COMMENTARY 751.2: What Is Character?

Here’s a riddle: You can hardly ever find it anymore — especially in politics or business. Lots of schools don’t teach it anymore. We want more of it in our children and in all the adults who interact with them. We want it from our bosses and the people who fix our cars. And most of us believe we have …

COMMENTARY: “Say it Ain’t So, Joe” 748.4

“Say it ain’t so, Joe” These words, directed at Shoeless Joe Jackson as he emerged from a courthouse where he and seven other White Sox players were accused of taking bribes to manipulate games, expressed the profound sense of betrayal and disappointment suffered when an idol falls from grace.  Though Jackson, one of the finest players of his era, claimed …

COMMENTARY: Save the World, Daddy 746.3

Just before leaving for Nigeria I called my daughter Samara, a college freshman at NYU, to say good bye. After a short but pleasant conversation she closed with: “Save the world, daddy. I love you.” I suspect her remark was affectionate teasing, implying that her nearly 69 year old father is a sort of Don Quixote, jousting with wind mills …

Kids Like To Win; Adults Need To Win 741.1

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you have to acknowledge the powerful cultural influence that sports have on our culture. The values of millions of participants and spectators are shaped by the values conveyed in sports, including our views of what is permissible and proper in the competitive pursuit of personal goals. Professional sports and even highly competitive intercollegiate …

A Grateful Goodbye to KNX Radio

Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” So I’ve mustered my best smile to inform you I was recently given notice by KNX that they will discontinue running my radio commentaries as of October 17. Whatever business or programmatic reasons led to the decision, I want to express sincere and unequivocal gratitude to CBS and …

Our Great Adventure 738.1

This commentary was supposed to be Part Two of a list of principles I prepared for my daughter, who is going off to college. But events have made two of these principles particularly pertinent: When everything seems to be going wrong, take notes because your worst days often become your best memories. The difference between a colossal inconvenience and great …

Learning Humanity in the Context of Competition 737.2

Competition often brings out the best performance but it doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Even in the arts, actors, singers, dancers, and musicians must survive and thrive in a competitive community as rude and rough as any. Ambitious parents often introduce toxic gamesmanship and back-biting attitudes very early as their children are judged and ranked by the …

What I Want My Daughter to Get Out of Sports 736.5

Several years ago, when my daughter Carissa was about to enter her first gymnastics competition, I wrote her a letter expressing my hopes and goals for her athletic experience. Here’s a revised version: My dearest Carissa, I know you’ve worked hard to prepare yourself to compete, and I know how much you want to win. That’s a good goal. You …

Coach Wooden the Philosopher 734.3

According to Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher is a person who seeks to understand and solve the most serious problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. A true philosopher, Thoreau added, is so committed to wisdom that he seeks to live wisely and so lives a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. By this definition, John Wooden, my …

Even Our Schools Are Cheating 731.3

Most Americans condemn cheating in sports, business, and marriage, yet our culture is pervaded by cheating. Premier athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, cheating in business ravages our economy, and the media regularly exposes infidelity by prominent personalities and politicians. But it gets worse. Atlanta’s public school system, which won national recognition and millions of dollars of awards for apparent improvements in …

The Struggle Between Wants and Shoulds 731.2

As a full-time ethicist – can you believe there is such a thing? – I spend most of my time talking about right and wrong with parents and politicians, kids and corporate managers, journalists and generals. One thing I’ve learned is that ethics – being a good person and doing the right thing – is easier said than done. Ethics, …

Casey and O.J. 730.4

As a former law professor specializing in teaching trial practice, I watched hours and hours of the Casey Anthony murder trial with a keen professional eye. I thought Ms. Anthony’s lead attorney Jose Baez made some terrible decisions, including an opening statement proposing a totally unbelievable theory designed to excuse his client’s mountain of lies and explain how her two-year-old’s …

Go for It! 730.3

I recently attended the USAIGC National Girls Gymnastics Championships to see my daughter Carissa compete. It was nerve-racking on several levels. Though my wife owns and operates a highly successful gymnastics academy (JAG Gym in Culver City), and I am very familiar with every aspect of the sport, it’s hard not to worry about the possibility of injury on every …

Redemption, Hubris, and Schadenfreude 727.2

Who would have thought the victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals would call into play a bunch of ten-dollar words like aficionado, redemption, hubris, and schadenfreude? Sports fans are aficionados, people with great knowledge and enthusiasm for an activity. But the fact that the term fan is derived from the word fanatic tells …

The Bodyguard of Lies 726.3

“Follow me around. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead.” This bold challenge by presidential candidate Gary Hart in 1987, bulwarking his denial that he was having an extramarital affair, started a new era in media ethics. Henceforth, sexual conduct and cover-up lies by politicians became fair game for the mainstream media because it …

Our Last Worst Act 725.4

I’m going to mention a few names and I want you to think of the first thing that comes to your mind with each: Tiger Woods, Lindsay Lohan, John Edwards, Kenneth Lay, Britney Spears, Andrew Bynum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Tressel. Each person behind the name won fame in sports, business, politics, or music because of some extraordinary talents and achievements, …

The Pressure to Win in Sports and Business 724.1

A former successful college coach and athletic director once wrote me a note about the state of college sports. The pressure to win in high-profile schools is so great, he said, that it’s almost impossible to resist rationalizing. When competitors cheat or engage in other unethical conduct, the tendency is to redefine the ground rules for competition rather than be …

Mataya’s Coming of Age 719.2

This weekend family and friends gathered to witness our daughter Mataya’s bat mitzvah*, the symbolic transition from childhood to adulthood. It was our fourth bat mitzvah in five years, and frankly, we’re glad we’re done. Anne and I make them major productions. Anne has the hard part. She plans a party equal to a significant wedding and personally creates a …

The Doctrine of Relative Filth 716.1

In the early ’90s I was asked to spend a full day talking about ethics with the entire California Senate. I was their punishment. Three senators had been convicted the previous year, and voters had passed an ethics initiative requiring legislators to receive education on ethical principles. This was a high-profile, high-prestige program, and I didn’t want to be naïve …

If You Love Competition, You Never Lose 715.5

Suppose you’re an Olympic athlete and you hear that the only person who has a chance to beat you is ill and may have to withdraw. Are you overjoyed at your good luck or disappointed that you will not be able to compete against the very best? If you really love and understand sports, you ought to be disappointed. John …

Maybe Pro Athletes Really Aren’t Jerks 714.5

I never heard of Kim Hughes until I was sent a link to a story written in newspaper from Racine, Wisconsin. What I learned was that Hughes, a 6-foot-11 giant of a man, was half of a set of identical twins who played basketball for the University of Wisconsin. He was also an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers …

A Story Fit for a Legend 712.2

The UCLA Bruin basketball team was thumping the Arizona Wildcats by 20 points with about one minute left, so Coach Ben Howland put in all his bench players, including stocky, six-foot guard Tyler Trapani. Tyler, a junior, is a “walk-on,” which means he wasn’t recruited and does not have a scholarship. He’s been on the team for three years and …