On the front page of the L.A. Times there’s a photo of San Diego Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham tearfully confessing is guilt to bribery and tax evasion.
On an inside page of a local Southern California newspaper, the Daily Breeze, we’re told that Paul Bryant, an assistant football coach at San Pedro High School with 23 years of service, was suspended for at least one year for blatant cheating. Bryant was caught on videotape moving the first-down marker to help his team advance into the state playoffs. After being confronted with the tape, he apologized, saying his decision to cheat was spontaneous and erroneous.
I cite these two examples of integrity failure not to equate them – Cunningham’s violation was far worse – but to highlight the range and pervasiveness of corrupt thinking, the undeniable reality that everyone’s character will be tested by temptations, the crucial importance of moral clarity and strength, and finally, the huge personal cost of dishonor.
Though Cunningham will go to jail, his plea bargain to limit his sentence to no more than 10 years is a good deal considering the 25-year terms imposed on execs at WorldCom, Adelphia, and Tyco – all the more so since he took more than $2 million in bribes, far and away the worst case in recent Congressional history. But what brought tears to his eyes was the recognition that he will serve a life sentence of shame for disgracing himself and his family.
Bryant’s suspension from coaching is a significant penalty in the sporting world, but it’s nothing compared to the humiliation of knowing he will be forever labeled as a teacher and coach who dishonored his team and school and embarrassed his friends and family by cheating to win a high school football game.
I suspect both men are truly sorry, and on a personal level I feel compassion for them and their families. The problem is: We don’t need more criminal convictions; we need more moral convictions. We don’t need more contrite confessions; we need more committed character.
Remember, character counts!
C. xxxx Josephson Institute of Ethics; reprinted with permission. For further information visit www.charactercounts.org