Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Nothing But Adolescents

Q:: NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas was sentenced to two years of probation for his gun-fueled locker room confrontation with a teammate. Why do so many hugely talented stars -- athletes, actors, politicians -- work hard to achieve success and then behave in ways that jeopardize their careers? Are they arrogant? Stupid? Oblivious?

Boys will be boys. That seems to be the most frequent response of sportswriters, fans and Superior Court judges to the gun-totin' antics of Gilbert Arenas. Heck, they say, he wasn't trying to hurt anybody. He just wanted to show his teammate Javaris Crittenton who's the boss by flashing some heat in the locker room.

Regular citizens like you and me might be doing some serious jail time right now for displaying guns in our offices as a means of keeping co-workers at bay, but hey, this is the N.B.A., which stands for Nothing But Adolescents.

Who has the backbone to rid professional sports of the philanderers, gamblers, drug addicts and plain old thugs who seem to grab more headlines with every passing season?

Certainly not the owners, whose moral fiber seems sewn together with dollar bills. Certainly not the commissioners, whose jobs depend on the owners. Certainly not the sponsors, who have turned sandlot games into economic engines that rival major industries. Certainly not the fans, who are the ultimate enablers of so much greed and misconduct in professional sports.

Certainly not the athletes, themselves, who become multi-millionaires in their twenties because their muscles and synapses are able to perform at blindingly fast, tough, precise levels, leaving ordinary mortals astonished at their physical prowess.

Problem is, those muscles and synapses are controlled by parts of the brain that have little to do with moral reasoning or ethical judgment. In fact, these overgrown children have often developed physically at the expense of their emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity. As Tiger Woods admitted in his famous public confession, "I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. ... I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled."

Feeling entitled, believing that "normal" rules don't apply -- such is the arrogance of large fame and great fortune acquired too young and with inadequate moral grounding. Too many professional athletes sacrificed full-fledged educational opportunities to focus on their sports, and their educational deficiencies are clear.

Recognizing the broad dimensions of this problem, every professional sport should have mandatory continuing education for athletes so long as they are active. Such education should include courses in ethical reasoning and professional responsibility along with financial management, since so many athletes also squander their considerable wealth long before their elder years.

Here's another radical suggestion: Require professional athletes to put their earnings into trust funds that would be accessible only upon retirement. By forcing these young men (and, yes, they are mostly men -- except for tennis, women earn little in professional sports) to postpone access to enormous wealth while also continuing some educational discipline, their brains might actually be able to catch up with their bodies by the time they're 35 or 40.

Finally, professional athletes should not be exempt from "normal rules," no matter how much the franchise player earns for the owners. Gilbert Arenas is the latest NBA disgrace, and the Wizards' new owner, Ted Leonsis, should do the right thing and send him packing for packing heat in the locker room.

I disagree with Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon that Arenas is not a "threat or menace to the community." In fact, in a community where young men have greater access to guns than to computers (according to another Post columnist Robert McCartney), Arenas' misconduct makes him a great hero. The Wizards must send a different message: There must be zero tolerance for criminal misconduct.

By Patricia McGuire  |  March 29, 2010; 3:15 PM ET  | Category:  squandering success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Drunken success | Next: It's all about leadership


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Uh...regualar citizens would not be doing jail. That's a myth. These guys are damn if they do damn if they don't. If Gil gets jail time you say...Oh yeah...just as we thought. He doesn't get jail time and it's oh...I would have gotten jail time. Puleeezzz.

Most folks want these guys to go to jail just because they have money and are jocks. It's hate...jealousy...and envy.

Plax Burress and MIke Vick were punished for being millionaires. Even Bloomberg shouted such from the steps of city hall. So spare me the athletes get breaks crap. America HATES the dominance and money made by Black athletes. If the judge can lock them up he knows he'll get plenty of public support so spare me lady!!

Posted by: kentonsmith | March 31, 2010 4:57 PM
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While I don't disagree that outlandish fame and fortune does lead many professional athletes and celebrities to consider themselves above the normal rules and that this should not be condoned, I don't think this is a phenomenon limited solely to those groups, or even to just the rich and powerful. When the rich, famous and powerful get caught in wrongdoing, it garners all manner of public attention, debate and outrage. Usually, the act involves more money, access, opportunity and possession than most of us have, so we just notice it more. But the tendancy to view oneself by different standards than others is really just part of modern American thought. Maybe it's even part of the human condition. Far too many people are content to get away with whatever they think they can, for whatever reason they can dream up. Or they assume that everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't they? There is an old saying that 'the true measure of a person is what they do when they believe no one is watching'. Too true.

How many people speed through neighborhoods, placing young children at risk, because they are late for work or an appointment? How many "regular people" are involved in adulterous affairs right now? How often do you hear someone justify something morally or legally questionable because they 'work hard and deserve it'? How often do we see some minor slight or inconvenience explode into a deadly road rage incident or shooting because someone just couldn't get over their own sense of importance in the world? How often do we condemn those around us for sins that we ourselves have perpetrated, but just didn't happen to get caught? Every day we hear some story about someone who didn't necessarly have any ill-intent, but who's actions had disasterous consequences.

It's easy to scream at others in self-rightous indignation. It makes us feel better about our lot in life to be able to condemn those who have more than us. But the truth of the matter is that these cases speak as much about us and what we have become as they do about the people who committed them. We need to stop putting people on pedestals. We need to stop the hypocracy. We need to stop worrying about the other guy and worry more about keeping our own house in order. We each need to wake up and start being brutally honest with ourselves. Until we, as a society, start demanding accountability from each other and taking responsibility for our own actions, none of this is likely to change. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. Not athletes. Not celebrities. No one.

Posted by: jeffgraham117 | March 31, 2010 1:01 PM
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The author says:
"Who has the backbone to rid professional sports of the philanderers, gamblers, drug addicts and plain old thugs who seem to grab more headlines with every passing season?"

While athletes involved in these grab more attention, I think you will find this behavior to some degree in most professions. It is definitely true in other areas of entertainment.

I agree with the commenter who points out that the entitlement is not just confined to athletes, but is common in many fields.

The "trust fund" proposal would benefit many athletes in practice, but can not be forced on them. However converting a portion of salaries to a long-term pay-out would be a good idea for the long term finances of professional athletes.

Posted by: verbal8 | March 30, 2010 10:43 AM
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Dr McGuire is wrong this attitude is not just confined to professional athletes movie stars or politicians. I have been in situations with college educated men and women who have the same attitudes. They are successful and the rules don't apply to them. I can not judge someones personal behavior unless it leads to a crime punishable in a court. Tiger did not have to apologize to the the public. His situation is between him and his wife. And At what point do we let athletes become adults ( Most athletic careers are over in less than 4 years). Should we require all adults to put there money into trust funds and require them to take classes so they learn financial responsibility. Sometimes the best lessons we learn are the one we learn from falling down. Gilbert problems are magnified because he is in the public eye. Most of us don't have that type of light shining in our everyday lives. We know of his being raised by father and his mother troubles and recent death. I think he fully understands the consequences of his actions and he will be constantly reminded and judged by people. I cannot say how I would act under similar temptations I can only say how I hope I would act. I do find some previous comments offensive. There is is not a lack of leadership in the black male community. I know thousands of African American men who are trying to be role models and examples for our children, but if you read the papers or watch the news they show the 2 out of ten who are not. The media would prefer to show the pro athlete as a sign of success for young black men and not the school teacher, the social worker,the bus driver, accountant or Doctor. Money earning power is not a sign of success but being a responsible adult who learns from his/her mistakes is.

Posted by: greenera | March 30, 2010 9:43 AM
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Patricia point is well made - esp. when one considers that research shows that most males remain about 5 years behind females in maturity through the age of 45 give or take. So when one is handed the exceptional skills that athletes have and esp those professionals as Arenas but without the moral compass to guide them with ethical decision making and to accept a need to grow up and be responsible adults, he/they often fall flat. Yet the first writer spoke of leadership as the key or lack of in his case: The military often provides both good and bad examples of leadership to the young men and women serving and this is often reflected in the behaviors of it's members esp in combat. In VN where I served my first tour with the Marines as a corpsman and then my second with a special operations unit our leadership was second to none esp within the squad and company levels - no nonsense while in the field of combat, no drugs nor alcohol with the alcohol reserved for the rare day off so to speak. On the other hand there were too many examples of poor leadership and of a general lack of leadership with those involved in the My Lai massacre being the unfortunate example of this. Such lack of leadership in particular within the Black/African American male community reflects such end products. I have no idea whether Arena's father was involved in his development and his mother and other support from within family may have been very good. But for those of any race and often gender, the role model est. by our parents often sets the critical tone for development from childhood through the mid years of life. It is at these times when we can reflect on what we were earlier taught or not and then act appropriately. I would add also the teachings of the Church can play a role but with the current dilemma now faced with the Catholic Church I will stay away from their influence. As the writer advocated, we need the solid moral compass to guide us in life and obtaining this however it may be is vital to survival, success as a spouse, parent, in business, and certainly through life in particular.

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | March 30, 2010 7:26 AM
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