Before I had kids and while my son was young, I loved listening to Dr. Laura because I enjoyed contemplating the moral issues that her show brought up. It was good exercise for my mommy-brain. When my son became old enough to understand, a part of me thought that it would be good to keep listening so that we'd have an opportunity to discuss these things. But then I realized, no child needs to be exposed to these issues constantly, or to come to think that the type of behavior and thinking that she confronts every day is normal.
I do however listen to and watch ESPN with my kids. I am a baseball nut (Go Dodgers!) and the sports world is a microcosm of what is going on in our culture so I find that it provides a venue for showing my kids what is good in our society with easy examples of faith, bravery, selflessness, teamwork, cheerfulness (doesn't Nomar have a great smile? He is ALWAYS smiling), patriotism, and working to help those who are less fortunate. And it also provides plenty of examples for the opposite of these traits, too.
For example, on March 13th of 2006, a party occurred in Durham, North Carolina, where the majority of the Duke Lacrosse team attended. Alcohol was present in abundance, and an exotic dancer was called to perform. This exotic dancer accused three of the players of sexually assaulting her. Charges were filed and accusations were made regarding racial motivation, a coach was fired, and a season was ended. The next whole year showed an alarming lack of reliable evidence which will probably result in the disbarment of the district attorney, if not worse (When this case was in its prime, I didn't listen to this with my children, and I fully appreciated Mike Greenberg's warning that the story would not be suitable for children's ears).
The night before last, while being up way too late, I saw an update on the Duke Lacrosse Team. Under this unjust persecution, the players banded together and became stronger. This year, they chose a motto for their team that they wore on the left sleeve of their uniforms. "Succisa Virescit." One of the accused had tattooed it on his left shoulder blade after he was charged. It was the motto of the Delbarton School, the college preparatory academy that he and several other Duke LaCrosse players had attended.
Succisa Virescit means "Cut them down, and they will become stronger." Overall, a cool slogan, bringing to mind Obi Wan Kenobi's last words before Darth Vader ran his light saber through him...."Strike me down, and I will become stronger than you can ever imagine." (thanks to Pr. Peperkorn for confirming that memory for me).
I can't help but wonder, what kind of strength are we talking about, though? The boys were falsely accused, but if these boys (and I hesitate to call them men) were taking their girlfriends out to the movies instead of drinking heavily and partying with a strung out stripper, I doubt they would've found themselves in a situation where they were in jail, on national news, persecuted by their fellow college students, and unable to play. In fact, this team had already had games suspended by Duke University twice for illegal alcohol consumption, and a full one third of the DukeLaCrosse team had been charged with alcohol-related crimes in the past three years.
I have a stump outside my garage that was never killed. Every year, grapevine-like tendrils emerge from it and wrap themselves with an alarming tightness around the branches of the bushes that are welcome there. This year, I cut those branches back to the stump, but they have returned, thicker and lusher, to do the same thing. Even weeds come back stronger if you cut them down and do not remove the roots.
The Delbarton School from which these boys come is a Benedictine School, and I am assuming that the original meaning of the motto "Cut them down and they will grow back stronger" relates to cutting away a boy's weaknesses (weak branches), and he will become a strong, upright man. In cases such as these, good growth can only happen with repentance. Is the growth that they've shown a defiant stand against the world or is it sparked by a realization that the lifestyle they were leading invited this kind of trouble and was the very thing that cut them down? Well, at any rate, the fact that they've overcome whichever trials they perceive to be the problem and are playing for the college championship seems to be enough for ESPN to use them as examples of strength and determination. And in the end, that's what's important, right?
I haven't been out of college 15 years, and I remember a time when many schools such as Duke would've thrown these boys out, regardless of criminal charges, on the basis that students who have been given the privilege of wearing their uniform and representing their school have a responsibility to remember that they are a reflection of their school, even when they are not wearing those uniforms. Aside from the athletics issue, many colleges would've been loathe to hand a diploma with their name on it to students who showed such lack of character. But the age is different now. There is an increasing view that the purpose of college is for the experience of unsupervised hedonism without consequences, not to gain maturity and a strong education that will prepare for future life.
This past March, Pokey Chapman, the Women's basketball coach at LSU was forced to resign because it had been revealed she had engaged in an affair with one of her players. Media shied away from a true coverage of it, afraid to be accused of seeking sensation because of the "lesbian thing." I heard it rationalized again and again how it is a reality for professors and coaches to sleep with students. So instead, ESPN radio announcers took the approach of just saying why it shouldn't be a hot issue...they actually talked about it for two days, mostly from the position of saying "it is wrong to give this attention because if it does, the only reason would be because the coach is African-American and because it was a lesbian affair." It apparently wasn't enough to show how this coach had led her team to the NCAA Tournament, only to jeopardize their chances with her unethical behavior; that LSU acted rightly in insisting on her resignation immediately, and then glorying in the the LSU women's team and their replacement coach who then played with excitement and determination right into the Final Four.
As a citizen, I am appalled that members of the media were not fighting each other to get to the microphone to be the first to proclaim that even if it happens elsewhere, it is WRONG. It goes against any standard of professional ethical behavior in this country and if it is occurring in other colleges besides LSU (which I don't doubt), it should be more stringently enforced. Instead, I hear more of a chronic complacency, accusing LSU of overreacting merely because other professors and coaches get away with it. No! It is ethically wrong for someone in authority over someone else to engage in romantic and/or sexual behavior with someone who is dependent on them for their well-being. It is wrong for a doctor to sleep with a patient, it is wrong for a psychologist or a lawyer to date a client, it is wrong for a judge to go on a date with a defendant (or a plaintiff, or their attorneys), it is wrong for a senator to sleep with a lobbyist. IT IS WRONG. And anyone caught in such behavior should be fired, and you would hope that the accused would be too ashamed to sue for the value of her remaining contract! Well, you would hope.
LSU should be held up as a shining example for doing what is right in protecting their students, and other colleges should be villified for not doing likewise.
I spoke as a citizen, now I'll speak as a parent. I have a message for these universities and colleges. I will not pay to send my children to places where their welfare is not treasured. I will not send my children to places where there are co-ed dorms because this is the 21st century. I will not send my children to a school with a reputation for being a party school. I send my children to college to increase their knowledge and prepare them for the world, but I will not send them to a place where it is considered acceptable for the faculty to sexually prey on them, or for other students to as well. When morality is thrown aside in the name of "college students are just trying to have fun," campuses cease to become safe places to be, because immoral, unrestrained children do not have a problem with having that fun at the expense of others. True education glorifies truth, goodness, beauty, justice, liberty, and equality -- not hedonism and personal irresponsibility. If they cannot get that type of education at your institution, then they can learn it themselves from the Great Works and acquire career skills elsewhere. I will not sacrifice their souls to you.
So you see, sports provides just as much of an environment for discussing and contemplating these things....but I'll limit the discussions with my children to the complications of free agency and whether or not Barry Bonds should pass Hank Aaron....at least while they are ten and four.