A recent article in the Athens Banner-Herald recounted how acclaimed athlete, Charlie Trippi, came to enroll at the University of Georgia, over seventy years ago. The entire account was of absorbing interest. But one feature in particular stood out—Trippi’s integrity.
In choosing Georgia, Trippi declined enticing offers from other schools, including Notre Dame. The reason was simple, he said, “I had given Mr. Ketran (a Georgia alumnus) and Georgia my word.” Back home in Pennsylvania, Trippi’s father taught his talented son the value of keeping one’s word. When the chips were down, the Georgia prospect kept it.
In October 1982, editors of The New York Times ranked the cardinal virtues. They gave integrity first place, concluding, “With integrity much can be accomplished. Without it little else is possible.” Upholding a promise—in matters great and small—is one of its fundamental tenets.
The word “integrity” comes at us from every point on the compass. It is invoked to describe the personal and impersonal, from upright conduct to the condition of Old Master paintings. As with Trippi, we know it when we see it, acknowledge it, are drawn to it—irrespective of race, creed, station, or calling.
Yet, few pause to declare its authentic meaning or benefits in everyday life. In the abstract, it remains vague, indefinite, and elusive. At times its implications are thick and hard to get a handle on. The everlasting underpinnings, however, are steadfastly in place. They are the product of human experience and open for review.
The authorities of the ages hold, first and foremost, that integrity is the capacity to stand by an idea, an idea that withstands moral scrutiny, that is beneficial to the parties affected. Walter Lippmann said, “One has virtue when one can respond to a situation that is larger than a mere inclination; if one can hold fast to an ideal of conduct when it is inconvenient or unprofitable to do so.”
Consider the case of Eugene V. Debs, a social agitator in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was demonstrating in Ohio against the practice of small children working in dangerous coal mines. He was charged with disturbing the peace and arrested. While incarcerated he received a one-sentence telegram. It read: “Stand by your principles regardless of the consequences.” Signed, “Your mother and father.” Debs held fast and became a factor in reform of America’s child labor laws.
Those with integrity grasp, intuitively, the rules that govern it. For them certain principles are non-negotiable. It is they whose word is their bond; who ascribe weight to accountability; who deliver as promised, when promised in the manner, promised; who stand up and are counted when it counts; who to the alluring temptation and ill-advised compromise have the power to say “no.”
Their behavior, regardless of the effort, is characterized by fairness, credibility, and square dealing. The pay-offs are immense. They gain the priceless by-products of trustworthiness and good reputations.
In our era the times, including the world of big-time college athletics, are marked by high-profile scandals, ethical fiascoes, and moral indifference. Across the spectrum demand for performance with integrity is greater than ever.
Long ago Charlie Trippi gave us an unmistakable demonstration of it. It still stands.