Topic: SocietySociety

Andrew Sorenson and James Barker
(December 2004)

The Ethics Scoreboard, as some readers have noticed, has a hard time finding ethics heroes. In October, for example, there was no one worthy of the category, the presidential race apparently having managed to lower the ethical standards across the culture. Thus it would be unforgivable to neglect to praise two ethics heroes whose acts of principle occurred in late November but will be most felt on New Year’s Day, when the schools they lead, South Carolina and Clemson, will not be playing in any football bowl games. We hereby split the difference, and anoint Andrew A. Sorensen, president of the University of South Carolina, and James F. Barker, the president of Clemson, Ethics Heroes for December.

In the fourth quarter of Clemson’s 29-7 victory over South Carolina last month, a brawl broke out among the players that was just as violent as the Indiana Pacers meltdown that occurred the same weekend. The fight involved dozens of players, many of whom left the sidelines and ignored state police who came on the field to try to restore order. It would have been relatively easy to pass off the riot as just an unfortunate bi-product of the inherent violence and high intensity of football; indeed, that’s exactly what Clemson’s coach attempted to do after the game. But the two presidents would have none of it. Instead, they jointly decreed that neither team would accept a postseason bowl invitation, ensuring the wrath of alumni, but sending an unequivocal message that such conduct is intolerable.

College football is big business, and the players depend on bowl appearances to build reputations that may lead to pro football careers. The bowl ban hurts. It will cost both schools money that they would have received from their televised bowl appearances. It will disappoint players, their families, and the schools’ many fans. Undoubtedly, its precedent will be real deterrent to future on-field college football melees, and perhaps in other school sports as well.

The Ron Artest and the Pacers rock ’em-sock ’em show in Detroit thoroughly upstaged the South Carolina-Clemson brawl, so the courage of Barker and Sorenson received minimum coverage by the national press. We shouldn’t let their actions be so unnoticed. They did the right thing for the right reason, and did it quickly, without hesitation, commissions, rationalizations or qualifications. They taught their students integrity and principle the way it must be taught, not by books, but by example.

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