You may remember the campaign to get the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to enact a code of conduct to address numerous times that fighters and staff have used hate speech and instances of sexual violence (including tweeting rape jokes). And while UFC officials are loath to listen — with apologists claiming that, essentially, boys will be boys — in the wake of the Penn State sex abuse case and resulting criminal convictions, the rest of the sports world is clearly taking a different (and more responsible) approach.
Indeed, the recent NCAA punishments handed down on the school for a program, which set a standard of winning above all else, will undoubtedly damage the athletic program at Penn State for years to come. Wins have been retracted from the record books. Joe Paterno is no longer the “winningest coach” in college football. Earnings from all those years of wins and bowl games, some $60 million, will be put in a trust to help detect and protect victims of sexual abuse. This ruling by the NCAA is groundbreaking in its severity and also the message it sends.
The message is clear: Sexual abuse will not be tolerated. And cover-ups of sexual abuse should not only be condemned, but punished.
Some have said that the NCAA ruling is too harsh and will end the football program at Penn State. But I rather like what NCAA President Mark Emmert said:
“We hope we would never, ever see anything of this magnitude or egregiousness again in our lives,” Emmert said. “But we do have to make sure that the cautionary tale of athletics overwhelming core values of the institution and losing sight of why we are really participating in these activities can occur. That’s the balance that every university needs to strive for.”
We’re talking about a program where not only the top coaches, Paterno included, conspired to cover up the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky but also top administrators of the university as a whole. Winning a game meant more than a child’s safety. Or should I say, making money? Either way, it was unquestionably wrong. And it merits an equal magnitude in punishment.
And on some level what Emmert is talking about is honor. Because our character — our valor — is measured not just when times are good, but when times are bad. That moment when Paterno found out what Sandusky was doing… that was a moment when he could have acted with honor. We have no doubt in our minds that what Sandusky did was wrong. It’s the actions of Paterno and university officials to cover that up, that some people wrestle with. Not me. But some people.
But what does all this have to do with the UFC? Well, as I’ve talked about on my blog many times, sports of all sort contribute to our society in many (positive) ways, not the least of which is providing our children with role models. The UFC, whether you consider it a main-stream sport or not, is in that position, with toys on store shelves, programming in prime time, and a meteoric rise in popularity. But perhaps because of the crimes at Penn State, people are looking more closely at the values held by the organizations that bring us our sporting entertainment.
Perhaps it’s time to think about the honor in sport.
To wit: The US Marines are asking the question: Should they continue to support the UFC? In fact, there’s a poll on their website (lower right hand side of the page).
Interestingly, one of the options is to vote no because the Marines should not support organizations that do not uphold Marine values. This is the right choice, in my opinion. But it’s right in more than one way. First, of course, is that if any branch of the military supports a sports organization, it gives them some legitimacy and lends them some of the honor of that military branch. And secondly, I would like to think that this may trigger a similar scan of the values of the military branches themselves. Sexual assaults and violence against women in the military (by fellow military personnel) are incredibly high and it is almost impossible for those survivors to get any kind of justice.
It’s a question of honor.
So why not vote in the poll? After all, the military are on the payroll of the people. And we are the people.
This post is originally published on The Sin City Siren and is cross-posted with permission.