Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 3/31/2019: The NCAA Tournament, Colbert, Chris Rock, And Bullshit

Good Afternoon!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad for some reason, and that was his favorite hymn. It’s an Easter hymn, but our church always had the choir sing it on the special spring service. My unusually musically talented friends knocked it out of the park at my father’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. It also has the advantage of being composed by Arthur Sullivan, just like “Onward Christian Soldiers!” and “Tit Willow.”

1. Fill out your brackets, and enable corruption. It’s the NCAA tournament again, and again, helping the schools and the NCAA and the networks make money off of the destructive and corrupt culture of big time college basketball is ethically indefensible. The New York Times wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but it did recently write about the dissonance, beginning,

Every March, millions of Americans fill out brackets (more than 40 million people, by one count), cheer the underdogs and tune in on television. Others buy tickets to the games, wear jerseys of their favorite teams and let wins and losses dictate their mood. Yet fans who follow college basketball closely know about the game’s intractable relationship to corruption. Even many who come just for March Madness must know that the real madness is not always on the court.

A wide-ranging and fear-inducing F.B.I. investigation into college basketball recruiting continues to ensnare big-name colleges and little-known crooks. It is why Louisiana State, for example, is playing without its head coach, Will Wade, and why Auburn recently had an assistant coach suspended and a former assistant plead guilty of conspiracy for accepting bribes.

This week, the lawyer Michael Avenatti was charged with trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike in exchange for concealing information he had about illicit payments to recruits. He has since revealedsome allegations on Twitter….

The Times doesn’t bother to go into the related problem of how basketball distorts academic goals, sucks away resources that should be used for education, and usually leaves its athletes no better educated than they were when they arrived. As you might expect, the Times’ writer is too ethically incompetent to provide and enlightenment. For example, he quotes one ethicist as saying, “…Someone thinks, ‘Gosh, this is unethical, but I love it so much, and my friends and I have such a good time rooting and cheering that I’m going to participate anyway.’” That description could also be used to justify gang rape. Can we have a little nuanced clarification? Then the Times writer, John Branch, offers these ill-devised analogies:

“Such internal debates permeate our culture. Is it O.K. to dance to a Michael Jackson song, to laugh to a Louis C.K. joke, to watch a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein? To cheer for football knowing what it may be doing to players’ brains?”

Let’s see: wrong, wrong,wrong, and…right.  1 for 4.

A Michael Jackson song isn’t corrupt, or unethical: it’s art. He’s dead: dancing to the song does not enable the misconduct. A joke is a joke regardless of who tells it, and again, laughing at a C.K. joke doesn’t make it more or less likely that he’s going to masturbate in front of a female colleague. Workplace misconduct doesn’t taint the work product, and nobody has claimed that movies themselves are culturally corrupting, or that Weinstein’s films harmed the actors in them.  Cheering for football is a legitimate comparison, because the sport itself is the problem, just like college basketball itself is the problem.

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