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Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o, and Joe Paterno

It has been quite a week for ethics in sports.  Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he took performance-enhancing substances that helped him win seven Tour de France titles.  The heart-wrenching tale about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, whose alleged death inspired millions of college football fans, turned out to be a hoax.  And Al Pacino is set to play Joe Paterno in a movie about the child molestation debacle at Penn State University.Toss in a legendary women’s track coach fired for an improper relationship with a former player and a Baseball Hall of Fame steroids shut-out and many are wondering if sports are worth watching anymore.

What is an ethics teacher to do?  It is easy to call the perpetrators in these sordid tales monsters and megalomaniacs.  It is easy to place them in the “evil people” category and shake our heads at humanity.

But there is another way of looking at these stories.  They are stories not of bad people but of bad ethical choices–choices that we could have made if we had been subjected to the same pressures.

This is Bud Krogh’s thought, anyway.  Krogh, who went to prison for co-directing Nixon’s infamous Special Investigations Unit (also known as “Plumbers”; you can read his account of their most infamous operation here), has dedicated his life to making sure young people do not make the same mistakes that he made.  He has developed a system called “The Integrity Zone” to aid in this process.

The Integrity Zone suggests that we all want to be “in the zone”: we all want to act with integrity.  Krogh suggests that three questions can help us determine whether we are acting this way: “Is it whole and complete (think John Stuart Mill)?”  “Is it right (think Kant)?”  “Is it good (think Aristotle)?”  Simple enough, right?

Here’s where it gets interesting and helpful.  Krogh suggests that there are all kinds of “threats,” internal and external, to our ability to be “in the zone.”  These threats cloud our judgement and, if we are not aware of them, can lead to unhappy outcomes.  Internal threats include vanity, blind ambition, and misplaced loyalty; external threats include ambiguity of mission, peer pressure, and groupthink.  (But think of your own!)

Can you see where Bud is going?  It is one thing to be in an ivory tower studying utilitarianism or the Nichomachean Ethics.  It is another to be in the sturm und drang of the real world, facing down angry bosses or seductive temptations.  If we understand the internal and external threats to acting with integrity, we can begin to understand why Joe Paterno looked the other way, why Barry Bonds took steroids, why Lance Armstrong acted like a bully.  And, more important, we can learn to recognize those threats in our lives, so that we avoid falling prey to them.

 

TEACHING SUGGESTION: Hand out and explain the Integrity Zone diagram to students.  Write “Lance Armstrong” on one side of the board, and ask students to list his ethical transgressions (taking illegal drugs, lying, bullying others, etc.) on the other side.  Draw an arrow connecting the name with the actions.  Then ask students to review the Integrity Zone diagram and list (and explain) all of the “threats” that Armstrong faced.  Then lead a discussion.  (Possible topics might include whether this helps students feel more sympathy toward Armstrong, whether the students face any of these threats in their own lives, whether they think it is possible to overcome these threats, etc.)  If there is time, consider asking students to make their own Integrity Zone diagrams.  What are the biggest day-to-day threats in their own lives?

Jan 18, 2013

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