Athletics | Bottom Line Ethics

I look out through the blinds at the twelve-foot-strip of grass that is my prison yard this morning. As I write, I am on day 3 of my banishment for testing positive for COVID, despite being fully vaccinated. The “privacy” fence out my window would feel more appropriate with a stretch of barbed wire across the top.

I managed to get through one week of classes, suitably confident because I tested negative for the umpteenth time the week before, this time as mandated by the University. Unlike virtually all those in my building, I wear my mask consistently around other people. I taught without it, but I put it on if anyone approached me. My wife, the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, encouraged me to get tested again after my first week’s teaching, and it is a good thing she did.

A man and a woman at the beach

I am asymptomatic, which in technical terms means I was able to yell at my computer screen for each of the Aggies’ turnovers Saturday night. I certainly feel better than the Kent State kicker who missed two short field goals in the last minutes, with all the gambling world waiting to see if the Golden Flashes could cover the spread. Now that is pressure.

My wife, who is vulnerable because of underlying conditions, has had one negative test since I was incarcerated. We pray for a second. Having each lost a parent in the last year, we are both reeling a bit, even though we know we have so much to be thankful for. It is one of those times in a marriage when you see hopelessness in the eyes of the one you love, and you feel powerless to change things.

I am scheduled to receive the monoclonal antibody treatment, Regeneron, because of my age. I await the results of a second test to confirm my positive status before undergoing the regimen. It is humbling to feel like a carrier and to feel like I need special attention because of my condition in life. I am used to being the one bearing up others through their challenges, particularly students much younger than me.

I have had several friends go to prison, and I have one long-time friend who will be sentenced soon. I am feeling new empathy for them this morning. But I pace this room like a caged cat when I am not feeling reflective or yelling at the Aggies. And I know in my mind that most prisoners do not have what I have; many have cells squeezing two people into half the space I have, with an open toilet. I struggle to understand what that does to a mind. How would you turn it into a positive and not go crazy?

Someone encouraged me to remember that the apostle Paul was in prison. But, to be honest, I am no Paul. And I know that Paul called himself the “chief of sinners,” but I am pretty confident he would not have yelled at Ainias Smith trying to field a punt over his shoulder inside the 10. And if I had not received the Curative curse word, “Positive,” I would have been doing so along with 97,000 of my closest friends in person, including my wife and brother-in-law. I wore my blue shirt for the 9/11 remembrance game anyway.

This week, assuming I am feeling well enough and not receiving an infusion, I will conduct my classes from the confines of this room. The past year and a half have provided me a lot of Zoom experience, and it is not an intimidating prospect. But oh, I miss being face to face, and not just with students—with anybody. It has become clearer to me in the last year than it has ever been that we are all designed to need others, even those of us who are introverts.

It is incredibly unnatural to make myself stay away, to pace the floor of this 12 by 15 room, and I am not alone in feeling this. I recognize that it is “selfless service,” and that it is my duty to wait. But I want so much to burst out that door and go to the office, or get a snow cone, or mow the lawn, or kiss my wife. (Well, maybe not mow the lawn.) Honestly, we are in a time like no other that I have experienced.

Perhaps, if I remain asymptomatic, a week from now I will be free. Or, if I get a mild case, two weeks. Of course, it could go badly, and it could be longer. My challenge today is to quiet my soul enough to reflect on what is going on inside me. I hoped to have built up the emotional and spiritual resources to deal with the hard things God allows to happen late in life. Our parents’ deaths and missing walking my daughter down the aisle during COVID made it clear I am not who I thought I was. Now I wonder when I might see my grandson, who is due in the next two weeks.

But my challenges are small, and I am very conscious of those who have lost loved ones to this scourge. Sitting still and being quiet is the least that could be asked of me. I am also sympathetic to those who are having to make difficult decisions about who meets for classes, and who goes to football games. Their challenge is so much greater than mine.

If I could wish for anything, it would be for fewer accusations of being stupid and foolish, or Luddites, or ignoring the science, or of government conspiracies. Even if I knew the source of this, or the volume of mistakes that have been made in trying to manage it, I would not be more informed about human nature. People do evil things, and people do stupid things. In fact, I study that for a living.

But what I am missing most is people, the same broken people who make mistakes of judgment and of arrogance. Long after I am done teaching, I will need people in my life. And I have no desire at this stage to burn the bridges that connect me to them, however much those bridges may swing and wobble in the wind. I would give anything right now to be with them. And this is true even though what I want more than anything is to protect my wife.

So, I will wait quietly on the Lord, and on the results of the second test, and on the infusion. I will step forward into this unknown week and do the best I can. My hope is that I will be a different and better person for having this experience.

But if we turn it over five times next week, all bets are off.

Categories: Athletics, Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Texas A&M

As an NBA fan, officials are not high on my favorites list. As a San Antonio Spurs fan, one official, in particular, draws the ire of all Tim Duncan supporters: Joey Crawford. Crawford is famous for throwing Spurs star Tim Duncan out of a late 2007 season game against the Mavericks for laughing at his officiating calls from the bench. But the referee was suspended for the rest of the season and playoffs, apparently for challenging Duncan to a fight in the confrontation. Crawford has recently said that the event caused him to reevaluate the way he refereed and to seek more extensive counseling to deal with anger management.

What Crawford, a skilled, veteran referee had lost with respect to Tim Duncan was objectivity. This week a similar incident came to light when former NBA referee Ed Rush, now the supervisor of basketball officials for the Pac 12 Conference, allegedly offered $5000 or a trip to Cancun to any official who would give a technical to or eject Arizona coach Sean Miller during the Pac 12 tournament. It may have been in jest, but according to one official, Rush reiterated the focus on Miller during a meeting on the tournament’s second day. In fact, official Michael Irving called a late-game technical on Miller for yelling about a double-dribble call, and UCLA went on to beat Miller’s Wildcats, 66-64. While Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott agreed that it was “completely inappropriate” and reflected “very, very poor judgment,” he concluded that it was not an offense worthy of Rush being fired. In fact, he concluded that “[t]here was nothing unethical or a breach of integrity.” His conclusion is dead wrong.

Actually, these comments are not unprecedented for Rush. After he finished his NBA officiating career, he served as the league’s director of officials. In January of 2002, Dallas Mavericks owner famously said of Rush’s leadership, “Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen. His interest is not in the integrity of the game or improving the officiating.” Cuban tweeted after the latest incident, “Not surprised…It will get worse.” Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who famously sacrificed his own objectivity and career by gambling on NBA games, accuses Rush of making comments about Cuban to NBA officials similar to the ones he made about Miller. Of course, Donaghy’s own lack of credibility comes into play here.

Whether the comments were made in jest or not, Rush provides strong evidence that he has lost his objectivity. And the power that he wields over Pac 12 officials gives the appearance that his loss of objectivity contributed to unequal treatment in a tournament game. The issue is not that Miller was treated badly; it would have been just as bad if he had been favored by officials, or an insinuation had been given that someone should be helped. What is wrong here, and what drew Larry Scott’s ire, is that Ed Rush was not objective.

It makes no sense for Scott to claim that integrity was not sacrificed; in officiating, integrity and objectivity are inseparable. You cannot be “whole” or “true” in your evaluations as a referee if you are biased, or if you introduce that bias as a person in authority.

The same is true for auditors, the people I train for our profession. It is not enough to be technically competent, as all three referees in this story arguably are, or were. You must also be a person of integrity and objectivity. And, what is critical, you must be objective not just in fact, but in appearance. If you lose the appearance of objectivity, you have lost the trust of those who rely on you for unbiased judgments so that they are not misled, whether in the financial statements or in the final score of a basketball game.

The bigger danger with auditors, and with those who supervise them, is to lose objectivity by becoming cheerleaders for their clients, not by harshly and unfairly judging them. Many accounting firms have found out that juries are apt to punish auditors harshly in the case of audit failures when it is obvious that they have lost objectivity and become their clients’ advocates.

The jury may still be out on Ed Rush’s objectivity. But, if the accusations are true, Commissioner Scott’s conclusion that Rush did not sacrifice his integrity by making those statements may come back to haunt him.

Categories: Athletics, Bottom Line Ethics, Texas A&M

I have hesitated to write about this past week’s revelations about Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong until I had some time to process them, and until I gave the Te’o story a little more time to play out. What these two stories have revealed is remarkable in a lot of ways. But the two words I keep returning to are gullibility and sincerity.

Of course, Manti Te’o demonstrated incredible gullibility in emotionally embracing a woman he had never met and who, as it turned out, never existed. But he is by no means the first to do this, and it was being done long before there was an internet. The combination of wishful thinking, distance, and a longing for a meaningful relationship has resulted in heartache throughout the generations. In Manti Te’o’s case, however, it was not just the cruel people who apparently pulled this trick on him who were liars. Someone has either lied or misreported the facts and circumstances of the case—perhaps one of the authors of the multiple stories, perhaps Te’o or his father. The details about meeting his “girlfriend” at a Stanford game and about her travelling to Hawaii on multiple occasions are irreconcilable with the other details that have come to light. So this is not just gullibility at work here.

But there is every indication that Te’o is sincere. Everything revealed in the back story points to a genuine young man who cares about others and is largely selfless. Of course, many think that he covered up details to minimize embarrassment, and some have said he was ensnared in the Heisman hype. But this does not seem to be someone whose life is primarily oriented toward self-aggrandizing behavior.

On the other hand, if insincerity was an art form, Lance Armstrong would be Van Gogh, only with two ears. I found it painful to watch his conversation with Oprah Winfrey; it reminded me a lot of the interviews I have watched with a litany of business executives who have “come clean” far too late to make any difference, except perhaps for their own conscience’s sake. Listening to Lance Armstrong is enough to make you instinctively reach for your wallet. He is the epitome of a calculator, using others for his own gain until there is no gain to be made. He may have made a bad calculation this time because he went from a rich person no one trusted, to a rich person no one trusted who is about to be sued for all past and future earnings. I generally don’t believe in wage garnishment but, in Lance’s case, I will make an exception.

On the other hand, I am probably wrong about what will happen to him. Lance Armstrong is a master calculator, and he has almost always had those calculations work out according to plan. I would not underestimate his ability to generate cash flows from book and movie rights that are more than adequate to cover any additional liabilities arising from his “transparency.” He was able to keep the ruse going sufficiently to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles, even though many were suspicious of his doping from the very beginning. And he systematically sued his enemies, into oblivion if necessary. If you are dealing with someone ruthless and insincere, my advice is to watch your back.

But there will always be those who are gullible, because a life of trust is preferable to a life of constant suspicion. And, in our culture, we love liars. We love them because we want to think the best about people, but we also love them because they flatter us, and because we prefer fantasy to reality. We want to believe the unbelievable. And we bow down and worship these people who fulfill this unreality we seek. We avoid the hard questions that would point to who these people really are.

Actually, in some ways, gullibility goes hand-in-hand with sincerity. The same qualities that made Manti Te’o susceptible to an internet love affair cause us to embrace those who somehow fill the crevices of disappointment in our lives. The public was as gullible about the Te’o story as it was about the magical accomplishments of a cycling cancer survivor.

How do we keep from doing this over and over again?

Be sincere, but don’t be gullible. And remember that the real heroes, the ones who can actually make your life better, are sitting at your dinner table, and in the living room, and behind you in the classroom. They are working tirelessly in obscure pulpits and elementary school classrooms and fire stations. They will never talk to Oprah, because she would not be interested, and they would have nothing to say to her. The protection for these sincere people is that they are content, and they do not need the Lance Armstrongs of the world to make their lives worthwhile, and thus they are not gullible.

These people are my heroes.

Categories: Athletics

Would you like a recipe for driving yourself crazy if you are a control freak? Then follow your fantasy football team on the Sunday before a national election. It is hilarious for me to think that I have any control over how anyone on my fantasy football team will perform. Not only do I get incensed when Philip Rivers throws another interception, I somehow attribute it to his character, as if he was a bad guy. (By the way, I will never play him again unless, of course, that no-good Josh Freeman fails me today against the Raiders.) It is equally useful for me to read every story on both Fox News and MSNBC about how the latest “most important election of our time” will turn out.

When I was younger, I thought that I had a lot of control over my environment, and I pushed forward with decisions as though I did. This often works out well, because in areas of a person’s environment where no one is actively intervening, there is little resistance to imposing your will. For example, people will allow you to be slightly impolite or endure your mild insults that help you to get your way. In the short run this leads to the belief that you have more control than you do. In the long run, it can lead to habits of thinking that can drive you slightly bonkers. It also leads to unrequited anger, which includes muttering short syllables under your breath in traffic, random honking, and yelling at referees.

I have had multiple experiences in the last year where I have felt that my life was completely out of my control. I move from challenge to challenge, and I start noticing that more people are asking me about how I am feeling, which is never a good sign. Though I acknowledge their concern, I quickly move on to the next assignment, the next event, the next class. In a cause-and-effect world, it makes sense for me to do what I know to do. Where I can choose, I want to choose well. It is in the times that I do not get to choose that I am concerned about my response.

I am not suggesting that I should just lie down and let the world roll over me. Though my faith is central to me, I have a responsibility to act. What scares me a bit is that I can consciously recognize that a situation is beyond my control, and yet still emotionally react as if it ought to be something I fix. I think that this is unhealthy, and I see it reflected in a number of scandals in the business world.

Insider trading is an attempt to control the uncontrollable, or at least to control what is not justly supposed to be controlled. Raj Rajaratnam was a master of the game in his years running the Galleon Group, mining all the information he could regardless of the legalities that might be barriers to obtaining it. He used many people, including the former Goldman Sachs director, Rajat Gupta, to help provide him with the ability to control the uncontrollable. And after his conviction last month, Gupta will be joining Rajaratnam in federal prison as a result.

Corporate executives are often expected to control the uncontrollable. Public companies receive annual opinions not just on their financial statements, but on their controls. Of course, the quality of their planning will impact the company’s results. But pervasive economic trends, taxing structures, and commodity prices can only be planned for to a limited extent. There is no way to eliminate all of the uncertainty, despite marketplace expectations. Many corporate executives have crashed their companies by misleading investors, trying to give the impression they were overcoming forces beyond their control. (For those of you who are concerned, I am currently tied in my fantasy football game because two of my players are totally worthless.)

As a father of five, I see this tendency manifested in my attempts to control my children in areas where I ought to give them choice, even though they are transitional adults closing in on independence. When children are younger, we can control much of their environment, and we make many of their choices for them. We cannot protect them from every harm, but it is reasonable for parents to intervene and make choices that will help prevent serious damage. We can control where they go to school, who they play with, and what they eat. But we have to transfer that control to them, and our attempt to retain control beyond the days they are entrusted to us can only lead to long-term dysfunction and their inability to stand on their own. Even though our youngest son is a high school senior, we are still learning in this area. (While I was writing this paragraph, Josh Freeman completed two passes totaling 84 yards to Vincent Jackson, who is also on my fantasy team. I am now ahead by 21 points, and I am, by the way, a genius for having them both on my team. Sit down, Philip Rivers!)

If I am convinced that it can lead to various negative outcomes, how do I stop trying to control the uncontrollable? I would love to hear from you on how you have learned to let go of those things that you cannot control. Meanwhile, I need to go check and see what the polls say about the swing states so that I can question the credibility of the sources that disagree with me.

Categories: Athletics, Business, Politics

I have written on multiple occasions about the tendency in our society for competence to trump integrity. Highly skilled individuals who accomplish the goals of those who hire them are regularly given free rein to succeed by whatever means necessary. People with integrity who fall short of the goals, and who refuse to compromise their integrity to get where they need to be, are often cut loose.

Since Bobby Petrino’s much publicized motorcycle crash on April Fool’s Day with a 25-year-old football program employee on the back, there has been significant discussion about how the story would end. Athletic director Jeff Long announced yesterday that Petrino was being terminated immediately “with cause,” meaning that there would be no buyout of his contract. Long determined that Petrino had violated the morals clause of that contract, something pretty much everybody else had figured out by the end of the day on April 1.

But the morals clause didn’t require that he be fired; it only allowed it. And in the current environment of intercollegiate athletics, it is pretty easy to be cynical about what administrators will do in these types of situations. A CBS Sports report indicated that the value of the football program to the university has increased 59 percent since Petrino became the coach, and his last two teams finished in the top 10. With Arkansas playing in the SEC West along with the two teams who played in last year’s national championship game, this is no small accomplishment. Athletic directors are hard pressed to move against coaches who have the support of the university’s board and of boosters.

But when Long looks in the mirror, he knows that, as the incoming athletic director, he was the one who hired someone with a reputation for lying and dissembling. He also stole him away from the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the NFL season; the coach left notes in his players’ lockers letting them know he was leaving rather than meeting with them as a group. From the moment he was hired, Long knew that this was a high risk, high reward hire. He was hiring a ticking time bomb. Some boards of directors hire CEOs using the same reasoning. And Long was smart enough to structure the contract to make it very difficult for Petrino to leave on a whim, and easy to fire him if he went off the deep end. Long thought that he had largely controlled his risk.

Petrino, using the terms of my profession, is a walking control weakness. He is the type of person who can override all the systems you have in place to insure compliance with the rules. And he did just that. He not only had an affair with a former volleyball player who worked for the university’s foundation, he allegedly gave her a $20,000 gift, and then he hired her over 158 other candidates for a position within the football program. The collateral damage is not just to Petrino’s family. He leaves behind him evidence of sexual harassment and violations of explicit university policy, if not state and federal law. It is hard to fathom the amount of time that university attorneys will spend cleaning up the Bobby Petrino mess. And that is assuming that there is not another shoe to drop. As an auditor, I would be reasonably skeptical about rules being followed in other areas of the football program.

Adam Smith once said, “To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the paths of virtue; for unhappily, the road which leads to the one and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in very opposite directions.” I am pretty confident that the road that Bobby Petrino was traveling down with a blonde on the back of his motorcycle was not the road to virtue. And from all appearances, despite his driving record, Razorback boosters were hopping on the back and hitching a ride. Kudos to Jeff Long for catching a cab back to town to begin the process of rebuilding Razorback integrity.

Categories: Athletics

Beren Academy is a modest sized school in southwest Houston, one that values both academics and athletics. This year their boys basketball team has experienced a successful run through the state basketball playoffs of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS). They dominated their quarterfinal opponent, Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills, 69-42, advancing to the state semifinals this Friday evening in Mansfield. It is a game they will never play. You see, Beren Academy is an Orthodox Jewish school, and the game is scheduled for the Sabbath.

Coach Chris Cole readily admits that school administrators knew that this was a possible outcome for the team. Beren is only in its second year in TAPPS after competing as an independent in sports. Led by a slippery point guard and a skilled post player with a deft outside touch, the Stars were clearly the best team in their district, and they have been untested so far in the playoffs. Despite the fact that the semifinal and final games of the state championship have long been scheduled during the 24-hour period in which the Stars are unable to play, a past exception made for a Seventh-Day Adventist school in the state soccer tournament gave Coach Cole and his team hope that accommodations could be made.

This story has been picked up by the major newspapers and ESPN, so it is not my intention to belabor the issues involved. This story is somewhat personal because my son plays basketball in the same district as Beren, and the Stars were the only team in the district to defeat his school twice. The district is made up of four Christian schools and Beren. All of the district schools readily adjusted their schedules so that games against Beren could be played on Thursday night instead of Friday night. Coach Cole has been outspoken in his appreciation of the schools’ flexibility, as well of that of their quarterfinal opponent.

There are big problems in the world, and this does not qualify as a big problem. But there is a principle at stake. From Beren’s perspective it is a principle of honoring the Sabbath. But from most people’s perspective, it is an issue of justice. Perhaps Beren should bear some additional cost if arrangements have to be made that inconvenience other schools. But it does not seem like that cost should include not competing for a state championship.

TAPPS was in the news a year ago for its decision to oust Allen Academy, a Bryan private school, because of questions regarding allegedly improper tuition breaks to recruit players. Rather than accept probation from TAPPS, Allen joined an alternative private school association, the Texas Christian Athletic League, and has won the last two TCAL state boys basketball titles. But the decision made by TAPPS in that case was arguably a defense of the integrity of the association, one intended to insure fairness in competition.

This situation is different. The only thing TAPPS is really protecting is convenience, and perhaps the pocketbooks of TAPPS members. It is not impossible to imagine a scenario by which TAPPS could find an alternative location for an early afternoon basketball game Friday Then, if Beren makes the finals, the game could be played Saturday night at 8 p.m., immediately following the last game of the day on the current schedule.

Is there a religious freedom issue here? Probably? Is there a religious accommodation issue? Certainly. But this is not about legalities; this is an opportunity for TAPPS to demonstrate something that you would think would come readily to an association that is primarily made up of schools that are explicitly identified with Jesus Christ—grace.

TAPPS cannot win this dispute in the court of public opinion, but that is not why they ought to let those Beren boys play. They ought to do it on priniciple. They ought to do it as a demonstration of respect for the convictions by which Beren unapologetically operates.

But, most of all, they ought to do it because it is the right thing to do.

Categories: Athletics, Religion

As I walked out of Kyle Field following the season’s last painful field goal, I could hear the interview beginning with Mike Sherman over the stadium speaker system. I had trouble understanding a lot of what he was saying, but the pain in his voice was clear. It was the same pain I could see in the faces of the mass of Aggies who were shuffling slowly down the ramp, periodically stopping for the human traffic jam at the bottom. Even the Longhorn celebration was muted in the mob.

I have seen this before. I am not talking about coaches being fired, though that is true; this is the third “final game” I have attended of an A&M head coach. What I have seen before is that I have seen people do everything right and then get punished for it.

What came to me in the days after the game was Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.” “If you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you . . . .” I have rarely seen a better example of this in my years than Mike Sherman. I have never heard him blame others. He has never thrown players or coaches under the bus when it obviously would have been easy to do so. Pick a game this year, and any Aggie fan can identify the players who made the critical mistakes that changed the outcome. Not Mike Sherman. As much as he knows about football, when it comes to blaming he simply pleads ignorance.

As head football coach, Sherman had his own standard for character and performance. If you were unwilling to live by that standard, you would not see the field, and you might not even see the locker room. That was apparent during his first year in which he sacrificed a completely winnable game because of what seemed to me to be the obstinacy of a player who did not want to pull his weight. I knew then that he was not about records, but about developing a system of excellence, one that valued integrity and character above outcomes.

I do not mean to imply that outcomes did not matter to our head football coach. With each excruciating loss, he suffered openly, but with composure. He modeled for the men in his locker room, and even for middle aged men like me, what it is to walk through the fire with your head held high. He removed a popular quarterback last year for productivity reasons, just as he had removed the popular quarterback before that one. And yet both those quarterbacks were completely loyal not just to their team, but to their coach. This is leadership that is rarely found in the business world or in athletics.

Mike Sherman is not an eloquent man, and he is not a schmoozer. He is a football coach who worked his way up and has had the bright lights shine on him at both the professional and college level. He seems to never have lost the sense of who he is. I read this morning that he told one of our top recruits that he ought to come here anyway and have a great career. I am confident that he will stay in touch with that recruit to make sure that he does, and that he will offer that young man any help that he needs.

We ought to attract coaches like that to Texas A&M, and we did. I heard on the radio this morning that the groundwork that Coach Sherman laid will provide the next coach the opportunity to succeed early in his tenure here. A statement like that has to make Mike Sherman smile wistfully. Doing things right may enable another man to succeed in the place that I am convinced he really wanted to finish his career. But I am sure he recognizes that those kinds of comments create exactly the kind of expectations pressure that a nine-win season does. And I am guessing that he has empathy for what that new coach will face in the SEC environment.

But I don’t think he will sit around feeling sorry for himself. It is our loss that Mike Sherman will not be a part of the Aggie community in the days ahead. As with Kipling’s poem, his goal with his players was to help them develop the perseverance through hard times that builds the character that would lead to the poem’s final line: “And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.”

I have sat in a large auditorium and watched Mike Sherman march his players in to listen to a lecture on integrity. But I can say with confidence that he was wasting his time doing so.

Because all those players needed to do to learn about integrity was to watch what Mike Sherman did.

Categories: Athletics, Texas A&M

I have a high school friend who told me the other day that she could guess what I was going to write about this week. I am quite confident that more than necessary has already been written about the latest New York politician to implode. I watched a brief press conference today in which the moral high ground was held by a celebrity lawyer who specializes in taking high profile clients and ratcheting up the public embarrassment to squeeze additional dollars out of people who have morally compromised themselves. At least I think she held the moral high ground. It might have been the dancer next to her who just wanted her life back.

Anthony Weiner seems oblivious to the damage he is doing to his reputation, to his party, to his marriage, and to his causes. It is clearly all about him, with his life meaning inextricably tied to his ability to retain power and the benefits that go with it. He is what he does. It is hard not to wince.

But he is not the only one. West Virginia University head football coach Bill Stewart recently resigned under pressure after being accused by a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter of asking the reporter to dig up dirt on head-coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen, who is now the head coach, made the job somewhat easier a few weeks ago by allegedly being escorted from a casino at 3 a.m. by security personnel, leading to other rumors. WVU athletic director Oliver Luck thought that it was a good idea to hire Holgorsen while telling Stewart he would be gone in a year. This was despite the fact that Stewart had been hired after being the interim coach for a huge upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and followed that up with three nine-win seasons. This is roughly equivalent to being asked to wash the socks of your girlfriend’s new boyfriend (only you get paid seven figures to do it). I think it is safe to say that we will not see any more head-coaches-in-waiting.

Stewart was understandably upset at being dumped. But he managed to take a bad situation that elicited sympathy even from people who thought he should be fired, and turn it into a permanent divorce from the university. He could not accept that it was time to move on.

Last year’s news was dominated by this same story involving Brett Favre, whose closing chapter of his career managed to combine both football and sexual harassment. As his body and his season fell apart, he finally found it in himself to say that it was over.

UPDATE: Shortly following the publication of this column, Rep. Anthony Weiner held a press conference announcing his immediate resignation from his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Or did he? Few believe that John Edwards can ever be a viable presidential candidate again after his scandal. But apparently the taste of power, and fame, and money can make men do strange things. Some things are apparently so precious that they must be secured at any cost, regardless of the damage to others.

Maybe we can think of Weiner, Stewart and Favre as the Fellowship of the Ring. But what they bring to mind for me is a song from the early 70’s that the Jackson Five made famous—”Never Can Say Goodbye.”

One day they will ask me to walk away from the classroom and not come back. My name won’t be on any statues or doors on the campus. My day will have passed. And that day will be here before I know it.

I only hope, when it comes, that I have what it takes to say thanks and walk away. Because, if what you do is who you are, you never can say goodbye.

Categories: Athletics, Politics

Life has thrown me a softball. As an ethics commentator, the Jim Tressels of the world are red meat. He has made an almost unimaginable series of ethical blunders in the whole Ohio State fiasco, leading to his resignation as the Buckeyes’ head football coach. And the “leadership” and “oversight” of those at the university could only be characterized as indefensible. Some of the statements that have been made seem like the definition of “lack of institutional control.”

But who wants to cast the first stone? One of the major reasons for the moral agnosticism that characterizes big-time collegiate sports is that every coach, every athletic director, and every president knows that they are one e-mail away from a disaster that draws the NCAA to campus. I am very grateful not to read about these things regularly around here, but I am not naïve. I know from speaking to student-athletes that there is a compliance environment that sometimes seems overbearing to them. But it is there for a reason. And who is to say it will be effective tomorrow? We have failed here before.

No one in intercollegiate sports wants to cut off the lifeline, which is access to student-athletes when they are in high school. And that environment is arguably getting worse, not better. A recent ESPN report on the 7-on-7 summer football leagues that have proliferated in recent years makes it clear that they are the avenue to being recruited by the top football schools. They are run by folks that are, for the most part, not high school coaches. They are the equivalent of the AAU leagues that have taken over the placement of high school basketball players. And the “coaches” often end up being channels that college football coaches must use to have a chance to sign a particular player. That can lead to booster involvement, side benefits for student-athletes, and hiring go-betweens into coaching and other roles at universities.

In other words, it’s a market. You can use pejorative terms like “meat market” if you like, but it’s a market. Milton Friedman, one of the great defenders of markets, still insisted that participants in markets had to “play by the rules.” But you can make a lot of money if you don’t, and you can even feel good about yourself if you play before they even make the rules, as folks running the 7-on-7 leagues are doing right now. Talking “duties” and “responsibility” in this environment is laughed at by the markets’ participants.

But when you fail to self-regulate, you always get regulation, and the NCAA is cracking down in unprecedented ways. USC will not just lose post-season eligibility for two years for its recruiting of Reggie Bush, but it will sacrifice ten football scholarships for each of the next three years, taking them from 25 to 15. Good luck to head coach Lane Kiffin staying on the straight and narrow during those years. It could happen, because he has a straight arrow athletic director in Pat Haden, and because USC could realistically receive the death penalty for another serious infraction. But when you can only take 15, you had better take the right 15, and that will introduce dangerous temptations.

It is clear that the NCAA no longer believes that big-time programs will hold to a duty to protect the university’s reputation, so they are changing the consequences. I would not be surprised to see them come down very hard on Ohio State, which has protected its coach much as Tennessee did basketball coach Bruce Pearl after he knowingly broke rules.

Many people have suggested paying athletes in order to solve the problem. But this will simply change the price of the market; it will not eliminate it. And the same types of differential incentives will be offered to get the next Reggie Bush to enroll, over and above what the athletes are paid. This is assuming Title IX issues could be worked out about which athletes are paid, and how much.

As cheaters in business have found, modern technology, including e-mail and texting, has made it much easier to build a case against you when you are lying and covering up. In the absence of any sense of duty in intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA will just ratchet up the consequences to go along with the increased probability of being caught. And self-interested young people who have been on the take often like to tell their story after they are no longer relevant, as Ohio State is currently finding out, which will help the enforcers. But in intercollegiate athletics, as in the business world which is usually the focus of my attention, the incentives to win and the money tied to winning are so strong that the NCAA has no choice but to step up the penalties significantly.

As I said, life threw me a softball this week. But in a world that is sadly unable to self-correct, and in which no one is listening, I can’t bring myself to lecture folks one more time. I think I will just turn around and walk back to the dugout.

Categories: Athletics

I have been in the back yard too much lately, pulling weeds and putting down mulch. But the biggest problem has been my lawn. I don’t take great pride in my grass, but I try not to let it become a basis for neighbors to storm my castle bearing torches. A large section of my lawn has a burned out appearance, which I attributed at first to the lack of rain and a badly functioning sprinkler system. But the news is worse; I have grubworms.

What a name—grubworms. It must be a bummer to have a compound name where each half is a really negative word. When they get into your lawn, all you can do is nuke them and lay down new grass. So this past weekend I bought half a pallet of grass and started putting it down. This is way more work than I really wanted to do, but I didn’t have much choice. When I was done, what came to mind in looking at my back yard was a badly fitting toupee. There were parts of the lawn that clearly needed more living grass coverage, and parts that had lumps that should not be there.

But it seems to me that watching people try to recover their integrity after a public fall is much like watching someone whose hairpiece falls short of the ideal. This is particularly true when they seem ambitious as well. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is discovering this as he puts himself forward as a presidential candidate. If he implies any change in a position, as Gingrich has with requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, people roll their eyes and say, “There he goes again.”

This may be less true with entertainment figures; Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to find out. But it is still awkward to think about Eliot Spitzer being a talk show host rather than the governor of New York. And trying to see Tiger as the good guy becomes a bit tiresome. His string of injuries, which prompted his drop from the world’s top ten golfers for the first time in 14 years, has almost served as a relief from constant discussion of his character and attitude.

I have concluded that though folks largely want to read these stories, they quickly move to a stage where they do not care about these people any more. It is really difficult to gin up the emotion time after time that would somehow make these people an example not to be followed. Instead, they are a news item, and then, history.

Andy Fastow of Enron fame has been transferred to a halfway house prior to his release from prison later this year. He is 49. What hope does he have to regain his reputation? Perhaps more than you think. It is difficult enough to find people who finish well among the general populace, much less among those whose lives have cratered. But there are exceptions. Chuck Colson, famous for being one of Richard Nixon’s hatchet men and the first member of the administration to go to prison for Watergate, bounced back from his prison term to found Prison Fellowship, an evangelical organization that has had significant influence for good. He went to prison in his mid-40’s, and he will turn 80 later this year. Perhaps Fastow will have a similar experience.

But it is not easy. Grubworms eat the roots, and that’s why my work in the back yard is so painful and unsatisfying. Who wants to stay after it year after year, when it would be much easier to move to a condo? (I have suggested this on more than one occasion to my wife.) It would be very difficult to do it to please others. There probably has to be a genuine inner transformation that withstands the catcalls, the snickers, the derision, and the lingering bitterness that big mistakes bring.

Because, in the end, recovered integrity is just like a badly fitting toupee. People may smile and treat you the same. But, despite their best intentions, they can’t help but notice.

Categories: Athletics, Business, Politics

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