Matt Labrum, head coach of Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah, suspended all 80 of his players, citing a lack of character. He instructed them all to turn in their jerseys and their equipment, and announced that there would be no football until they earned the privilege to play. Labrum gave his shocked players a letter titled “Union Football Character” which declared in part,
“The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field. It is a privilege to play this wonderful game! We must earn the opportunity to have the honor to put on our high school jerseys each Thursday and Friday night!”
Instead of practicing during the days leading up to this weekend’s game, the students were ordered to perform community service, to attend study hall and go to a class on character development. They were also required to perform service for their own families, and write a report about their actions. Academically, the players were told to be on time for classes, and to improve their grades.
It is unclear what prompted the coach’s action, though some of the players, he felt, had engaged in cyber bullying, and he was aware of other instances in which various players had not, in his view, lived up to exemplary standards of behavior. Several of them had been rude and obnoxious, he had learned to other students and teachers—in other words, they were behaving like high school football players. Rather than punish individual students, Coach Labrum decided to impose team wide measures designed to foster good character. His theory, clearly, was to encourage a team culture of ethical conduct, strengthened by group encouragement and enforcement of shared values. Labrum is also a gifted salesman, since it appears that opposition from students, their parents and the school administration has been minimal.
In many schools, including colleges, football players are the biggest jerks on campus: the culture of school sports too often nurtures entitlement and arrogance. Imagine a school athletic culture in which the athletes were expected to embody the best of ethical values both on and off the field.
The implications are staggering.
Pointer: Lianne Best