Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Ethics Breakdown: The Colorado Football Scandal

The degrading and abusive treatment of women starts out as breaching basic ethical values of respect, courtesy and decency, and too often ends in serious violations of the law. This appears to be what has happened in the Colorado University football program, which is only the present symbol of the warped values, flawed leadership, and execrable ethics that has been infesting college sports for decades.

At Colorado, strippers and escort services were used as recruiting tools, with predictable resultsÂ…an alleged gang rape. It is appropriate that the coach, Gary Barnett, be among the first to be held accountable for this corrupt environment. Leadership is the catalyst for ethical conduct in an organization, and leaders should be held strictly responsible when a culture gets this far out of control. Next up, one hopes: the Athletic Director and University President Elizebeth Hoffman. Parents entrust their children, even 270 pound linebacker children, to her oversight and care. Negligence and incompetence make her complicit in everything Coach Barnett did.

Oddly, it took the coach’s dismissive and contemptuous comments about his one-time female kicker, who has now revealed that she was raped by a team mate (and what a disturbing phrase that is.). “Katie was not only a girl,” he snarled, “but she was terrible.”

Bad choice of words? It doesn’t matter what he meant. If the rape allegation is true, he was implicated before he opened his mouth. But his instinctive response is tellingÂ…not exactly surprising from a football coach, but revealing nonetheless. Respect is lacking.

Unfortunately, one of the victims in this situation, the female kicker, is on ethical thin ice herself. By reporting her rape and harrowing harassment without naming any names, Katie Hnida has, in effect, tainted everybody she played with, and made a powerful and devastating accusation is a way that makes it impossible for those accused to defend themselves. That is wrong, unjust, unfair, and unethical. She had a choice, and not a happy one: if she was unwilling to press charges and endure an investigation and prosecution, she could do as she says she did since the summer of 2002: not report the rape. If she decided to come forward, she had an obligation to make her charge specific.

There is no ethical middle ground, and sympathy for her plight, which should be abundant, cannot alter the equation.

The media and commentators have an obligation to clarify the ethical failings of Barnett and other Colorado leadership, but that is the easy part of their task. The tougher assignment is asserting that victims have ethical obligations too.

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