A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Apparently, Virtue Is Not Its Own Reward: Penn State, Penalties, and Acting Morally for Its Own Sake

The NCAA has leveled heavy penalties against Penn State University and its football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse sex scandal. The Freeh Report has issued a damning statement on how those in authority, including the former head football coach, the late Joe Paterno, had knowledge that inappropriate and criminal behavior was possibly being perpetrated by Sandusky, and yet preferred to ignore what should have been pursued for the sake of Sandusky's child victims. The report states, "The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims…" How often is it true that the attempt to hide scandal ends up making the scandal even worse.

Now that the NCAA has leveled its punishments, which include no post-season bowl game appearances for four years, the responses have varied from those who think the sanctions are too harsh to others who believe that they are not sufficient. I suppose there's a reasonable debate to be had on the matter, even though what's done is done. There are no winners in this kind of thing-- only losers-- with Sandusky's victims suffering the most. Those who believe that it is possible for individual behavior not to affect others live in a fantasy world. It is indeed the case that current athletes on the football team are going to suffer the consequences of Sandusky's actions, and it is not fair to them, but egregious actions always have innocent victims, the first and most significant victims to consider in this case are sexually molested boys. Justice and fairness are not synonymous, no matter what some may think. When it is possible to achieve both, all the better, but often in order to have justice, fairness must be sidelined. That's just the way it is this side of perfection.

I think it needs to be stated, that a significant motivating factor for the NCAA sanctions against Penn State is not only to exact punishment on the perpetrators, but to send a warning to other university sports programs that failure to do the right thing will have serious consequences. In other words, even though virtue should be its own reward (regardless who first said it), doing the right thing too often takes a backseat to the preferred thing; and in the case of university athletics, it's alumni who want their team to win at all cost, and it's university officials who benefit from the cash cow of their major athletic programs, and finally it's the coaches who know that the alumni must be kept happy and the money must keep coming in if they are to continue in their employment. In such an environment, acting morally for its own sake is often not enough. When people cannot be trusted to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing, all that is left to do is to force people to act rightly by threatening them. The NCAA is saying to those at other university sports programs, if we can do this to them, we can do it to you too.

And I am all for such threats. If they reduce the number of victims of egregious behavior in the future, then forewarn away. It's too bad, however, that virtue does not seem to be its own reward, and that there seem to be fewer individuals who live morally for its own sake, and who act justly for its own sake regardless of the consequences. In failing to do so innocents have found themselves suffering the consequences of evil because those who had the power to act chose to sacrifice virtue on the altar of the elusive National Championship to the cheers and accolades of the adoring crowd, who are more than ready to part with their money to a make such victory possible.

Well, no one is cheering at the moment, and virtue has been left waiting for the bus. Apparently, it has nothing to offer for its own sake.



John Mark said...

Well said and very wise in my opinion.

Allan R. Bevere said...