Tag Archives: ohio state football

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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