Monday, May 27, 2013

Everett Golson: Mistakes & Consequences

In the past 10 years of teaching Foundation of Ethics: Morality and Justice, I have witnessed a growing trend. Students are increasingly more comfortable naming that it is okay to make mistakes.  They will often say the only way to grow is to make mistakes and learn from them.  Yes and no.  
Adolescence certainly is a time when young people are discovering who they are, who they are becoming and what they want to be.  Becoming an adult isn't an easy process and maturity takes time.  Our humanity means that we will stumble and fall.  It means that mistakes are part of the package.  But I feel strongly about qualifying this comfort with mistakes.  Not all mistakes are created equal.  Not all have reversible consequences.  Some come with a condition that it is very hard to right the wrong.

Driving while intoxicated isn't a limit that should be tested; a number of outcomes are possible, some of which are fatal.  Engaging in sexual activity is a big deal. Students are quick to name the dangers in an STD, but emotional scars can run much deeper.  And plagiarism can so easily be avoided.  Citing a source is important.  It gives credit where credit is due.  It upholds honesty and integrity.  
I asked my students to name a moral choice they make that does not affect other people; they couldn't do it.  Our humanity means that we are always in relationship with others.  The mistakes that we make affect our own lives and the lives of others.  And this is certainly the case in point with Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who is no longer enrolled at the University.  In the official press release, he said:

"I have been informed by the University of Notre Dame that due to my poor academic judgment that I have been suspended from the University for the 2013 Fall Term," Golson said. "I take full responsibility for my poor choices and will do all that is asked of me to regain the trust of my family, friends, teammates, coaches and the entire Notre Dame community."
His statement continued, "My parents and the community I grew up in have instilled values in me that have and will continue to allow me to be successful in the future. There have been many lessons learned as I worked to become the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and each was a result of Coach (Brian) Kelly's belief in me as an athlete and a person.
"At this point, I understand how my integrity could be in question but I want to reassure my supporters that through this experience I will return a better student athlete as well as a better individual.
"Lastly, I want to thank the University of Notre Dame for the opportunity already granted and also the opportunity going forth to regain my eligibility in the winter of 2014."
Golson's decision has what feels like huge consequences right now.  I know he had to make a public statement that admits responsibility and he wants to stay positive. But the expectations of the starting QB are not the same, he is called to be a leader on and off the field.  The team has planned and practiced all spring in a way that showcases his talent and allows him to run an offense.  Golson is a very public face of a storied program at a high profile university.  Sorry, but to a certain degree this must be considered when making moral choices.  Alumni are writing that they are proud that Notre Dame stands for high standards for students athletes, but they're saying that with broken hearts and writing it with heavy hands.
It is important to look to the future to right the wrong, and I don't doubt that Golson will.  But I also think it's worth saying that Golson and his teammates won't get the 2013 season back.  

Knowledge of impending consequences, possible outcomes, are really worth considering before making a mistake.  In that way, although this mistake isn't one I would encourage any student to make, Golson's mistake--one that many students do make--is now something others can learn from.  

Photo Credits
ND Logo
Golson Runs
Spring Game

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