No. 372

If you are as concerned as I am about the preferential treatment given to those who participate in athletics in our nation, I have some thoughts to share that may be of interest to you. Let me say up front that I don 't have an ax to grind with any person or any group, but as an American I do not like what I see happening to the moral and ethical values of some of those who manage, coach and play sports. These people are no worse than the rest of us, but they are no better either, and that is the problem.

There is hardly a week that goes by that I do not hear about the 'off the field ' behavior of some athlete, whether it 's driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal drug use or a case of assault and battery. Many are treated as kings, when they should be in jail or at least dismissed from the team.

We used to have a coach in our state that would say, when one of his players got in serious trouble with the law, that he was not going to dismiss him from the team because "He did not want to ruin the young man 's future." Each time he would do this I wanted to say, "Excuse meÉwho 's future?" Each time an incident came up that involved a "Star" player, I always wondered if the coach was not more concerned about his own future than he was the player 's future.

In my opinion, the solution for what we see happening in the lives of many athletes that is setting such a terrible example for the rest of our youth can be seen in the character of a band director in California, who is a friend of mine. At the beginning of the school year he has a printed "Code Of Conduct" that he has each member of the band sign to signify they understand the rules. Just like a football or basketball official, he then enforces the rules.

Some time back he took his band to Europe and a few days into the trip he discovered one of the members smoking. My band director friend promptly bought him a plane ticket and sent him home. A few weeks later, after they returned home, a young lady was caught with a can of Skoal in her backpack and without fanfare he dismissed her from the band. Believe me, it does not take long for the word to get around.

Here is what I am saying. If we want to have better behavior by those who participate in athletics, whether at the high school or college level, those in leadership need to print out a "Code Of Conduct", as to what is and is not acceptable and then enforce it. Don 't think for a minute that I am not willing to give a young man a second chance. He should be sent a clear message that his behavior is unacceptable and be dismissed from the team for a full year. He should then have the opportunity to come back and if his behavior has improved, compete for a position on the team.

For die-hard fans who want to win at all costs, especially those who wager on the games, what I am saying may seem harsh, but when we condone or overlook bad or even criminal behavior, we are not doing society, the team or the individual a favor. In a column several months ago I reported that 21% of all NBA players had a criminal record. I just bet my hat that if you could go back in the lives of each of these players, you would find that all along the way they were given a "Pass" for disrespectful and even violent behavior.

What I hope these thoughts will accomplish at the very least, whether you agree with me or not, is the next time you hear a coach say, "I don 't want to ruin this young man 's future", you will say, "Excuse meÉwho 's future?"Ê In these days we are talking a lot about character and ethics, especially in the corporate world. Let 's teach character and ethics in athletics as well. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)