Ethics Musings Sparked By The Passing Of Ken Beatrice, D.C. Sports Talk Legend


If you did not live in the D.C. area in the Eighties, you probably never heard of Ken Beatrice, who just died in a hospice at the age of 72. There was a time when Beatrice was the radio sports authority in pro football crazy Washington D.C., and star of the most popular and talked about call-in show of any kind on the local radio. He deserved his popularity, for Beatrice was smart, hard-working, knowledgeable, professional, and nice. His career, its rise and fall, was also a hard ethics lesson, for anyone paying attention, on why it is that good people do unethical things that hurt themselves more than anyone else.

Beatrice’s acclaim arose out of his astounding knowledge of football at all levels, from the pros to high school. I’ve never cared about football, but I listened to Ken’s show just because he was amazing. From his Washington Post obituary:

“His knowledge of pro football players, current and potential, was nonpareil. Call in to ask about the third-string quarterback at a second-tier college, and Mr. Beatrice could tell you the player’s height, weight and 40-yard dash time.He was so attentive to the game, a sportscaster once told The Washington Post, that he was able to recite a team’s depth chart off the top of his head, naming both the starters and the second- and third-stringers who would eventually replace them.”

This doesn’t even do Beatrice justice: you had to hear him. It was like a Las Vegas magic act. A caller would say, “I graduated from Madison High in Rexburg, Idaho, and I hear they have a running back on the football team that may have pro potential…I can’t think of his name..” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Tony Kornheiser


No pardon for you, Tony...

No pardon for you, Tony…

Tony Kornheiser is a sportswriter and humorist as well as a television and radio personality. I’ve been reading, watching and occasionally laughing at him since I moved to D.C. eons ago, when he was a Washington Post columnist. This post has nothing to do with sports, however, though the issue arose in a sports context. It has to do with the depressing fact that Tony’s mode of ethical analysis is still based on consequentialism and an ignorance of moral luck, and that he is, despite being an educated, erudite and clever man, typical of the public in this respect.

It is depressing, and thus I say, “Ugh.”

For the second time in two days,  the ten minutes I had time to watch TV randomly brought me to a discussion of umpire Marty Foster’s botched third strike call to end a close game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. Tony was arguing with Michael Wilbon on their hit ESPN show, “Pardon the Interruption.” [ Aside: And why did my channel surfing pause there? Because the project that has eaten my life the last couple weeks requires me to mention, in a speech, the HBO Larry David show “Curb Your Enthusiasm, ” and I keep wanting to say “Pardon the Interruption.” I blew it again last night, so naturally, the first thing I see this morning is the show I’m trying to purge from my brain.] They were debating whether Foster should be disciplined for his bad call, an idiotic issue, since the answer is “Of course not; are you nuts?” Umpires make hundreds of judgment calls every game, and mistakes are inevitable. As I wrote yesterday, Foster’s handling of this botched call was exemplary, because he admitted that he had erred. Punishing him or any umpire who misses a visual call would be unfair and destructive; such punishment could only be valid in the case of actual misconduct or negligence, as in the case of an umpire ignoring or not knowing the rules. Continue reading

Misrepresentation, Manipulation and Lies About Arizona, E-Mails and More, Brought to Us By Those We Trust

Within a span of about three minutes two days ago, I heard Tony Kornheiser on his sports radio show and Joy Behar on her whatever-the-heck-it-is cable show describe the new illegal immigration statute in Arizona in almost exactly the same words: “So the police can go up to anybody for any reason at all, ask them to prove their citizenship, and arrest them if they can’t.” Now, the law specifies “reasonable suspicion,” so whatever the Arizona law permits, Tony and Joy’s version is clearly not it. Nonetheless, this is what a large proportion of the public believes, because this is what they are being told by reporters, bloggers and elected officials…and, disgracefully, the President of the United States, who once pledged to use his gifts and power to unite rather than divide us. Speaking about the Arizona law, Obama said.. Continue reading


There is apparently is little that a politician can do today that is so uncivil, embarrassing or undignified that partisans won’t cheer it, and that fundraisers and marketers unencumbered by things such as values, responsibility, and shame won’t try to use to raise money. Call the President a liar during his State of the Union Address? Fundraising gold!  Shout “Baby killer!” on the floor of the House? Great!! Use it to get those checks flowing!

Now, not to be outdone by the shameless venality of the GOP, Democrats are using Joe Biden’s resort to gutter-speech, to the President, during a formal ceremony, on national television, as part of a new fundraising pitch.  CNN reports that Democrat donors who give at least $25 to the cause will receive “a limited edition ‘Health Reform is a BFD’ T-shirt in a super-soft, fine jersey (men’s) or baby rib (women’s) cotton fabric,” according to a new fundraising page posted on the website of Organizing For America, the White House political group housed in the National Democratic Committee. Continue reading

The Dishonest or Cowardly Joke Excuse

An enthusiastic commenter to the post on Tony Kornheiser’s suspension by ESPN bases his defense of the suspended sports commentator on what I call “the joke excuse”: poor Tony was only joking when he insulted colleague Hannah Storm on his syndicated radio show, and that should insulate him from any negative consequences because humor is subjective, and we don’t want people without senses of humor snuffing out laughter in the world.

As anyone who actually has read the contents of this blog (the commenter in question has clearly not), I tend to be in general sympathy with the concept of giving humor free reign. The problem with its application here is that I see no evidence that Kornheiser was joking. His words:

“Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She’s got on red go-go boots and a catholic school plaid skirt … way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now. She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt.She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body … I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t … but Hannah Storm … come on now! Stop! What are you doing?”

I’ll pause a second so you can catch your breath from uncontrollable laughter at Tony’s wit, deft use of irony. brilliant wordplay and creative absurdity. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: ESPN

It almost brings a tear to the eye to see a media giant take a stand for the values of loyalty, civility, and respect, even when it means slapping down one of its stars. That’s what cable sports network ESPN has done in response to Tony Kornheiser using his radio show to insult the dress and appearance of Espy colleague Hannah Storm for cheap laughs. The network suspended its co-star of the popular “Pardon This Inturruption” for two weeks, saying, Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Tony Kornheiser

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad “Ochocinco” is a talented professional football player whose specialty is self-promotion and media buzz. (His silly name change to reflect his uniform number is an example: his real name is the unspectacular “Chad Johnson.”) Several of his stunts have gotten him fined by the NFL, but he has received generally good reviews for his latest: a “Lambeau Leap” into the hometown Green Bay Packers crowd following a touchdown.

Ochocinco vowed to score a TD and then make a “Lambeau Leap” into the Green Bay crowd when the Bengals played the Packers. (The “Lambeau Leap” is a traditional celebratory maneuver reserved to Packer players, as Green Bay fans are not inclined to be hospitable to opposing team players invading their domain.) Johnson did make a touchdown, and did leap into the arms of fans in the end zone, some of whom appeared to be Bengal fans. It was an immediate sports show highlight. A few days later, the truth came out: Ochocinco had planted four fans for the purpose, buying them tickets and having them ready to catch him. The whole thing was a set up.

But Tony Kornheiser, the former Washington Post humor writer turned cuddly sports commentator on ESPN’s breezy show,“Pardon the Interruption,” pronounced the stunt “cool.”

No, it’s not cool. Athletes staging “moments” in games using paid confederates undermine the integrity of sports. There are people—my own father is one of them—who have reached the point of cynicism where he believes most, and maybe all, sports are like professional wrestling, staged for television and gullible fans. The fake “Lambeau Leap” reinforces his conviction, and makes even more trusting fans wonder, “What else is staged?” For his own publicity and fame (and the resulting increase in his value for endorsements), Chad Ochocinco took all of professional sports a little further down the road away from athletic integrity toward ersatz drama. And the reaction of Tony Kornheiser (not just Tony, to be fair; call this “selective ethics prosecution”) was that it was “cool.”

Fake masquerading as genuine and spontaneous is never “cool.” It is always unethical. In sports, fake threatens to permanently reduce the thrill and enjoyment of sports for everybody, by making fans wonder whether the amazing moment they saw was real.

People like Tony Kornheiser, who are paid to help us enjoy sports, should at least understand that.