COLUMN: In a state of shame

Be honest, you probably have never given much thought to the state of Utah. But lately, Utah has been demanding more attention. Maybe it's tired of being overlooked and struggling to compete against more compelling roadside attractions like Amarillo's Cadillac Ranch or Catoosa's Blue Whale. It's not a good look.

Now, I am mindful of the fact my state of residence, Oklahoma, frequently comes in for its share of derision, so I try not to engage in too much projection, but really, Utah, you need to get it together.

Monday night was not a particularly good night for Utahans, especially coming on the heels of shaming a kid on Ash Wednesday. Then we have the whole matter of raising a forgotten, and hardly missed, relic from the political dead.

But first things first. In order of importance.

The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz have become quite the rivals in the NBA, and the interaction between Thunder players and Jazz fans has been less than sportsmanlike, although not quite as antagonistic as imaginary MAGA-hat wearing haters going after third-rate actors in a forgettable TV drama.

The heckling from one Jazz fan in particular — sorry, I must stop here for a moment. If there is one thing Utah is known for is its jazz scene, right? Come on, the franchise formerly known as the New Orleans Jazz (see how that easily rolls off the tongue) relocated to Utah 40 years ago. Surely it's time for a fresh coat of Rust-Oleum on the team signpost, so while they're at it, why not a more apt name for the team? Maybe the Utah Missionary Bikers.

OK, back to Monday night.

Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook has always been rather combustible and prone to lashing out occasionally, but apparently it became too much during the Thunder's win and he became fed up with the taunts of a particular fan. He said the fan told him to get down on his knees like he used to. Not sure what that means, but Westbrook wasn't putting up with it. For the record, the fan, Shane Keisel, says he told Westbrook to "sit down and ice your knees, bro."

Several players came to Westbrook's defense and another said he heard the same thing. The scene became an incident, and in the end the fan got a permanent ban from the arena and Westbrook got hit with a $25,000 fine (or about the ratio equivalent of 25 cents to most of us).

Westbrook and others have complained such boorish behavior has become the norm when visiting Utah. I am not sure this should be surprising. Anybody ever watch "Sister Wives?"

Case further in point, last week Utah made headlines again for some very un-cosmopolitan reasons, and you know it's bad when some random writer from Oklahoma is calling you out for not being cosmopolitan enough.

Nine-year-old William McLeod had returned to his fourth-grade classroom at his school in Bountiful after having ashes placed on his forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday. His teacher immediately told him to wash it off, handed him a disinfectant wipe and instructed him it was not appropriate for the classroom, despite his protestations and attempted explanation.

The story was bad and went nationwide. The teacher, Moana Patterson, was put on administrative leave. On Monday, she proclaimed she was essentially ignorant of such an Ash Wednesday observance that pretty much anybody not living under a rock at the Mars Desert Research Station knows about. We have to take her at her word, but is it really possible, as a molder of young minds no less, to be that ignorant of other faiths? For a state that has to frequently defend its dominant faith against prejudice, it seems rather shocking.

Taken alone, these would just be isolated incidents. But the Beehive State has pretty much been on notice since it embarrassed itself this past November when it sent carpet-bagging Mitt Romney to Washington, D.C.

Shown the door following his defeat in the 2012 presidential election, the former governor of Massachusetts found his way to Utah, choosing to not challenge Elizabeth Warren, but opting for the safe, secluded Utah seat previously held by Orrin Hatch. A true RINO by any definition, Romney used his name recognition to work his way back into prominence after leaving the GOP in tatters following one of the most tepid presidential campaigns this side of Walter Mondale.

The nation, including both sides of the political aisle, was glad to be rid of Romney. It was a rare, small measure of unity until Utah spoiled it all.

Romney has used his election to spend most of his time obstructing Trump, suddenly making him a hero to the crowd that once openly despised him.

Out-of-control fans, intolerant (or ignorant) teachers and needlessly resurrecting the ghost of a RINO past. The toughest gig in America today? Unquestionably, working for the Utah Office of Tourism.

Ruthenberg is a multiple award-winning columnist and writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Contact him at