SALT LAKE CITY — Burgess Owens, the GOP candidate in Utah’s 4th Congressional District race, spoke with the combined KSL and Deseret News editorial boards on Thursday about a variety of current events, including recent sports boycotts, a plagiarism accusation against him and his goals if elected to Congress.
We break it down for you here.
“Let them protest on their own time”
As a former professional athlete, Owens said he disagrees with players in the NBA and — other sports franchises — using their position to protest police brutality against Black Americans.
On Wednesday, players in the NBA boycotted playoff games — including the Utah Jazz’s first-round Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets initially slated for Thursday — in protest over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Wisconsin.
Owens, 69, said he faced racist ideas when he played football, namely that Black men couldn't be quarterbacks or centers as they were considered “thinking” positions.
The former NFL football player played for a decade with the New York Jets and later the Oakland Raiders where he won a Super Bowl championship in 1980.
Owens, who grew up in the Deep South among KKK supporters and Jim Crow segregation laws, said young men today don’t hold the same values he learned growing up — the importance of education, entrepreneurship, Christian values and the family unit.
“I grew up in not only a middle-class home but a middle-class community that was very very patriotic, very Christian-based, education was everything — that was our doorway, our way to get out.”
Over the last few decades, Owens asserted, that’s been lost.
“Now we have Black young men making $50 million a year and instead of coming together, the way we would’ve done back in my day … we have them standing there, not willing to stand for our flag, because they don’t think America has been fair to them,” he said. “So we have young men today who’ve never saluted a flag, never said a prayer, 70% of them their dads are no longer around so they have no idea what it is to respect anything, and entrepreneurship is not even a consideration.”
If athletes want to protest injustices, Owens says it shouldn’t be brought into the workplace with the expectation they keep their jobs.
“Our young men need to know there’s accountability, there’s a time and place for everything,” he continued. “If young men want to ... protest, let them protest on their own time.”
Instead, he said athletes should use their offseason time to fight inequalities they feel they’ve experienced
“They wait until the season, they wait until they have an audience and then we have this opportunity where literally we’ve been torn apart in ways that have never been done when it comes to sports.”
“No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism in the police force. I don’t believe that”
When asked about the specific racial injustices athletes are standing up against, Owens said he disagreed that there is systemic racism among law enforcement.
“No, I don’t think there’s systemic racism in the police force,” he said. “I don’t believe that.”
He cited a statistic that 15 unarmed Black individuals were killed last year by police versus a higher number of Black people that were killed by other Black Americans.
The Washington Post reported that 14 unarmed black individuals were killed by police in 2019; however, the Post’s data also shows Black people are killed by police at a proportionately higher rate than other races, notably twice as high as the rate for white Americans.
The Post’s data is gathered from its own reporting, other local news outlets and police reports. It only reports those shot and killed by police and is subject to change as more fatal police shootings are reported.
Owens also brought up the violence seen in Chicago against Black children, and against officers, noting he feels a focus should be on those lives as well.
“I do believe that Black lives matter, but all Black lives matter,” Owens continued. “You have Black officers being attacked right now and being called names because they happen to be part of a police force.”
Making Utah a no-trafficking state
“There’s a very dark topic that we don’t talk about,” Owens told KSL on Friday. “And many good people just can’t even get it in their heads that something this evil can be happening."
“Child trafficking is something that we have to hit on,” he continued.
Educating people about child trafficking is an important priority to Owens if elected.
Owens says individuals are very trusting and vulnerable as a society; there is a large population of children and “evil would love to take advantage of it,” he said.
He wants to make Utah a place where the penalties for child trafficking are so severe that no one attempts it in the state. He hopes the rest of country could then follow the model of Utah.
“Our goal is to have Utah as another pioneer state is to be the first traffic-free state zone in the union against this evil.”
His comments came the same day Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes mentioned trafficking in a speech at the Republican National Convention.
Owens said child trafficking has always been important to him and noted he’s close friends with Tim Ballard, the founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, a Utah-based nonprofit geared toward stopping human trafficking.
Refuting plagiarism allegations: “I would appreciate if that came to an end because that should not be the topic right now”
Media Matters, a nonprofit news website aimed at “correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” alleged on Tuesday that multiple passages from a 2018 book authored by Owens, “Why I Stand: From Freedom to the Killing Fields of Socialism,” which was published by Post Hill Press, had been plagiarized.
Owens, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. Ben McAdams for the 4th District seat, said Thursday he was just a regular man who decided to write a book about his beliefs — he graduated with a biology degree and had never taken a journalism class, he added.
The accusation came the day before the Owens spoke at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday.
“Clearly, the article had an agenda and had an obvious bent,” Owens’ communications director Jesse Ranney told KSL.com on Wednesday. “It’s a hit piece."
In a campaign email sent to supporters, Owens' opponent McAdams asked for donations and said voters need to “know the truth” about Owens.
“This is deeply disappointing, and moreover, it’s disqualifying,” the email read. “Integrity matters, especially when it comes to picking who will represent us in Congress.”
Anthony Ziccardi, publisher at Post Hill Press, told KSL.com Wednesday, the plagiarism accusation was "ridiculous."
“Quite frankly we take offense to it,” he said.
At Thursday’s editorial meeting with the KSL/Deseret News editorial board, Owens questioned the timing of the article and emphasized he wanted to return to the policies and important topics.
“If we’re talking about things like this instead of talking about really the issues, then we’re not doing what I think our community deserves,” he said.
Since the allegations surfaced, the book has been reviewed by lawyers from the publishing house and two typos were found — but nothing amounting to plagiarism, Ziccardi emphasized. Instead, he said there was just a nuanced difference in opinion on how to cite sources.
In once instance cited by Media Matters, Owens’ book includes a word-for-word passage from Wikipedia but does not include a citation for the Wikipedia article and instead cites the same article Wikipedia cited in its footnotes — a 2014 Sun Sentinel article by Omar Kelly.
Ziccardi confirmed to KSL.com that Media Matters did not misquote Owens’ book in its article, but he noted that calling these instances plagiarism is "outrageous."
“I’ve known Burgess for almost a decade now,” Zicarddi said. “He’s a man of integrity. He’s a man of faith. He’s a good father.”
Owens also authored the 2016 book “Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps,” which was published by Post Hill Press.
“But those who want to know my character it’s very easy,” Owens said, noting everything he stands for is available on his campaign website.