The March 7 issue of Sports Illustrated reports on criminality among college football players at some of the country’s largest schools and universities. Sports writer Bobby Page of the Macon Telegraph, says the current academic year has been a particularly distressing one, for athletes and coaches, alike. He cites an array of players dismissed or suspended for off-field misconduct. Joining them are coaches charged or penalized for violating NCAA rules and misleading investigators.
The world of college athletics can only gain from affirming and promoting integrity. This ancient virtue dictates upright conduct, standing firmly by the right standards, for the right reasons, at the right time—even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or unprofitable. Stated differently, it means when you say you’ll do something you’ll do it. You do it in the manner you said you would do it, at the time you said it would be done.
The great pro quarterback, Johnny Unitas, exemplified it. Years ago Time magazine reported an incident that characterized his career. He was leading the Baltimore Colts in an offensive drive late in the game. A huge tackle broke through and smashed him to the ground, breaking his nose. He lay flat on his back, nose bleeding, the massive lineman hulking over him. The lineman gloated, “That finishes you for the day.” “Not yet it doesn’t,” replied Unitas, as he pulled himself to his feet.
Time was called, as the quarterback staggered to the sideline. There he insisted the assistants pack his nose. With his nose packed and the bleeding stopped, he returned to the game and finished driving the Colts to a touchdown. He then trotted off the field—no high fives, no hugs, no fanfare, no jubilation, just the pure stuff. An admiring teammate said, “Unitas meant to play like he was paid to.”
Conspicuous are those who play, coach, and lead with diminished integrity:
They put little value on trustworthiness and reputation;
- They cannot keep their word in matters great and small;
- When they err they take no responsibility;
- They cut corners and play loosely with the rules;
- They succumb to alluring temptations;
- They disregard commitment;
- They place little stock in their sport’s highest and noblest traditions;
- They are easily compromised and lured into unhealthy, unwise, and immoral circumstances, or worse;
Upright conduct is not about being perfect. But for every coach and athlete that sets foot on a college campus, it means closing the destructive gaps. It precludes a double life between stadium, coliseum, track, and diamond on the one hand, and on the other private behavior—off the field, outside, and beyond. Both must meet the same standards. Then, coach and athlete become authentic; they become the real deal.