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November 7, 2003

by Bill Hogan



I learned a long time ago that running with scissors is a no-no. I've tried to pass that little pearl of wisdom on to the next generation. "You'll knock your eye out, kid." It's easy, at my age, to think that not running with scissors is a no-brainer. The lesson should not have to be taught or learned, it's simply common sense.

But when you're dealing with a kindergarten mentality – where it's common to eat glue and stick Play-Doh up your nose – it is always better to err on the side of caution and impress upon the youngster the dangers of jumping off the monkey bars with a sharp object in hand.


It's our job to teach our children how to behave. We show them the difference between right and wrong. We instill in them discipline, respect and morality and they learn how to treat others. Hopefully, we send them out into the world having some idea of how to interact in a civilized society.

Then they go out and get themselves a job as a college basketball coach and everything we've taught them goes out the window. At least it seems that way. Why else would a group of grown men – the National Association of Basketball Coaches - decide it is necessary to congregate for the purpose of adopting a unified code of ethics?

It has always been my understanding that most good and decent people live their lives by an unwritten code of ethics. We, as adults, are aware of the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. A sense of moral obligation is inherent – isn't it?

Usually, people don't need a rule book to tell them when they've crossed the line; or the threat of penalty in order to toe that line. Apparently, the NABC does. A mandatory meeting of its membership convened in Chicago last month in order to rectify a (dirty) laundry list of recent "improprieties."

At the summit, according to a press release posted on ncaa.org, "head coaches agreed to customize a code of ethics, for both players and coaches, to fit their specific program." Have these guys fallen so far off the morality train that they have to collectively "formulate a plan" to get back on track.

And how do you "customize" ethical conduct in the first place? Either you are an ethical person, or you are not. Has it occurred to any of these bastions of higher education that anyone willing to violate current NCAA regulations is equally as prone to ignore any contrived ethical code?

Like the snobby, upper-crust boutique whose motto is "if you need to ask how much, you probably can't afford it", if you have to hammer out a document outlining a code of ethics, you probably have none.

It's hard to believe that coaches who have reached the highest level of their profession - and have assumed accountability for the proper care and well-being of our children - need to refer to an arbitrary handbook to determine what is right and what is wrong.

Grown men – responsible for teaching, mentoring and counseling young student-athletes – need to be taught all over again that you don't run with scissors. Following the Chicago summit, I believe the coaches were scheduled to attend a symposium on the dangers of sticking a sharpened pencil in your ear after which there would be a brief seminar on why it isn't nice to make fun of people who stutter.

I never have figured out why it was necessary to enact a federal seatbelt law. It always seemed to me that buckling up just made good sense. Same goes for motorcycle helmet laws – safety first. By the same token, good character and principled behavior shouldn't require an instruction manual – it should be second nature for someone in a position of authority.

The next time a coach finds himself in the basement of a frat house with a six-pack tucked under his arm or sitting with a recruit with the keys to a brand new Hummer H2 in his pocket, a formal Code of Ethics might come in handy. Or he could take a lesson from filmmaker and basketball fan Spike Lee and simply Do the Right Thing.

I tried mightily to inject some classic Hogan's Alley humor into this week's feature but the only thing I could come up with is that the NABC is drafting a Code of Ethics; that's the joke – and the punch line.


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