April 2005 Ethics Dunces

Major League Baseball

"It just proves that I was right," said New York Yankees outfielder Sheffield when he learned that Major League Baseball would levy impose no punishment for his confrontation with Fenway Park fans during a game. "I'm just glad I was an example of how to handle a situation without making it worse or hurting the Yankees or any organization for that matter, or any sport."

It's hard to argue with him; that certainly is the message sent by the ruling by Bob Watson, Major League Baseball's czar of discipline. Sheffield was "right": right to shove a Boston fan who made unintentional contact with him as he was attempting to field a ball; "right" to walk back to the stands and the fan after completing the play, fist cocked; "right" to risk a full-fledged melee until an alert and athletic security employee forced himself between the Yankee star and his potential adversaries. The poobahs of Major League Baseball, in one of their apparently endless supply of bad judgement calls, has, whether it knows it or not, rejected the absolute prohibition against professional athletes courting violence to respond to fan abuse or misconduct, a prohibition exemplified by the National Basketball Association's swift and merciless punishment of the Indiana Pacers players who battled with fans this season. The new standard, according to Watson, is that players can make physical contact with fans and challenge them whenever the player 1) is touched by a fan, accidentally or not, 2) is caught up in the adrenaline of the moment, 3) is stopped by security personnel before he can incite a riot and 4) shows "restraint," meaning, according to Sheffield himself, forgoing physical retribution on the fan that is justified, at least in the player's mind.

All of which would be well and good, except that Sheffield was not right. His duty as a professional were to complete the play (field the ball and throw it to the appropriate base) without stopping to shove or hit the fan who made contact with him, point out the offending fan to security, and otherwise walk away. That is his duty for a number of reasons. He is the one with the power to prevent an ugly incident that could injure fans, players, his team, and the business of baseball. As a major league player, he is expected to be able to deal calmly and appropriately with such situations. Sheffield, who is walking, talking proof that baseball's decision is 100% wrong-headed, was quoted as saying, "If you're out on the street, I guarantee that same guy doesn't put his hands on me. So why should we be penalized for a situation like that because we're on a baseball field?"

Why, Gary? Because you are on a baseball field, not the street. On the field, you are a representative of your sport, on television and being paid at the rate of something like $500 a minute, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your own personal standards of conduct. When a heckler yells insults at a nightclub comic that might prompt the comic to break that heckler's nose if it were uttered on the street, the comic nonetheless must deal with the situation with a witty comeback, not by physical force. When a Vice-President feels he has been unfairly treated by a U.S. Senator, his responsibility to his high office and to the democratic process means that it is unprofessional and wrong to tell the Senator to "Go **** yourself!" in the U.S. Capitol, even though that might be a fair (though uncivil) response by a private citizen on the street. On the street, Gary, you don't have 35,000 potential sympathizers with your adversary poised to come to his defense. On the street, you don't always have trained professionals within shouting distance whose job it is to deal with miscreants so you don't have to.

These are pretty basic principles of professional ethics, but the people who run the profession involved chose instead to listen to the rationalizations of former players, the analysis of blowhard ESPN broadcasters, and the threats of lawyers and the players union. Baseball will fine and suspend a player who goes out to the pitcher's mound and takes a swing at the man who threw a 95 mile an hour baseball at his head because of the threat of injury and escalating violence, insisting that the game's umpires mediate such occurrences. But it now declares that Sheffield's self-righteous response to inappropriate fan contact during a game, a mixture of retaliation, threatening gestures and confrontation, has been ratified as "right."

In the future, this decision may well lead to a baseball incident that makes the brawl between Detroit fans and the Pacers look like synchronized swimming. In the present, it just guarantees "Ethics Dunce" status for Major League Baseball, which, in light of its handling of its current steroid scandal, is probably way overdue.


Dean Danos of Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

In the midst of widespread scandals in the private sector, most engineered by former business school whiz kids with the ethical values of Bugsy Siegel, Harvard, Duke, M.I.T. and Carnegie Mellon decided that their business schools could manage without applicants who hacked into the schools' admissions files to see if they had passed muster.

But not the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, no sir. Why, those young Turks showed gumption! Determination! Get up and go! So Dartmouth has duly accepted some of the file-peekers, thus ensuring that future Enrons have a decent talent pool from which to choose their leaders.

Paul Danos, Dean of Tuck, has so far declined to say how many of the ethically challenged applicants were actually coming to his institution. He did say that he was unsure that any laws had been broken by the students accessing secret passwords to check on their admission status. Atta boy, Dean Danos, spoken like the teacher of future crooked executives you are fated to be. Their whole idea at Enron, after all, was to screw over investors without technically breaking any laws. But that's OK, right? As long as you figure out how to lie, cheat, or steal legally, there's nothing wrong.

The Enron creed.

True, it is a bit inconvenient that the school's founder, Edward Tuck, had a different creed for his school. He insisted that the school's ethics were

... never to vary a hair's breadth from the truth nor from the path of strictest honesty and honor, with perfect confidence in the wisdom of doing right as the surest means of achieving success ... to the maxim that honesty is the best policy ... .  

Meanwhile, Tuck's academic honor principle states that

Integrity and honesty in the performance of academic activities, both in the classroom and outside, are essential to the educational experience for which the Tuck School has always stood.  

But Dean Danos says that he doesn't see any inconsistency.


Then maybe it's a good thing that the cheaters are gravitating to Tuck. If this is the level of comprehension, clarity of thought and logic on display from the school's leadership, they may not learn enough of value to get them the management jobs where their lack of ethics would be dangerous.

Dunces, after all, make lousy teachers.



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