Archived Story

Ethics matter, even in sports

Published 3:59pm Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ethics matter.

I know it’s difficult for many of you to believe this statement is actually true, bearing in mind the world we find ourselves living in these days. After all, it would seem that ethical behavior is something that belongs to some mythical past, especially considering the news we hear every day about the sordid exploits of famous people ranging from preachers to athletes.

Nevertheless, ethics do matter.

Consider the recent behavior of former Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino. As most of you know by now, Petrino, who recently had a motorcycle accident while riding in the Ozarks, had to admit he was having an extra-marital affair with one of his employees when it was revealed his mistress was involved in the accident.

Making matters even worse, he lied about her involvement to the media, his boss and the entire state of Arkansas by claiming he was alone. Simply put, he lied to just about everyone in order to save his job and cover up the affair.

Once his lie was exposed, however, Arkansas’ athletic director Jeff Long had to make a tough decision. Petrino, you see, was a successful coach and many Arkansas fans didn’t want to see him go. To them, ethical behavior was important but merely a secondary concern, certainly not as important as winning football games.

I remember not too long ago Alabama faced a similar situation – twice.

The first time involved Mike Dubose, who apparently had an affair with his secretary. Once the sordid details appeared in public, the university made the decision to keep Dubose as its football coach.

Big mistake.

At first, the decision seemed right when the coach reeled off 10 wins on the way to an SEC championship in 1999. The following year, however, witnessed a series of disasters on and off the football field. A losing season, recruiting violations and looming NCAA probation ended Dubose’s time at the Capstone. He resigned in disgrace shortly after the 2000 season.

The second time involved Mike Price, who made an infamous visit to a Florida strip club that ended in embarrassment for the university.

At the time, I remember many Alabama fans arguing to keep Price. After all, his termination would occur in May and leave very little time to hire a coach before the new season started in September.

Nevertheless, the administration fired Price and hired Mike Shula, who was not a great coach, but turned out to be a good steward for the program.

As you can see, the administration at Alabama approached these two situations very differently. With Dubose, they chose winning over ethics and suffered the consequences. With Price, they chose ethics over winning, and have since reaped the benefits with a resurgent program under Nick Saban.

To me, ignoring the short-term consequences that would befall the program and moving forward with firing Price for ethical reasons was a turning point for Alabama. Though it took a few years, the bleeding eventually stopped, allowing the program to finally heal itself.

Arkansas’ administration faced a similar set of circumstances with Petrino and made the right decision by ignoring calls to retain him. They most certainly will face some short-term problems, but the future looks bright.

After all, ethics do matter in this world. Just ask Alabama.

Roger Steele is general manager and advertising director of The Outlook.