Buzz Bissinger’s Primer on Unethical Reasoning

Sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, already an Ethics Dunce in good standing, has contributed something immensely valuable to the world of ethics: a cover story for Newsweek that can serve as a teaching aid in college ethics classes.

Titled “I Still Believe in Lance Armstrong,” Bissinger lurches from one rationalization to another, contradicting himself repeatedly along the way. This is a professional journalist, writing in his field, for what once was a respected news commentary magazine. Why is so much of the public unable to tell right from wrong? Because they spend a lifetime reading junk like this: Bissinger’s essay could be Exhibit A.

Bissinger begins by talking about the reactions of his son, a cycling enthusiast who worshiped Armstrong, to the recent news that the tarnished athlete would no longer challenge the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s efforts to strip him of his titles:

“Caleb is not blind. He said it was hard not to read the statement and conclude that when Armstrong said, ‘There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say ‘Enough is enough’ ” and that he was finished fighting the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s fanatical attempt to strip him of his victories, what lay below the outrage was an admission that he may well have cheated with performance enhancers in order to win. That bothers my son. It is why he called the stunning announcement a ‘sad day.’ But it is also why he called it a ‘weird day’ emotionally because of the constant effort to make Armstrong into a villain.” Continue reading

Is Buzz Bissenger Right? Should College Football Be Banned? Is He KIDDING? Of Course It Should. And Everybody Knows It.

Scholars all, I’m sure.

Not for the first time, sportswriter and commentator Buzz Bissinger has everybody buzzing about one of his frank opinion pieces, this one launched in the Wall Street Journal. His provocative title: “Why College Football Should Be Banned.”

Bissinger deserves credit for being willing to bite the hands that feed him: he is the author of “Friday Night Lights,” and many of Bissinger fans, at least up to now, tend to be football fans too. His article, however, is also one of those periodic slaps in the face of cultural apathy that occasionally causes a shift, as when Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a little novel that alerted a lot of people to the obvious fact that a system in which human beings were bought, sold, and bred like cattle might not be consistent with civilized morality. It doesn’t take a genius, a revolutionary or a careful analyst to conclude that big time college football is corrupt and corrupting to the core. It only takes a willingness to brush aside rationalizations and face the truth.

Here are the arguments Bissinger presents to support his thesis:

  1. Football has nothing to do with academics.
  2. It is a distraction from both the purpose of higher education and attention to the serious problems facing the university system.
  3. With college tuition reaching outrageous levels and the college loan system teetering, university expenditures on pricey football programs are unconscionable.
  4. The major beneficiaries from college football are the NFL, which uses it as its minor league system at minimal cost; pathetic alumni, who wrap their self-esteem up with the fortunes of their alma mater’s football fortunes; and obscenely-compensated football coaches.
  5. Football programs, contrary to what the public might think, often lose money and become a drag on tuition funds.
  6. Colleges like Maryland have cut other varsity sports (eight of them, in Maryland’s case) to allow it to pay for football.
  7. The representation that the athletes are students is largely a sham, with many of them failing to graduate and the majority spending minimal time on substantive course study.
  8. The athletes are exploited.
  9. The game entails serious health effects, primarily head trauma, that are only now being recognized.

I’m sure we can come up with a #10, too. Oh! I have one: Penn State. We were just given a front row seat to a frightening display of how even a “model” football program could warp the priorities and ethical values of an entire campus culture.

Of course Bissinger’s attack has college football supporters scrambling into a defense formation. What can they come up with? Not much, but it’s a fascinating study of how rationalizations rush into voids caused by the lack of substantive arguments. One college football-hyping blog’s first response was this: Continue reading

As the Cancer of Corruption Spreads, a Diagnosis and Treatment

A sign in Africa, which corruption continues to ravage. We ignore its warning at our peril.

Last week, three more disheartening cheating scandals were in the spotlight, in completely separate areas of our society: legal education, the military, and college sports. The signs that the cancer of corruption is spreading through America’s culture with increasing speed are frightening, but being frightened isn’t constructive. Working to eradicate the cancer is. Last week’s revelations:

  • The American Bar Association publicly admonished Villanova Law School for a pattern of misrepresenting—inflating—GPAs and LSATs of its applicants and admitted students in order to receive a higher ranking, which in turn would attract more and better applicants. The scandal broke in June, and the ABA was lenient, stating that the school had reported its own misconduct (the responsible parties had been discovered and dismissed). Is Villanova alone, or is it just the first law school in this increasingly competitive environment to get caught? If a law school cheats, what kind of lawyers will it produce? Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Buzz Bissinger

It took about an hour after the  Barry Bonds verdict for the first ethics-challenged national sports writer to write something outrageous about it. Not surprisingly, it was Buzz Bissinger, a the member in good standing of the Daily Beast’s stable of annoyingly hypocritical, biased or appallingly cynical writers, Bissinger belonging to the last category.

His post, which pronounced the Barry Bonds conviction “a travesty” in the title, contained one ethics howler after another, any of one of which would have justified an Ethics Dunce prize.

Here they are:

“It is true that the case of Barry Bonds does hit a new low, a new low in the waste of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, a new low in the witch hunt of a player who, because he was considered surly and arrogant and unlikable, is now having intimate details of his life revealed (such as testicle shrinkage), a new low in outrageous abuse of government power.” Continue reading