The Long And Messy Ethics Saga Of Jim Thorpe’s Olympic Medals Continues

Jim Thorpe

Whatever it is that is being sought for the late Native American athlete and icon Jim Thorpe, justice isn’t the right word for it.

My father told me about Jim Thorpe in one of his dinner table discourses when I was about 8. The story sure seemed unfair to me then. Thorpe (1887 – 1953), a full-blooded member of the Sac and Fox Nation, had finished first in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics pentathlon and decathlon events, becoming the first Native American to win a gold medal for the United States. Thorpe also played collegiate and professional football and professional baseball to earn a still current reputation as the most versatile great athlete in U.S. sports history. But Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic titles after it was discovered that he had been paid for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics, thus violating the strict amateurism rules that the Games then embraced.

How technical of those mean Olympics people. This misfortune for Thorpe has always been represented as a horrific injustice and an example of anti-Native American bigotry, but neither is true, and was never true. Thorpe wasn’t eligible for the Olympics under the rules then in place, and in place for what was then believed to be good reasons: the Olympics were for amateur athletes only. Thorpe wasn’t one. All of the arguments for why it was unfair for him to lose his medals (the silver medal winners in both events were bumped up to gold and the official records altered), including the way the story was told in the film biography of Thorpe starring Burt Lancaster, are based on sentiment and flawed ethical reasoning.

Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/28/2020: A Bad Couple Of Months For Museums And Sexual Predators

Good morning!

1. Related to absolutely nothing anyone is currently thinking about...I was re-watching “Spotlight” to remind myself that the news media sometimes does its job, and again was reminded how Hollywood constantly makes Americans more ignorant by its sheer arrogance and laziness. The film, which reasonably accurately recounts how the Boston Globe’s investigative “Spotlight” team broke the story of the extensive Catholic Church cover-up of pedophile priests, a scandal still unfolding now, 20 years later, has a scene in which a lawyer who represents the victims of such priests tells a reporter that he’s effective because he’s an “outsider.” “I’m Armenian,” he says. “How many Armenians do you know in Boston?” Having been brought up in Boston, I know that the answer to this question is “A LOT.” Boston was a center of Armenian immigration at the turn of the 20th Century, and its Armenian community, in the city and especially the suburbs, is huge and influential. There are many Armenian organizations as well. In Arlington, Mass., where my family lived, Armenian-Americans were prominent in business and government. The little side street where we lived, Brunswick Road, had ten families living on it: the Marshalls, the Gares, and the Moreland,  the Zeffs (who were Jewish, then two Sakoians, the Nazarians, the Catherians, the Berbarians, and the Masmanians. Just Googling “Boston Armenian conmmunity” would have let the film-makers know the scene was nonsense, and they couldn’t be bothered.

2. And speaking of  sexual predators…the cover-up of sexual predators in the coaching ranks for Olympic sports is being exposed slowly but surely.  Last month a lawsuit was filed against Richard Callaghan, an elite American figure skating coach best known for coaching Tara Lipinski to an Olympic gold medal in 1998 and coaching Todd Eldredge to a world title and six national championships. The suit alleges ongoing sexual abuse of one skater that endured over two decades. Callaghan’s victims were male, not female, but the story is familiar: parents guilelessly entrust their talented athletic children to mentor/coaches in swimming, skating, and gymnastics, without considering for a moment what attracts many of these people to working with children and teens.

Another sport that is coming to terms with a sexual predator is equestrian competition.  George Morris, an Olympics equestrian coach known as  a “kingmaker” for his success with riders,  was barred for life from the sport by the United States Equestrian Federation  based on an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct He is now facing lawsuits filed this month by two people claiming that he raped them as teenagers. Jimmy Williams, another  riding coach who guided many Olympians and  was also named in a lawsuit by a woman who said Williams had sexually assaulted her from the ages of 12 to 17.  Though Williams died in 1993, he was recorded as barred for life from the federation in 2018—yes, a dead man was banned for life— after an investigation by The New York Times revealed accusations by nearly a dozen women, including the Olympian Anne Kursinski, that he had preyed upon them as girls.

Parents are so desperate to live vicariously through their offspring that they willingly hand their kids over to the care of predators. I’m sorry to say this, but absent thorough, thorough investigation, it is irresponsible to trust these coaches. The history and what we know of human nature presents too much of a risk.

The same applies to allowing children to work in professional theater, TV, and movies. Continue reading

Observations On The Senate Olympics Investigation Report

An 18-month Senate investigation resulted in a searing report that found the U.S. Olympic Committee—among others— failed to protect young female athletes from sexual abuse. On July 30, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) released the long report  detailing “widespread failure by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (the “Committee”) and other institutions to keep athletes safe.”

The effort was sparked by the ugly scandal surrounding Dr. Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor, who was sentenced to up to 175 years in a Michigan prison after it was revealed i 2016 that he had sexually abused and assaulted hundreds of female athletes.

The report and its contents have not received sufficient publicity in mainstream media sources, and one is left to speculate on why. The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection found that, from summer 2015 to September 2016,  Olympic organizations hid the extent of Nassar’s crimes from the public and athletic community “to the detriment of dozens of women and girls who were sexually abused during this period of concealment.”

Those “other institutions” impugned in the 235-page report included the FBI. “The FBI failed to pursue a course of action that would have immediately protected victims in harm’s way. Instead, the FBI’s investigation dragged on and was shuffled between field offices,” the report states. This was not, as many media reports misleadingly suggest, just a failure of sports organizations. “Hundreds of women and girls were sexually abused by Larry Nassar” when basic competence, concern and diligence in many organizations, including law enforcement, would have saved them.

Observations: Continue reading

The Olympic Games Are An Ethics Train Wreck, And Have Been For Quite A While

Olympic mascots

The 2016 Rio Games Opening Ceremony was the apotheosis of a rotting tradition that has lost the slightest resemblance to its so-called ideals. The Olympics are a TV spectacle justified by dollars now, using fake and dubious values to obscure the obvious.

Some moments that gave my ethics alarms twinges last night—

  • Political propaganda. It’s sporting event, not a PSA for climate change regulations. Shut up and play. Or perhaps “Shut up and cheat” is more accurate.
  • Speaking of cheating, the ceremony featuring Tom Brady’s Brazilian model wife as a special effect was jarring, but maybe that’s just me.

This was all just yucky frosting on the unethical cake, however. Before the Games began, the continuing corruption of the Games was again approved when the IOC announced that 270 Russian athletes would be allowed to compete despite a major doping scandal last year that indicated that the Russians routinely cheated, and that there was no reason to presume that any Russian athlete wasn’t. Never mind: the desire for ratings—the US vs. Russia!—and/or bribes paved the way.

Meanwhile, the swimmers are competing in raw sewage. Ocean water along Rio de Janeiro’s famed beaches are contaminated with bacteria and viruses, so much so that the World Health Organization  warned athletes participating in open water sports to not swallow water, to cover any open wounds during competition and to wash off immediately after exiting the water. Why is the US subjecting its athletes to this kind of peril? Why are any of the nations?

I don’t watch football players damage their brains while the NFL pays them to do it, and I’m certainly not going to cheer young athletes risking brain eating amoebae so NBC can sell beer for Anheuser Busch.

When did the Olympics start churning my stomach? It may have been when the U.S. started using NBA stars in the basketball competition, and relishing the opportunity to beat amateur Angolan players 154-12. Yecchh. It may have been when I learned how the female gymnasts were kept sprite-like long into their teens by inhibiting their puberty, and how many young gymnasts were sexually molested on their way to Gold.  Or when I listened to some of my scuzzier male friends explain what they liked about watching them…. Continue reading

Gut Check For Obama: The Responsible Thing Is To Pull Out Of The 2016 Olympics

Rio2016-Logo-2

UPDATE: 6/18/13 Now this.

The responsible thing, in fact, would have been to pull out before now.

The Olympics, which were supposed to represent the ideal of pure, individual amateur (For love, not money) athletic achievement, metastasized into a bloated, hyper-nationalist insult to those ideals long ago. In addition…

…The Olympic organization is corrupt, accepting bribes to determine which nations host the games.

…The competitions are corrupt, with banned performance enhancing substances being used widely and with the assistance and knowledge of participating nations, in some cases. At the end of last year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)  issued a report calling for Russia to be banned from international athletics at all levels for flagrant doping violations and a “deeply rooted culture of cheating at all levels” within Russian athletics.

Have the Olympics banned Russia? Of course not.

Meanwhile, an IOC investigation revealed that 23 athletes have tested positive in a massive doping scandal that could ban a total of 31 yet-unnamed athletes “from 12 countries and six sports” from participating in the 2016 Olympics.

…The games now have the shadow of terrorism hanging over them.

…Expenditures by hosting nations always divert resources into inefficient and unnecessary projects, as greater national and social priorities suffer in the pursuit of pride and prestige. Following a pattern that we have seen in other countries, some poor Brazilians  have  lost their homes as part of preparations for the games. Continue reading

Post Script: Rant Sports And Its “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time” vs. The Ethics Alarms List

Suprise!

Surprise!

This topic isn’t really worth two posts, I know, but after some commenters mentioned other obvious examples of distinguished athletes turned actors the Rant Sports  incompetent post ignored, I did some additional research myself.

The first thing I discovered was that Renae Juska’s list was about 90% lifted from other similar web lists that had appeared on various sites over the past three years. These lists were almost as incompetent as hers, though one of them included Johnny Weismuller, and another included Esther Williams. For the most part, however, all included the same basic group of athlete-actors, clearly serving as the basis for the next blogger looking for a cheap post.

This is how bad or misleading information gets stuck in the public mind and discourse, and the process occurs regarding topics and issues that matter, not just gratuitous lists.. This is why politicians still talk about women only earning 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and how 50% of marriages end in divorce. This how rumors and mistaken beliefs take hold and spread, changing the results of elections and the course of history…lazy writers cribbing dubious facts, unsubstantiated stats and lazy compilations of data from other lazy writers. The phenomenon feeds itself. Take the current case: someone asking themselves the question, “Gee, I wonder who the most prominent actors who were also accomplished athletes are?” will google the question and check four or five sites, read virtually the same names on all of them, and think the topic has been accurately researched. That will be an illusion, and soon there will be another post, confirming the earlier ones, and further validating informational garbage.

I also checked the biographies of actors whom I knew had athletic backgrounds, and the performing credits of prominent athletes whom I knew worked in TV, stage and films. I also considered some of the candidates, omitted by Juska, that various commenters had suggested. The result is this list of 30 athlete/actors who were ignored by Juska and Rant Sports, every one of whom is beyond question more deserving of a place on an “all-time” list of “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors” than many of the choices on the Rant Sports list, and quite a few of which—Robson, Williams, Henie, Rigby, Weismuller, Crabbe, Norris, Beradino, and others—should rank near the top. Continue reading

Unethical Website and Post Of The Month: Rant Sports And Its “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time.”

Maybe #1---but that would take some research.

Maybe #1—but that would take some research.

It is true that you cannot trust everything, indeed most things, that you read on the web, and thus should approach all supposedly factual statements with skepticism and ready access to Google. That does not excuse websites that recklessly and irresponsibly spread misinformation however, or that through their own laziness and ignorance spread ignorance among others.

A slick sports website called Rant Sports provided a particularly galling example this week, when it presumed to post a list it called “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time.” All the sports sites draw traffic with this kind of trivia-mongering, but even trivia-mongering demands a modicum of research, care, and fact. This may be an opinion piece, but it isn’t the opinions that are problematical. Renae Juska, the fraud who created the list, obviously engaged in no research at all, so her”Top 25″ really was “First 25 I was able to jot down on a piece of paper.” As I will now demonstrate, Juska, on a site dedicated to sports, made an assertion that is demonstrably and objectively false, and under color of authority, misleading readers but just as wrongly, unfairly neglecting many athletes who would have to be ranked on any such list that was given the amount of research expected of a seventh-grader’s term paper.

Here are some examples of how misleading and poorly researched the list is:

  • To begin with, all but one of the “top athletes” are male. Wrong. One of the greatest athletes-turned actresses died just last month, the great Esther Williams, a record-setting competitive swimmer who was unable to compete in the Olympics because of World War II. She was an athlete IN her movies, the most famous of which were aquacade spectaculars featuring Williams swimming, diving, doing what was later called synchronized swimming (she is credited with helping to create the sport), all while smiling and looking drop-dead gorgeous in a one-piece bathing suit. Does Williams qualify as a “Top Actor” over Number 16 on Juska’s idiotic list, the immortal Stacy Keibler, the only woman he deems worthy? Here are her credentials, as Juska cites them: “She began acting in 1998 and was a professional wrestler from 1999-2006. Her most well-known appearances have been in WWE Judgement Day, Summerslam and WrestleMania XX. She has also had guest appearances on How I Met Your Mother, Mayne Street and Samurai Girl.”  Esther’s credits are here, and you can see her in action here:

To say there is no contest is not an opinion, it is fact. Of course, Juska probably never heard of Esther Williams, which means that she has no business making this list at all.

Believe it or not, it gets worse… Continue reading

And While We’re On The Subject Of Adults Exploiting And Warping Toddlers, Let’s Talk “Toddlers & Tiaras”

Wait! I’ve got an even better idea! How about having toddlers in fake boobs and butt pads FIGHTING EACH OTHER!!!

Bill Verst has asked a Kentucky court to grant him sole custody of his daughter Maddy Verst, now 6, who gained infamy on TLC’s vile reality show“Toddlers & Tiaras” when her mother had her appear in a kiddie beauty pageant dressed as Dolly Parton, with a padded bra and butt pads.

Good. I hope he wins.

This is nothing short of child abuse, and represents exploitation of the very young for an adult’s own (sick) gratification. It may not be quite as despicable as having toddlers duke it out at day care, but it’s close. A court-appointed psychologist agreed with Verst that his estranged wife’s sexualization of their daughter showed she was an unfit parent, and recommended that a judge make Verst the girl’s sole custodial parent.

I’m sure it will not surprise you to hear that Maddy’s Mom, Lindsey Jackson, doesn’t get it. She told reporters, Continue reading

Integrity Failure: Rubio and Obama Show How Unserious Our Leaders Are About Taxes

“The Hopeless Dawn” by Frank Bramley (1888) This is what this story makes me feel like….

If you pay attention, and most American won’t, the evidence that our elected leaders are not serious about being consistent, responsible, or even governing competently is delivered every day in packages large and small. The most recent depressing example was the bi-partisan tag-team of Sen. Marco Rubio and President Obama backing tax-exempt status for medal-winners on the U.S. Olympic team.

Sen. Rubio concocted his Olympic Tax Elimination Act on the theory that “athletes representing our nation overseas in the Olympics shouldn’t have to worry about an extra tax bill waiting for them back at home.” This is spin and nonsense. There is no “extra tax bill,” any more than there is an “extra tax bill” when your boss gives you a bonus for job well done. It’s just a regular, old-fashioned,  tax bill for income, that’s all. Medal-winning Olympic athletes get bonus payments from the U.S. Olympic team. Is their income—that’s what it is, just income—-somehow less fair to tax than your income? No, of course not. Rubio’s  “representing our nation overseas” justification for special treatment is naked and offensive pandering. How about people who represent our nation here, in the United States? They don’t get to travel to London, all expenses paid, like the pampered athletes—why are they less deserving of a tax break? Or why isn’t Rubio arguing, then, that all federal employees who work abroad shouldn’t be taxed? What is his logic, exactly? Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Men’s Breast Stroke Olymipic Gold Medal Winner Cameron van der Burgh

“If you’re not doing it, you’re falling behind. It’s not obviously – shall we say – the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it.”

—– South African Olympic swimmer Cameron van der Burgh, admitting that he cheated in his gold medal winning race because, you understand, everybody else cheats too.

Yechhh.

Maybe they won’t notice…

The commercialism is blatant, the nationalism is sickening, the warping of the lives of the young athletes as they prepare for the Games is disturbing. The one constant that has made the Olympics worth our attention is the opportunity to see great athletes in fair and intense competition with the most capable rivals in the world, and to see the best of the best triumph in the various sports by dint of superior effort, skill, training and character.

Who wants to see who the most effective cheater is? If you do, what’s the matter with you? The most disturbing aspect of van der Burgh’s admission is that there was no shame in it. He matter-of-factly explained that he cheated, how he cheated and why, and apparently believes that this doesn’t diminish his victory at all. And, also apparently, he’s right. Despite the fact that a gold medal winner blandly declaring that he cheated robs the Olympics of any pretense of integrity, it appears unlikely that anything will happen to the swimmer or his prize.

See? Cheating works!

And nobody cares!

Well, if the Olympics are going to stand for the cultural standard that cheating is acceptable as long as enough competitors do it, I have better things to do with my time, like making dust bunny sculptures under my bed. Just about everything we see and read about these days is corrupting and cynicism-producing; if the Olympics are just going to add one more toxic lesson to the array, what good are they? What’s the point?

Higher, faster, sneakier?

Wonderful.

_____________________________________

Pointer: Rick Jones

Facts: NBC

Graphic: Deviant Art

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.