“What is character? In the N.F.L., character is need.”
—–New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden, explaining how teams seek to draft players “with character,” a.k.a. “who don’t commit felonies off the field,” unless, of course, the player is especially talented and they need what he has to offer on the field in order to win.
This intellectually dishonest standard is not restricted to pro football. Voters want ethical and honest elected representatives, unless they keep taxes low and deliver goodies to their neighborhoods. Corporations want executives with character too, unless a manipulative, deceitful, scheming whiz makes the company’s profits soar. The student with great promise will be excused or merely admonished for offenses that a school will suspend lesser students for.
The well-documented human tendency to endure unethical conduct from high-level performers while holding less gifted and accomplished individuals to higher standards of character serves to undermine ethics generally, confirming as it does the principle that the prettier, smarter, richer, more powerful, more famous you are, the less obligated you are to care about others, do the right things, or obey the rules.
For this is the Star Syndrome. In the coming months and years, Ethics Alarms and its readers will encounter it often. Continue reading