of each person’s covenant with God. In fact, they’re so sacred that they can’t be discussed in casual conversation, and you can buy them only from the church’s Beehive Clothing stores with proof of church status. (Occasionally an anti-Mormon will sell garments on eBay.)
The white, sleeved undergarments come in a one-piece suit or a shirt and shorts made from cotton, nylon, or fabrics that wick moisture. The design covers the torso and extends to the knee. Men’s shirts commonly feature scoop necks, while women’s shirts often have cap sleeves and lace trimming and are to be worn under bras. Embroidered symbols called the “compass” and the “square” decorate each side of the chest, while single embroidered lines grace the navel and right knee. Each of these marks serves as a witness to the covenant. The line at the knee, for instance, is a Biblical reference to Philippians 2:10-11: “Every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
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Explainer thanks Carri Jenkins of Brigham Young University, David Knowlton of Utah Valley State College, and Arlene White.