“The law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. Its history is the history of the moral development of the race. The practice of it, in spite of popular jests, tends to make good citizens and good men.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes
News today is that Mark Emmert, NCAA President, has issued a “Letter of Inquiry” to Penn State. This is much more than it appears to be, and requires that we all pause, to recognize the substantial, moral act we’re seeing (partially) unfold here. Emmert, with this one act, has seized — and established anew — the moral authority which ought derive from, and inhere in, his position as head of the NCAA.
It’s not unfair to look at parallels. Bud Selig, Head of Major League Baseballl, was seen as an ineffectual figurehead when he first took “office”; however, in the intervening years, he has expanded the reach and strength of his authority, so that it now has roots which all would admit have some intangible, hard-to-define basis. Kenesaw Landis, Commissioner of Major League Baseball back in 1919, was one of the first leaders of “sport as a business” who based his authority and actions (particularly after the Black Sox scandal) on the nebulous — but fundamental — concept of “The Good of the Game.” The NCAA Bylaws have some basis for this airy “Good of the Game” standard, so heavily drenched as they are with high-minded language about the primacy of protecting the “welfare” of the student-athlete. But in this modern era the enforcement actions of the NCAA have typically had little, if anything, to do with moral precepts, and more to do with the perceived (but silly) need to protect profits and to prevent gifted athletes from being paid their market value.
The Good of the Game. That’s not always a moral standard — but it can be. And what we’re seeing now is Mark Emmert recognizing somewhere within himself that “Little Voice Inside” which Jim Tressel — of all people — trotted out as a Moral Governor at that March 8 OSU massacre of a press conference. That Little Voice Inside. The Good of the Game. Mark Emmert. This is Emmert “growing up” as a leader, sua sponte, and running — as leaders often have to do — ahead of what has heretofore been recognized as his sphere of influence as strictly defined by Bylaw.
We need to applaud this courage. Certainly the tsunami of money, influence and public exposure (if only recognizing NCAA sports as a fundamental presence now in all of our daily living-room TV lives) gives Emmert some potential broad base. But Emmert here is providing moral direction to a wayward, dispirited and corrupted organization of University Presidents all of whom tend to line up and never raise their hands when someone asks, “Who wants to call a spade a spade and just do the right thing?” particularly — as regards this monster “King Football” which makes these Presidents cower.
Now, just to be rigorous here, Emmert is not going far enough: the “potential” violations of NCAA bylaws are so profound, and so disturbing, that Emmert and the NCAA should not only be chastising PSU for not having “self-reported” those numerous NCAA potential violations –but should also already have NCAA investigators on campus at PSU. (This is particularly true because the smell of all that’s going on at PSU — with those “newly” responsible now for running the Athletics operation, the Trustees, and the PSU “investigation” being “old boys” who have a strong need to cover — so that, right now, there is dire need for independent eyes.
But still, let’s take the long view: Emmert is moving the ball ahead, ready to take some hits, and setting a course which all his member HAVE TO FOLLOW. He could have let the “buck” pass right by him (instead of “stopping here”), but he didn’t.
SO: Here’s a salute to Mark Emmert for (partially) seizing the moral high-ground, and moving toward being the leader who can protect “the Good of the Game,” — all directed toward making the kind of “good citizens and good men [and women]” which O.W. Holmes and the NCAA want to promote. I take my hat off to him. Keep up the good work. Your kids would be proud of you.