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A Brigham Young University assistant football coach's comments on Twitter suggesting he wanted to punch out fellow Mormons who opposed sustaining church leaders have prompted calls for BYU to fire or discipline the coach.
Mark Atuaia, running backs coach for the Cougars, tweeted Saturday that dissenters should go see their stake presidents, as President Dieter Uchtdorf suggested to opponents, "Then find me and oppose those beloved men in front of me and witness how I sin," Atuaia tweeted.
During Saturday afternoon's session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 185th Annual General Conference, seven members stood, raised their right hands and shouted "Opposed," when asked whether they sustained the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The seven have various complaints about the church, and are part of a loosely organized group called "Any Opposed?"
The response to Atuaia's tweet was quick on social media, with people tweeting that the coach was bullying and threatening people who disagree with church leaders.
"Not the sort of statement I'd hope to see from a representative of my alma mater. A bit un-Christ-like," tweeted Alex Esplin.
"You are clearly a thug, must be why BYU football is the way it is. You bring shame to BYU and the church," tweeted Rick Walquist.
On Reddit, the coach's critics said the tweet was embarrassing, especially for a team that ended its last season with a brawl.
The coach had as many people defending his tweet, however, and posted a statement on Twitter acknowledging he could have phrased his reaction to the conference opposers better.
"However, I will not nor will I ever apologize for standing up for Thomas S. Monson, his counselors and the quorum of the 12 to those that oppose them," he wrote. "If someone opposed the beloved men I spoke of you best believe I'm going to retort with vigor and passion. Why? Because some of them are my friends, they're cool people and it's personal to me."
Atuaia said opposers did not follow protocol, which is to raise one's hand but not speak when voting to sustain or not sustain leaders. "I didn't like it, and I voiced my opinion," he explained.
He said he, too, has "deep questions" and understands opposing views because he has experienced "unfavorable things within the church."
Atuaia also suggested that some of the criticism of him was racist. "The racist implications that a Polynesian Football coach would ONLY resort to physical violence is presumptive and offensive to me too."
The coach said he hadn't willingly fought anyone since before his marriage nearly 20 years ago, but will do so "if something arises out of this."
Micah Nickolaisen of Mesa, Ariz., who was among the seven standing on Saturday, called Atuaia's comments "at best unintelligent, at worst, malicious."
BYU should punish Atuaia, Nickolaisen said, for threatening violence, although Nickolaisen said he's not sure what form that punishment should take.
A spokesman for BYU's football program did not return a phone call or email request for comment on Monday.