Who Gives a Rip about Good Choices?

Tired AthleteA man whose opinions I greatly admire, was having a conversation with me over dinner just the other evening.

“Chuck,” he said, “why should any decent professional athlete care about making good ethical choices? No matter what they do, they always make it back to the playing field.”

I could have answered his statement with a “yes,” “no,” or even a “maybe.” Instead, let’s first talk about several news stories over the past few days.

Yesterday in Palestine, Texas was Adrian Peterson Day. Residents held up banners saying things like: “We’ve got your back.” There were two stories about Hope Solo; one story was about the U.S. Soccer response to a state senator and another was about Solo’s husband claiming that the media was on a “witch hunt.” Brittney Griner made the news again as an example of violence in the LGBT community, and Ray Rice, who is still out of work was defended by another player who felt that while Rice committed a very bad error in judgment, he should be given a second chance. Pro- or con, what these stories indicated was that “hot-button stories” never quite go away.

Common threads

Do the four situations have a common thread? Taken on their surface, they all involve domestic violence of some kind. I would suspect that two or even three of them involved alcohol. One case involved alleged child abuse while another case was a same-sex dispute. One case involved resisting arrest. All four cases involved professional athletes, both female and male and in three different sports. However, none of those threads are the truly common element.

The common element were extremely poor choices leading to bad consequences. Let’s examine the consequences a little further.

Adrian Peterson still finds himself in a strange kind of limbo with the Vikings. He doesn’t like them and they have dug in their heels; looks like he has two choices – play for your old team or get a job selling shoes in a mall with Al Bundy. Hope Solo has not been able to shake off her domestic violence incident; though her world cup teammates deny it, she seems to have been a distraction. Brittney Griner was been suspended for seven games and her violence seems to have carried over into larger social issues. She is missing a huge chunk of her season. As for Ray Rice, he is still out of football and may never come back.

All four athletes, almost are guaranteed to lose endorsement dollars, appearance fees and other opportunities going into the future. The problem is that they have become “wealthy” by playing a sport; a sport that they may not be allowed to play the way they once did.

Another problem that all four athletes face is an enemy that cannot be defeated: time. The lifespan of a professional athlete is very short. The time wasted by going through these ordeals eats away at reflexes, speed, strength and focus. When performance begins to decline, the game is over. You’d better believe there are other running backs, soccer goalies and basketball players waiting their turn.

Finally, there is the matter of “attitude.” The teams that each of these players represents have been subjected to attitudes from the players and/or their representatives. Despite the warm and fuzzy concept of “team,” closing around these players and shielding them, each of these players could potentially turn into more of a liability than a contributor. In other words, they could be seen as not worth the effort.

“Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe”

Yes, they will sometimes make it back to the playing field but their suspected ethical blunders will keep following them for the rest of their careers. I’ll throw out a few names without any comment and you tell me: Michael Vick, Tonya Harding, Pete Rose, Ray Lewis, and Ryan Leaf.

No, they don’t always make it back to the field of play or their ethical foul-up’s made the return impossible. Boris Becker, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Marion Jones come to mind. There are so many more who thought the rules didn’t apply to them.

The “Maybe’s” of the sports world are those who made bad ethical judgments and may or may not ever return to who they once were; Ray Rice is a prime example, but so is Tiger Woods and many others.

In my personal confidential consulting to professional and collegiate athletes, coaches and executives or when I conduct seminars in front of teams or associations on making good ethical choices, I base my talks on real life. I have more than 20 years’ experience in helping people understand where bad choices will lead them. I promise, I don’t put people to sleep!

No, they do not always make it back to where they were; yes, their bad choices will always follow them, and the maybe, well maybe if they had someone working with them, maybe none of it would ever had happened.

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Chuck Gallagher
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