Tag Archives: ethics

No “Rest of the Story” Needed

It was the voice. For many that grew up in certain times and in certain areas, it is unmistakable. And at some point after the “power outage” but before the end of the game, I was stopped dead in my tracks as I was walking out of the room so I could watch a commercial.  It was all because I heard that voice.  However it was the message that made us all stop and think.

I grew up on Paul Harvey, 4H, FFA and the family farm culture of the Midwest. For me radio consisted of classic rock, Jack Buck calling Cardinal games and Paul Harvey doing his folksy news thing.  We would laugh at our parents for listening to “those stations”, yet you could not walk away when he was doing the news.  There was just something special there that worked…even for a kid.  Dodge tapped into that yesterday, and it was brilliant.

It was an interesting contrast, the personalities and characteristics of the celebrities, entertainers and athletes the entire event provided, and the message of that one simple commercial.  Actually it was nothing more than an edited speech from the late 1970’s layered over still photos.   All the flash and hype, hip vibe and cutting edge technology came to a halt for two minutes…it was an amazing contrast.

There really is nothing to expand upon. The message stands alone. That is the best example there is really…just a timeless message of fundamental behaviours and core character traits, delivered in a classic, timeless style.  No flashy production, no actors or celebrities, nothing but a message of values and traits.  Great reminder and brilliant marketing.

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Super Bowl, Super Irony and Super Clarity

Super Bowl week, a week of unrelenting media bombardment and hype. Stories of what might happen, what should happen, and commercials.  Blows my mind that as a society we get wound-up over the idea of how well something is going to be pitched to us for our consumption.  Then again, the commercials are sometimes more entertaining than the game.   Super Bowl Sunday has become a part of our national fabric.  And this year is no different, except for a story that broke on Tuesday regarding Performance Enhancing Drugs. Sort of makes me feel like it is cycling season. However, this time names like Alex Rodriguez and Ray Lewis, and a bunch of other “mainstream” athletes are tied to the story.

Here we sit on Friday, and not a word of the story.  It was a story for 24 hours, then it was simply swept away or ignored…48 hours later hardly a peep.  And the response from Ray Lewis to the media in New Orleans, well it sounded a lot like other comments we have heard from other high-profile athletes over the years.  It was all a bit ironic, the face of the sport, on the sports biggest stage, with a world-wide audience, denying, minimizing the story and ultimately turning the spot-light onto the accusers, their motivations and their credibility.  Love irony, just love it.

As we reach the end of the week, irony has brought clarity – the NFL is too big to fail.  Same goes for MLB.  A-Rod and Ray Lewis are marquee players, faces of their sport, and no one cares about what they did or did not do when it comes to PEDs.  It is so clear what is valued and what is not.  Marion Jones cheated and lied; she went to prison.  Lance cheated and is literally and figuratively only beginning to paying the price.  Ray Lewis, A-Rod, Bonds, Clemens, or any of the others in the NFL or MLB…not a dime.  Nothing.  It is another moment of clarity.

Now the real irony is the fact that one of the government’s reasons for going after Lance is because of the US Postal Service sponsorship of the cycling team.  The positive press the US Postal Service received for those years was absolutely massive.  It was a marketing coup and might represent one of the best advertising investments in the history of marketing, yet the government feels they were a victim of fraud.  The US Postal Service has had two other positive moments in its entire history before the cycling team, the Pony Express and “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow”.  Gotta love irony.

Clearly, like everyone else in the country, I will be watching the Super Bowl Sunday.  Well, after I get back from my bike ride that is…

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Lance and Big Mac

What an interesting and telling day.   Nike severs ties with (read that as stops paying) Lance Armstrong; Lance steps down from LiveStrong; National League Championship Series comes to St. Louis for a three game stretch. There in lies the irony: sitting on the Cardinals bench as their hitting coach – Mark McQwire.

I so love irony. It just flat-out makes my day.  With the game on in the background, I could not help but smile again about Big Mac being with the Cardinals, not to mention back in baseball. I remember well a few years ago when he joined the team as the hitting coach (clearly he is good at hitting – look at his career and the teams production since 2010 – impressive numbers both). It was a painful press conference as he admitted to using steroids during his career.  Yet, after a few weeks the story of his return to baseball faded and is now not even noticed.

There are things I will remember well, as in “I was there when” or “you should have seen it” national or world event sort of things.  Moments that live in our collective memory.  And two of them are certainly the 1998 home run race and the 1999-2005 Tours.  Yep, what Mark McQwire and Sammy Sosa did for baseball, Lance did for cycling.  It was an absolute blast to watch it happen.  I was entertained and enjoyed every moment of those events.  It was fun and I would not trade any of it; they were moments in time that were just amazing to experience.

Both guys, by the every definition of the word, cheated.  They lied, were evasive, took advantage of banned substances, and generally did things that were against the rules.  They were also insanely gifted, focused, talented and above all students of their craft.  They practiced and trained.  They literally dedicated themselves to being the best at what they did, and it showed.  Lastly, but above all else, they were athletes and entertainers.

If one expects iron-clad perfection and ethical purity from entertainers, politicians, athletes or pitchmen, then they are living in a fantasy world.  There is no such thing as a perfect person, and certainly not when it comes to public figures.  Those guys were fun to watch do what they do.  I am grateful to them. I paid to watch, and they delivered.

There was a saying we had back in my Navy days:  “choose your rate, choose your fate”.  I often think of that as it applies to life in general, and to careers specifically: “choose your profession, choose your concession”.  Mark McQwire said “I wish I had never played in the steroid era“.  I do not know Lance, but I can see him sharing a similar thought when reflecting on his career…someday.  Maybe.

You see, they both made for themselves, their families, their sponsors, their teams, their peers, their industries and even their foundations, a ton of money.  They were literally responsible for the economic well-being of hundreds, if not thousands of others.  The culture of steroids in baseball and dope in cycling was real, known and ignored.  No one said a word, yet we expect something special from an athlete?

Speeding, office supplies, “helping” with your kids homework, chatting at the water cooler; white lies, victimless crimes, corner-cutting.  It literally happens everywhere, all the time.  There is no perfection.  Humans are naturally imperfect.  Embrace what is real, realize the faults in all, and accept that nothing is as it appears in public.  Family and friends are one thing, but realize no one every really sees behind the curtain, and frankly most never really want to anyway.  Athletes are entertainers, not role models.

Doing what everybody else is doing does not make something right, but when it is all around, especially in your professional world; in the place that generates your income, well it has to be hard to take the absolutely pure high road.  All I do know is that I am enjoying the Cardinals playing in another post season series, that I rode my bike earlier today, and that I will watch cycling again in the spring.  It is all just entertainment.

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Character and Hubris

Some words are just so fitting. They sound like what they are describing, and to me hubris is just one of those words. One might not know exactly what hubris is, but when you hear it, you can just tell by sound and context, it is not a positive thing.  Then there are other words that can mean very different things based on their context. Character is that classic example – “having character” is a good thing, but “being a character” might not be as positive. It is no wonder English is such a challenging language.

And yet those two words seem to capture the saga of Ohio State’s former football coach Jim Tressel. For years he was held out as “a man of character”, but in the end he was undone by hubris. It is an incredibly interesting and incredibly sad tale. Someday the entire truth might come out, but in the final analysis, much as it was with Icarus, coach Tressel’s fall from grace was as much about hubris as it was anything.

What has lingered with me is that timeless quote on character:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr.

It is such a fine line between confidence and arrogance, conviction and obstinacy, or just a little more and a bit too much.     Though that line might be fine in width, the depth of the difference is an absolute chasm.  And it is into that chasm so many have fallen – leaders and followers alike, but almost all were on a journey of best intentions when they slipped.  All too often character in one of its forms is a prelude to hubris.  Interesting how that works…sometimes.

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Lance Armstrong, Jim Tressel and The Ethics Curve

So it is that time of year…spring has sprung, the sun is shinning, summer is just around the corner, and the Tour of California is rolling along. Oh, and keeping with the traditions of May, another of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates has come out with public accusations of doping. Ah yes, the joys of spring!

It is not a new story – doping in cycling. Certainly the Lance Armstrong story is not new – cancer survivor, 7 time Tour de France Champion, the LiveStrong Foundation, quite literally a source of inspiration to millions who battle cancer daily around the world.  It is the stuff of best-selling books and millions in cancer fund-raising and awareness. At this point it would seem almost everyone has an opinion…he did, he did not, he probably did, it does not matter if he did, or somewhere else on the spectrum.

However, while reading the latest Lance Armstrong allegations this morning, I could not help but think of the ongoing stream of articles and stories concerning Coach Jim Tressel and Ohio State Football.  Jim Tressel, the author of The Winners Manual:  For The Game Of Life – a widely praised book on leadership, faith and ethics – is himself in the eye of a storm of controversy and questions.  Lance is front page news globally;  he is the face of his sport.  Tressel and Ohio State might not be the face of College Football, but they are certainly one of the marquee programs.  While the story of systemic “issues” with Coach Tressel and the Ohio State football program are reported, they are hardly the stuff of mainstream news.

It seems rather ironic as I think about it – the actions of an adult professional athlete are scrutinized and judged in the public court of opinion, not to mention the foundation of multi-million dollar federal, criminal and global investigations.  Yet a coach and supposed teacher of young men, someone who has held himself up as a pillar of faith and ethical purity, is found to be at a minimum operating on the fringes of the rules, certainly suppressing and hiding incriminating information, and generally ducking accountability.  And what possibly could happen to the two individuals if the worst is proven to be true – Armstrong faces millions in fines and prison, and Tressel might be suspended from coaching and hit with a few hundred thousand in fines.

One has to wonder if there is a bit of an ethics curve in play?  The adult individual is more “wrong” for his actions than the teacher and coach of student athletes?  Never knew there was an ethics curve, but it seems in the real world of big money, big business, and big government there is.  I cannot think of a worse thing for a leader to do than put those they are leading into a compromising situation.  Doing that to adult, professional teammates is one thing.  Doing it to young, impressionable and to some degree naive kids – seems to be a whole other level of issue.

Interesting how it all plays out when you follow the money – College Football is worth a lot more in this country than cycling.  Sorry Lance – just the way it is on the ethics curve of our society it seems.

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Victories or Really Winning

It is ironic in a way, and yes I am unabashed fan of irony, that the NFL combine news was overshadowed by a story from BYU, all on the same day CBS and Sports Illustrated released a report on college athletes and criminal records.   You see, most of the NFL combine news centers around Cam Newton – the former Auburn quarterback with the rather colorful history.  The CBS/SI report is self-explanatory.  And then there is the BYU basketball player, Brandon Davies, a starter and major factor in the teams amazing success this season.  He was suspended by the team for a violation of the university honor code. Dare I say his actions were hardly the stuff anyone would be suspended for on any other campus.

Brigham Young University is a unique institution, tied directly the The Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints and to the church’s values.  However, what is interesting is that every university purports to hold the ideal of the “student athlete” sacred, that winning is not above the values and standards of the university.  Colleges and universities all proclaim that athletics is tertiary, that academics and producing graduates who are good, productive citizens and future leaders are the real mission.

BYU has enjoyed a great basketball season thus far, and the loss of Brandon Davies clearly is a huge blow to the team and their chances for post season success.  We all get it – there is a ton of money tied up in college athletics – it is big business.  Billions.  Yet BYU took action, an action that will certainly have financial repercussions.  And all because the individual in question told them of his actions that caused the violation – in effect a confession.  No one would have known – yet he and the university held to their word.

It is not about the unique and specific Brigham Young University Honor Code and if one agrees or disagrees.  It is about the fact that there is a code, that those who willingly attend the university also commit to their code.  It is about a university that held to that code – regardless of cost.  We are surrounded by corporate “codes of conduct”, of “core values”, of “oaths of office” and a host of laws and standards of behavior.  However, we rarely if ever see anyone held to account.  Think about it – who from business, sports, or even political office are held to account – ever?

In the end, the question really becomes how committed are you to “walking the walk”? BYU demonstrated they are committed. It was one impressive statement.

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But Everybody Else Is Doing It

Ah, the ultimate in deflection and justification. The stuff of childhood and apparently an accepted part of adulthood in some circles.  Granted there is an ethical piece to going with that excuse, but to many it seems the question is more “will the excuse hold water”?  Will it buy the shadow of a doubt, the sympathy or the forgiveness one seeks?  Or better yet, does it justify the behavior in question, does it make the wrong decision a bit less wrong?  An ethical roll of the dice maybe?  Like any roll of the dice, the unknown is in the outcome.

I could not help but think of that wonderful excuse of childhood when I read the below quote from Floyd Landis:

“But there was no scenario in my mind where I was ever going to get the chance to race the Tour de France and win clean. There was no good scenario. It was either cheat or get cheated. And I’d rather not be the guy getting cheated.”

Granted the Floyd Landis journey has been “interesting”, but I have to admit, his quote in the recent Paul Kimmage interview is telling on a host of levels.  Truth be told, as much as I have never been a fan of the “everybody else is doing it” line of reasoning, I did feel for the guy when I reflected on the above.  On some very real level he has a point.  However, it is the life lesson in that quote that it would be wise of us all to remember.

How much of what is going on around us is really a case of “cheat or get cheated” thinking? Clearly Floyd Landis gave us the example of cycling, but might there be a bit of that in the “financial crisis”? Bankers, lenders, borrowers, brokers…maybe a touch of “but everybody else is doing it” floating around there in the roaring market just a few years back.  And take a moment Sunday when everyone is gathered around that classic American event, the Super Bowl. Might there be one or two guys on that field who have faced that debate of “cheat or get cheated” when it comes to steroids…maybe.

The challenge we all face, as leaders, as parents, and as people, is to ensure we are never creating situations of “cheat or get cheated”. It is not easy. It is sometimes not easy to recognize when we have created such an environment, and it is certainly not easy to acknowledge it when we have. Especially in those cases where everything seems to be moving along nicely. Let’s face it, when revenues are up, times are good, the kids are getting good grades, the money is flowing, who really wants to ask the hard “why”.

As much as any of us hate that classic excuse of a child, the Super Bowl will be one of the most watched events of the year. Are we sanctioning the behaviour and justification of “well everyone else is doing it” by our watching the game? Who knows, but to some degree I will be watching. Unless of course the weather is decent, in which case I will be out on the bike.

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