Caroling on the Moral Judgement of These Quarterbacks

It can be tricky to pass ethical judgments on athletes, especially when they have never been in trouble with their team or the law. But that’s what a Seahawks fan did by creating a photo montage on Instagram comparing Russell Wilson with Colin Kaepernick. The photos can be seen here, and they have created quite a few likes and strongly worded dislikes on social media.

Wilson certainly seems to be a great guy who has done a lot of good in the community. I’ve seen Wilson interviewed and I love the guy! Kaepernick also appears to be a great guy. Let’s not forget that he had a 4.0 college grade point average, those who know him seem to rave about him–including his childhood neighbor here, and Kaepernick shows the whole world how wonderful adoption is for both parents and kids.

Ethically judging people in their mid-20’s by social media posts can be precarious. Is it Kaepernick’s fault that the Seahawk’s fan who posted the photos did not feature his charitable work? But when the photos went viral, the implication was that Wilson was the better man of the two.

When talking about ethics, let’s take a look at the coaches of these teams– Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Both Carroll and Harbaugh had incredible success as college coaches in the last decade. Carroll turned USC into the top program in the country, compiling a record of 97-19. Under his tenure, USC set a national record of 33 consecutive weeks as the Associated Press’s top ranked team and won 3 national titles.  As a USC alum, I really enjoyed this run. But what I really didn’t enjoy was the scandal when USC was busted for giving a house to an athlete’s family. As a result, USC was suspended for two years from appearing in a bowl game and they had to vacate some of their past victories, including the 2005 BCS Championship win. USC also lost thirty scholarships from this penalty, essentially putting the death knell on the USC program for a few years.  They still feel the effect of this to this day.

Harbaugh, on the other hand, inherited a dreadful Stanford team and turned them around into a powerhouse.  Stanford’s record was 1-11 in the year before Harbaugh started in 2006, and by his final year in 2010 they went 12-1. Stanford is still enjoying success today, going 11-3 last year, and in 2012 they led the Pac 12 with a 90% graduation rate. Harbaugh created and then left a model college program–while Carroll skipped town to the greener pastures of the NFL right when the NCAA  was about to drop the hammer on what has been the most severe penalty assessed in college football this century.

Is Carroll responsible for the USC scandal?  He is not the one who personally bought the house for Reggie Bush’s family. And anyhow, Chris Christie appears to be defining a new era of leadership: when something wrong happens that the leader claims not to know about, it is not considered to be his or her responsibility.

I’m not sure how far Christie is going to be able to go with that, but he can look to Pete Carroll as a shining example of how quickly the public can lose interest in who was in charge during a scandal.

Speaking of coaches’ ethics, how about the story of USC star Taylor Mays? He was an All American his junior year and planned on going pro. He was projected to be a top 10 pick, but his coach– Carroll– took him aside and Mays claims talked to him about how important an extra year of college could be, how much more mature and experienced he would be,  and that this would only further solidify him as high first round pick.  So Mays listened, stayed another year under Carroll, had a good but not great season, and dropped into the second round the next year. This drop cost Mays a lot of money.  The travesty is that when Mays entered the draft, Carroll was then the coach and Executive Vice President of the Seahawks, and Carroll’s team passed on Mays! Mays was furious, and was quoted as saying that Carrol steered him in the wrong direction personally to help USC’s defense.

All in all, it is hard for any Seahawks fan to claim that their team is any more ethically pure than the 49ers, especially when looking at the behavior of their leaders.

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