COMMENTARY 767.1: A Coach’s Dilemma

A high school football coach wrote to tell me his team was going to the state finals, but he was troubled. An English teacher had caught three of his players cheating on an exam they had to pass to remain eligible. He told the coach he had passed them anyway, “for the good of the school.”

The coach realized if his players had not really passed the test, they were ineligible and, according to league rules, all games in which they had played must be forfeited, and his team must be disqualified from the finals.

The coach asked me, “What good would it do to report the ineligibility?” The players who committed the act would be devastated, and the ones who didn’t would be unfairly denied their shot at the championship. Parents, players, and others would be furious. The English teacher would get in big-time trouble, and he, the coach, might lose his job. “Wouldn’t the greater good be accomplished if I just kept quiet?” he asked.

Of course not. Although it would take great moral courage to do the right thing – play by the rules and let the chips fall where they may – I told him that’s precisely what he should do.

There were many stakeholders involved (people who would be affected by the decision), and the coach was duty-bound to use his teaching platform to send an unequivocal positive message about honor and integrity. Failing to do so would deprive another team of its right to go to the finals. Looking the other way would undermine his credibility.

It’s a high price to pay, but as the years go by, the decision to pursue the path of honor will be an enduring gift to his players and community.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Please check out Michael’s other inspiring posts about sports:
Coach Wooden’s Greatest Legacy — Undying Love
Coach Wooden the Philosopher
Michael Josephson Interviews Coach Wooden

Comments 6

  1. Trustworthiness (Don’t cheat or steal), Respect (Do Unto Others…), Responsibility (Do what you are supposed to do), Fairness (Play by the rules), Citizenship (Obey laws and rules, do your share to make your school and community better)…Not to mention INTEGRITY – Not a pillar, but the foundation.

    1. John Wooden would have suspended the players. I feel pretty sure that he would have reported the situation to his superiors. But he would have done it with grace, charm and character that he had as a mentor, coach and friend.

  2. Mistake 1 – Players not adequately preparing for the test (responsibility)
    Mistake 2 – Teacher passing them anyway (fairness/integrity/respect/responsiblity/citizenship/integrity)
    Mistake 3 – Coach even considering not suspending them/reporting violation
    (fairness/integrity/respect/responsiblity/citizenship/integrity)

    Why is this even a question?

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