December 2007 Ethics Dunces

The University of Arkansas

Seldom, perhaps never, has the departure of a football coach inspired as much venom from his players as when Bobby Petrino resigned from the Atlanta Falcons. With his team suffering through a horrible season that began with its star quarterback facing prison for dog-fighting, animal abuse and illegal gambling, the first-year coach fled his 24 million dollar multi-year contract with the Falcons to take a coaching position with the University of Arkansas, without finishing the season (three games were left) or even addressing his players. He left them a written note.

As breaches of the duties of leadership go, this is as bad as it gets. This is the Captain of the Titanic commandeering the first life-boat. This is Travis making a run for it as the Mexican attack, Custer hiding under a horse, and Spartacus deserting just as the Roman army approaches. It is Yul Brenner running out on the Magnificent Seven, Lee Marvin leaving the Dirty Dozen to their own resources. In short, it is grossly unethical conduct. It stinks.

As the furious Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his team's outraged players pointed out, Petrino constantly preached a "Never give up, fight to the end" philosophy. Then, when the going got tough, he split. His act was feckless, irresponsible, and most of all, cowardly. The absolute minimum he owed his team was a face-to-face explanation of why he was abandoning them when they needed him most.

What can a man like Bobby Petrino teach college students? Exactly nothing, or rather, nothing good. Not honesty: when several high-profile college coaching jobs became vacant in late November amid rumors that he was seeking an exit from the NFL, Petrino reportedly assured Blank he was staying. He lied. Not loyalty, certainly, or fairness, or accountability, or responsibility. Certainly not fortitude or courage. And yet this is the man whom the University of Arkansas is paying millions to teach teamwork, selflessness, diligence and character to young men preparing to enter the world.

Petrino is a disgrace. But what the University of Arkansas is doing by allowing his warped values to infect their students is negligent, cynical, and wrong.




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