The Chris Davis Saga: How Much Money Is “Enough”?

Chris Davis is under there somewhere...

Chris Davis is under there somewhere…

I have too many political issues on the runway, and I’m about to be buried in snow. This seems a perfect time to reflect on Chris Davis, the slugging Baltimore Orioles first baseman who just re-signed with the team in a seven-year, $161 million deal. Yes, he’s a baseball player, but the ethics issue here is not confined to baseball, or even professional sports.

Two weeks ago, it looked as if Davis and the Orioles were at an impasse. The team had, we were told, offered a take-it-or-leave-it 150 million dollar package, and Davis and his agent had turned it down. Davis’s manager, Buck Showalter, told the press that he had asked Davis, who by all accounts loves playing in Baltimore,”How much is enough?”:  “I asked Chris during the season, ‘Chris, when you walk into a Target store, can you buy anything you want. So, how much is enough?'”

Sportswriters, not being reflective sorts,  even the smarter ones, who are always taking the players union’s position that the more money a player can squeeze out of fat cat owners the better, jumped on Showalter. Said CBS writer David Brown, “Showalter trying to shame him into taking less — so that ownership can keep more — is shameful in itself. Why isn’t Showalter asking Angelos ‘ How much is enough?'”*

Showalter, who is one of the most intelligent and perceptive people in the game, was not trying to shame Davis. He was trying to get him to think; he was trying to impart some wisdom…and some ethics. Continue reading

Did Amy Winehouse Cheat the World?


A mark of failure, or betrayal?

I appreciated Amy Winehouse’s talent rather than enjoyed it. Nevertheless, her death-–many have said her completely predictable death—of a drug overdose at 27 once again causes me to ponder the recklessness with which gifted artists who can give so much to the world throw their lives away.

As an ethicist who never hesitates to hold individuals ethically responsible for conduct that harms others, I have not completely worked out in my own mind how to characterize the many artists and performers whose self-engineered destruction have robbed the world of laughter, enlightenment, and joy. Every time I watch John Belushi in “Animal House” or an old Saturday Night Live clip, I get angry at him—I admit it. I know Belushi didn’t want to die young any more than I wanted him to die young, but he treated his life as if it was disposable and without value, when it really was of extraordinary value. When Belushi sacrificed it in a stupid drug binge, it was more than a tragedy for his friends, lovers, colleagues and family; it was a tragedy for the art and history of comedy. Much the same can be said of Amy Winehouse—and James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Holiday, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, River Phoenix, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis. Continue reading

From Hero to Idol: Congratulations, Scotty McCreery!

Way back in March, long before the 2011 edition of American Idol had winnowed its hopeful singers down to the final thirteen, 17-year-old Scotty McCreery earned an Ethics Hero here by bravely taking responsibility for the mistreatment of another contestant in the group segment of the audition process at a time when the judges seemed to be in the mood to make someone pay for it. The incident has been forgotten, but it showed Scott to be a young man of unusual integrity and courage. Little did Ethics Alarms realize  that he was also the singer to beat, and nobody beat him. Last night, he was crowned the American Idol.

Fame and fortune changes people, as we all know, and too often for the worse. Still, McCreery’s prospects of holding on to his core values look strong, because his character looks strong, and everyone, whether or not they follow American Idol and whether or not they groove to Scotty’s milieu, Country-Western music, should applaud the entry of a talented and ethical young man into the popular culture.

Congratulations, Scotty. In March we knew you were good; we didn’t know you were this good.

Ethics Night on “American Idol,” As An Ethics Hero Is Born

Ethics Hero, Scotty McCreery

“American Idol’s” group portion of its winnowing process always is the most fascinating chapter of its yearly saga, as the singing competition briefly shifts into full reality show mode. I’ve never been convinced that it was a fair method to judge aspiring singers who were competing as solo acts, as it frequently results in superior vocalists being dumped because they couldn’t sing harmony, learn choreography and lyrics under pressure, or play well with others. I know you have to get that mass of ambition and ego reduced to 24 people somehow, but group day is the equivalent of throwing darts at a dartboard.

It makes for great ethics scenarios, though. The format guarantees it, as the contestants have to form groups of four or five in a cruel process reminiscent of choosing sides for pick-up baseball games, guaranteeing that some people will end up feeling like the fat kid who always gets chosen last, if at all.

Last night there were several featured ethics dramas, with the judges, as they have been all season, being less than consistent in their responses to them. Continue reading

“American Idol” Jumps the Ethics Shark

Just four audition episodes into the new “American Idol,” it is obvious that the show is done. It might hang on for a few, even several more seasons; after all, “Happy Days” continued for almost a decade after Fonzie jumped the shark. But it’s still over, and it wasn’t because the show lost its center and star, the acid-tongued, irresistible Simon Cowell…well, not exactly. It didn’t have to be the case, but when Simon left, the show lost the one thing it has to have–integrity. Continue reading

The Trouble With Auto-Tune

The British show that launched “American Idol,” X-Factor, admitted that it had used Auto-Tune, an audio processor that corrects a singer’s pitch and tone. An 18-year-old contestant named Gamu Nhengu sang just a little too well in the show’s seventh season premiere, and fans and critics started hinting at conspiracy on the web, especially via the show’s Facebook page. Finally, a spokesman for “X-Factor” confessed that Auto-Tune was used to fix disruptions caused by the many microphones used on stage during the telecast, but that the judge’s decisions were definitely based on the actual, non-Auto-Tuned performances of contestants. The show’s producers, he assured the public, only used the processor to “deliver the most entertaining experience possible for viewers.”

I’m sure that is true. This is exactly the reason TV executives rigged the quiz shows in the 1950’s. It is the reason why TV reality shows are scripted, and why NBA stars get away with game fouls that referees call against lesser players. Any competition’s entertainment value is enhanced by better competitors and more suspenseful action. The problem is that once spectators know or suspect that they are being manipulated, they stop watching at all. The fact that Simon Cowell’s UK hit would use the device immediately roused “American Idol” conspiracy theorists, and  Cowell to immediately announced an Auto-Tune ban. Continue reading