Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/19/18: Unethical Wedding Gifts, The Fairness Conundrum, What Really Makes Students Unsafe, And More

Good Morning!

1 A Not Exactly Hypothetical… A family member is getting married, and the social justice warrior spouse has decreed that no gifts should be sent, just contributions in the happy couples’ name to designated charities and causes, all political, partisan, and ideological. Does this obligate guests to give money to causes and organizations they object to or disagree with? One might be tempted to teach a life-lesson in abuse of power, and pointedly give a contribution to, say, The Family Research Counsel, the NRA, or Paul Ryan’s re-election campaign, but that would be wrong. Wouldn’t it?

2. “Progressive fines” poll update. The percentage of readers who regard so-called “progressive fines” as fairer than fining all law violators the same amount regardless of resources is about 6%, in contracts to 40% who think this is less fair. As I suspected, the schism is driven by the long-standing (and resolvable) arguments over what constitutes “fair” government policies, and whether it is the government’s job to try to make life less unfair. Is it “fair” to treat everyone the same, when we know that life doesn’t treat everyone the same? Are those who argue that life’s unfairness should be addressed by individuals, not society, taking that position because they are winners in life’s chaotic lottery? Can society and governments be trusted to address “unfairness” and inequality without being influenced by the conflicts and biases of the human beings making and carrying out laws and policies. I don’t generally care to spend a lot of Ethics Alarms time or space on abstract ethics questions, but some of them can’t be avoided. You can take the poll, if you haven’t already, here.

3. On the topic of fairness, here is a study that will make you bang your head against the wall: Following on the heels of this discouraging study I posted about on March 3 is this report by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, as described here by the New York Times. A taste sufficient to ruin your day: Continue reading

From The “Grandstanding Ingratitude” Files…Ethics Dunce: Boston Red Sox Owner John Henry

Ah, Ethics Alarms heaven! The statue-toppling mania issue has collided with the Boston Red Sox, just two days after my pilgrimage to Fenway Park!

ESPN reported yesterday that Red Sox owner John Henry wants Boston to change the name of  the street that borders the legendary park, Yawkey Way, and he is trying to exploit the   current political correctness mania that has cities pulling down statues of war heroes in the dead of night to accomplish his goal.

That’s my characterization, of course, not ESPN’s.

Henry told the Boston Herald that he is “haunted” by the racist legacy of previous owner Tom Yawkey, who led the team from 1933 to 1976. Because he is haunted, he thinks that it is fair and right that the man who beyond question saved the team, ran it as a Boston institution and public utility, and is as responsible as anyone for the fact that Henry owns one of the prestige franchises in all of sports, should be dishonored and shunned because he wasn’t enlightened about civil rights long before Martin Luther King began marching.

Such disgraceful moral grandstanding and self-righteous ingratitude is seldom seen. But I guess if anyone should be able to grandstand, its someone who owns a baseball park.

For those who mock the idea that the desecration of Robert E. Lee’s statues leads directly to George Washington, now hear this; for the Boston Red Sox, Tom Yawkey is George Washington.

The only owner any one remembered before Tom Yawkee bought the team was Harry Frazee, consigned to Beantown Hell for selling Babe Ruth (and many other stars) to the New York Yankees in 1919. From that moment on, the team was a perennial loser, often in last place, while New York won pennant after pennant and sneered at its proud rival on the Bay. In 1933,

Tom Yawkey , a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast, bought the team and poured money and love into it, buying other team’s stars (Left Grove, Joe Cronin, Jimmy Foxx) and turning the team into worthy challenger to the Yankees.  From the beginning, Yawkey paid no  attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a champion out of the franchise, or as he put it, “to bring a championship back to the fans of Boston.” This was during a period when teams had permanent control over player contracts, and most owners used that leverage to pay players pathetic wages. Not Tom Yawkee. He was criticized for over-paying players–hilarious now, when we’re talking about his paying a utility infielder $15,000 when others of his ilk were making just $8,000, and current utility players make a couple million dollars a season. Sportswriters in Boston called the Red Sox a country club, and blamed Yawkee for “falling in love with his players.” In 1960, Ted Williams had to ask Yawkey to cut his salary, because he felt embarrassed after a bad year, his only one.

Was Yawkey a racist? He was born in 1903, and grew up during the Wilson Administration, when Jim Crow really took of. Sure he was a racist, along with about 95% of the whites in the nation.  Continue reading

Tom Yawkey, J. Edgar Hoover, Political Correctness and Gratitude

Yawkey TributeIt’s not often that I am called upon to rebut a web post that relies on one of my articles for its unethical conclusions, but that is the position that Ron Chimelis has placed me in with his recent essay, Why the Boston Red Sox should rename Yawkey Way.

To catch you up quickly: Tom Yawkey was a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast who owned the Boston Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, making him the longest-tenured team owner in the sport’s history. Yawkey was almost certainly a racist; if he was not a racist, his team’s policies certainly were for many years. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and blacks did not have a significant place on the team’s roster until the late 1960s, two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. From the beginning, Yawkey ran the Red Sox as a public utility, paying little attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a winner out of the franchise that had been a perennial loser since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. After his death, Yawkey’s wife Jean continued the family tradition, running the Red Sox, except for a few years, until her own death in 1992.

When Tom Yawkey died, the City of Boston re-named Jersey Street, which runs past the entry to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, Yawkey Way in his honor.

In the unerring clarity of hindsight bias, Chimelis argues that Tom Yawkey is undeserving of any recognition by the city that he devoted much of his life to representing, enhancing, serving, inspiring and entertaining because racism is the ultimate crime, and anyone possessing that vile state of mind should be consigned to shame forever. It is a common point of view, and an unfair one. Continue reading