September 2005 Ethics Dunces

The Los Angeles Dodgers

Okay, Scoreboard watchers, it's pop quiz time!

Here's your brain-teaser for today….

What do these two have in common?

  • The Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the Major League Baseball player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. Clemente was a Hall of Fame right fielder of exemplary class and character for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who died in a plane crash while attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

  • Milton Bradley, Dodgers outfielder, has been dumped from two major league teams for repeated misconduct, spent three days in an Ohio jail in the off-season for disorderly conduct after violating terms of his probation, called a black reporter an "Uncle Tom," threw a water bottle at a fan, has been the subject of three domestic violence police calls this summer, and most recently has disrupted his current team by accusing star second baseman Jeff Kent of racism. On the field, he is known for his violent disputes with umpires.

Give up? Don't feel bad; it's a trick question. The answer is that the two have absolutely nothing in common, just as you suspected. But don't tell that to the Los Angeles Dodgers; it might shatter the alternate reality inhabited by the organization's executives.

Because the Dodgers made Milton Bradley its nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. That's right, sports fans: the team could find no better representative of the values embodied by Clemente than a disruptive, undisciplined, self-centered, occasionally violent race-baiter. Why, you ask? Well, it seems that Bradley (when he's not fighting with his wife, abusing umpires, throwing things at fans or trying to avoid jail time) participates in some worthy local charities.

Here's a bulletin for the Dodgers. Al Capone helped worthy charities. So did the robber barons of the early 20th Century while they were starving their workers with sub-human wages and killing them with horrible working conditions. Bernie Ebbers helped worthy charities. Michael Jackson helps worthy charities. In fact, lots of otherwise disreputable people who no parent in their right mind would ever hold up to their children as any kind of role models give to charities, but the Clemente Award requires juuuust a bit more. For example, abusing fans and umpires isn't exactly what Roberto Clemente would have called "sportsmanship." Creating racial divisions in the clubhouse wasn't Clemente's favored method of contributing to his team. And somehow it's hard to square jail time with exemplifying the game the way Clemente did, with integrity and grace. If Bradley is really the best the Dodgers have to offer the Los Angeles community as its idea of a model citizen, then it isn't a team at all. It's just another gang.

Charity is wonderful, but baseball stars, millionaires all, have quite a bit of discretionary funds to throw around when their reputations are bruised. Giving money away, no matter how well, is not a substitute for good conduct, character, and values. Instead of building the Los Angeles community's ethical foundation with its choice of a role mode, the baseball team has simply fallen prey to the city's warped priorities, in which celebrity and wealth trump all else. City of Angels? City of Dunces is more like it.

Tag Body Spray for Men

Former 47 year old Christian Brother Academy teacher Sandra "Beth" Geisel has been indicted for allegedly raping a 16-year-old male student earlier this year, the latest teaching femme fatale to follow in the infamous footsteps of Debra LaFave and Mary-Kay Letourneau. Meanwhile, Tag Body Spray for Men is running a TV commercial nationwide that purports to make its product appealing by showing the mother of a teenager's girlfriend sexually assaulting the boy in response to Tag's seductive scent.

Talk about mixed messages.

Here's the Scoreboard's unmixed ethics message: an adult, whether it be male or female, teacher or parent, having sexual relations with a minor is rape. Rape is neither sexy, desirable, funny, ethical or legal. For a corporation to portray inappropriate sexual advances by an adult authority figure toward a teenager as enticing to the teen plays directly into the hands of sexual predators like LaFave and company, by representing as "cool" conduct that is profoundly damaging to a child. The commercials have obviously been conceived by the same arrested development cases who can be read on the internet cheering on the "romance" between "Villi and Mary-Kay" while signing petitions to "Free Debra LaFave" because she's "hot" and her student-victim is "one lucky dude."

It is unreasonable to expect profit-making companies with obligations to stock-holders to go out of their ways to solve all the problems of society, but we must insist that they avoid going out of their ways to exacerbate these problems. Tag has other commercials in its "Consider yourself warned!" series, such as the female wrestler that leaps out of the ring on top of a Tag-wearing spectator. These are more or less funny, effective and responsible, and they involve patently absurd examples of women being driven wild by Tag. But older female (and male) authority figures are seducing teenagers, and if the Tag writers don't realize that (of course they do), they need to get out more. TV commercials are seen by millions, and not to recognize the dangers of a message like this one is proof enough that its makers are too irresponsible to be trusted with such a large billboard. It isn't a difficult concept, really: romanticizing and trivializing sexual assault, statutory rape and predatory conduct by trusted adults is wrong. So the Scoreboard says to the boys at Tag: keep your adolescent rape fantasies to yourself and away from our kids, thank you.

And consider yourself warned.

Hunter Thompson

Hunter Thompson's values were admittedly always a little out of whack, but nothing diminished the self-styled "gonzo journalist" in this world so much as his manner of leaving it. He shot himself to death last February while talking on the phone to his wife, with both his son and grandson in his house with him. Nice. That should guarantee some lucky psychoanalyst or three a comfy income for the foreseeable future.

Thompson was not dying of some dread disease, like actor Brian Keith; nor was he disconsolate after the death of a loved one, like actor Charles Boyer, who killed himself after his wife of 50 years died. He wasn't, as far an anyone knows, a clinical depressive like novelist Ernest Hemingway or his granddaughter, model Margeaux. He wasn't newly psychotic like actor Gig Young, who was the suicide in a murder-suicide involving his newly wed wife. Thompson fans harbored romantic fantasies that their hero killed himself for principle, as some kind of lingering Sixties testament to all the bullshit in the world. He hated arrogance, rigidity, conformity, ambition and greed, and finally said, "Hey! The heck with you, world…you're too screwed up to take seriously!"

Naaaaah. Hunter Thompson killed himself because he was bored, didn't like getting older (unlike everyone else), and really, really missed the football season. His wife finally found his suicide note, and this is what it said:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt.  

Those who knew Thompson agree that far from being metaphors for human duplicity and the war in Iraq, "Games" means football games (the note was written shortly after the Super Bowl) and "Bombs" means long completed forward passes. The Washington Post reported that historian Doug Brinkley said of his friend, "An avid NFL fan, Hunter traditionally embraced the Super Bowl in January as the high-water mark of his year. February, by contrast, was doldrums time."

Did I neglect to mention that Thompson entitled his suicide note, "Football season is over?"

Suicide is usually the most selfish of acts, and among the most unethical, harming many people deeply while guaranteeing that the one doing the harm will be insulated from accountability. Thompson certainly had problems: he was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, and had multiple ailments affecting his legs. His time as an influential writer had seemingly passed, and the market and readership for his quirky opinions were at an all-time low. But dispatching oneself out of a yearning for the NFL, and even when is amplified by the boredom of an aging speed freak and a waning career, sets some kind of record for irresponsible self-indulgence. Even accepting the dubious arguments of the pro-suicide crowd who would convince us that it was his life to abandon and thus an unassailable choice, the man had people who cared about him and needed him. "This won't hurt?" This won't hurt him.

The Ethics Scoreboard's extends its sympathy and condolences to Hunter Thompson's family, who now must know where they stood in his priorities. But the fact that the writer wouldn't or couldn't value his duties to his own family more than his addiction to a game marks him as unethical, trivial and a Dead Dunce.

Alan Dershowitz

It's kind of fun to put someone who has taught ethics at Harvard Law School in this category, but be assured, Professor Dershowitz comes by his Ethics Dunce credentials, as John Houseman used to say, "the old fashioned way." He earned it in an interview on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes" show, less than two hours after Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist died of thyroid cancer. Dershowitz found it impossible to wait a respectable amount of time after the jurist's death before impugning his integrity, virtue, honesty and competence. What is a respectful amount of time? We can debate that, but I think all will agree that two hours is well below the minimum.

Dershowitz, before Sean Hannity cut him off and ended his embarrassing rant, accused Rehnquist of being:

  • A "Republican justice" whose decisions were politically driven
  • A judicial hypocrite
  • A "thug" who set out to stop Hispanics and blacks from voting
  • Anti-Semitic

He also said that Rehnquist's opinions and legal reasoning were nothing special. This last is certainly in the realm of acceptable criticism, though the timing of it is in highly dubious taste. The rest, which ranges from hyperbole to falsehood to slander, is especially unethical because Dershowitz would never have had the courage to attack Rehnquist in this manner while the Chief Justice was alive. But before the late Chief Justice's body was cold, Slammin' Alan started in with the body blows. How bold.

Many state bar associations have adopted the American Bar Association's rule 8.2, which specifically prohibits a lawyer from impugning a sitting judge's integrity and honesty. The rule applies only to living judges, so clever Professor Dershowitz, being an ethics professor and all, knew that he had obeyed the substance, if not the spirit, of the rule despite his attack. But presumably the rest of us are more aware than he that a lifetime public servant who has died while holding one of the most important positions in the land for two decades deserves more respect in the hours after his demise. There is plenty of time, an eternity, in fact, to examine and debate Rehnquist's real or imagined flaws. Professor Dershowitz, flushed with the power of a talking cable head, just couldn't muster the self-control, or the decency, to wait.



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