Sports Ethics Minute: Darren Sharper’s Legacy

Darren SharperWhy does a man (or woman) kill a legacy? What are the decisions that lead a person to wipe out everything they played for, everything they stood for and destroy it? While we are asking these questions, why would any sports fan or sports writer suggest that when we consider a player for the HOF that his or her off the field behavior should not be taken into account?

Darren Sharper had a 14 year run with the NFL. The Super Bowl winning, All-Pro safety with the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, became an analyst with the NFL Network. I would presume he had plenty of money in addition to his fame.

He is also an admitted rapist; found guilty of raping nine women in four states: California, Louisiana, Arizona and Nevada. Just on this date (March 21, 2015), new accusations have come to the surface in Florida.

The allegations are all pretty much the same. He socialized with the women (admiring fans or tourists), took them up to his room, drugged them and then raped them.

He has been jailed since February 2014. If convicted on all counts, he could spend a significant portion of the rest of his life behind bars.

It is a tragedy. Any greatness he ever achieved is wiped out by a lack of moral and ethical compass.

Hard not to wonder

There is a very disturbing pattern here. One of the big problems about this case for me, is that while I am kind of willing to accept the fact that all of the sexual assaults occurred after he left the league in 2010, it is very hard for me to convince myself. It is difficult to accept that he awakened one day in 2011 and decided that he would start drugging women and raping them. I wonder (and this is purely my opinion and conjecture), if there are other behaviors that go back many years that were covered up, smoothed over, paid-off, and accepted while he was playing. I would not be shocked if other allegations are brought forward in the future.

I wonder if this was a search for the ultimate power. Was he trying to re-create the heady power of his Super Bowl victory? In drugging the victims, he held absolute authority over women who could not defend themselves. He is a physically intimidating man; even if they had not been drugged he could have overpowered them. Why this?

Was it the thrill of totally dominating another human being? But why? There was nothing to gain and everything to lose.

What is even more of a shock to me as a person who speaks and consults on ethics, are the many online posts I have read defending the decision to have this man considered for the Hall of Fame despite his off the field activities.

Let’s take this completely out of football

OK, you and your girlfriend work in the hi-tech industry and the president of your company will soon be named Innovator of the Year, or some such honor because he has invented a device that has revolutionized computing.

A week before he is to accept the achievement award, a news story breaks that the president was caught on surveillance raping a drugged, female employee. Upon police study of the tape, it turns out that the woman is your girlfriend. In addition, three other employees step forward claiming they believe they have been molested as well.

Would you give him the award? I think we both know the answer to that. Why then, doesn’t the same rule apply to an athlete?

My hunch, and I need to say that it is only a hunch, is that his unethical, off-the-field behavior started as something else a very long time ago. Time and time again, I have learned that the act of committing terrible choices, and the consequences of those bad ethics spin more and more out of control.

What can help to stop the cascading, the spiraling and the bigger and bigger consequences is ongoing ethics training. If nothing else, it levels the playing field and tells those thinking about such behaviors that there are real consequences.

In this case, Darren Sharper’s consequences could well follow him into his 60s, 70s and 80s.


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