Monday, October 28, 2013

The Case Against Perfection: The Story of a 4'9" Running Back

I have taught Foundations of Ethics: Morality and Justice, a required course for juniors at St. Ignatius College Prep for the past 11 years. The best part of teaching this course, apart from the curiosity, questions and spirit of my students, is the fact that even when you think you have seen and heard it all, life presents you with a new story, a fresh example or an unlikely choice. Enter in Jayson Carter, the 4'9" running back at Rice University.
My colleague, Sean, shared the Deadspin post with me, thinking it would be of interest to seniors in Sports & Spirituality. Little did he know, it served as s striking counterpoint to questions of bioethics that my juniors are raising in our study of Life Issues.

Due to a genetic disorder, Carter, is but 130 pounds and stands under 5 feet tall. While most would imagine his limited stature to be a detriment in most competitive, athletic endeavors, Carter "isn't on the team out of sympathy; he ran for 1,233 yards and 18 touchdowns at Kipp High School in Houston." What may seem like a disability, or an invitation in the world of Genetic Enhancement for something more, is but one quality that makes this young man unique and inspirational. 

"Carter even played defense, racking up 92 tackles, 152 assisted tackles, three sacks and an interception." Furthermore, he walked on the team at the invitation of a friend and fellow teammate. It says one thing to me that he was encouraged to give it a go at the next level, let alone a D-1 team. It says another that he listened and pursued the dream. 

It was striking to watch him play just days after a Religion and Ethics Newsweekly article and video we discussed in class. Genetic Enhancement raises fascinating and important questions made possible by today's medical technology. It states "Parents want to give their children every advantage in life—music lessons, tutoring, sports camps. They also want to do whatever is possible to make their children healthy. But what about going beyond opportunities and health to enhancement, making kids bigger or smarter or more talented? Science is opening that door in a big way, and many ethicists debate where the line between health and enhancement should be."

Jayson Carter's attitude and accomplishments serve as a wonderful example for what Harvard Professor Michael Sandel writes about in "The Case Against Perfection." While it may not be a direct quid pro quo—for example, medically there may not be a way to treat Carter's condition. But, what he does on the field and the impact he has made on others suggests he has done quite a lot! If there were medical options to make the change—Would Carter and his family? Should they?

My students shared thoughtful responses to Carter's story. They loved seeing what he was able to do on the field and they took offense at the announcers who referred to him as "the little guy." We discussed the balance between describing someone as they are and being okay with how we are. We stressed the importance of how we describe one another—maybe "little guy" is somewhat derogatory. Is there another way to get the point across, be honest and again be okay with that? 

At the end of it all, one student said "I love that when they asked the coach how tall he was, he said 'I have no idea'. That's the spirit of it." 

Perhaps it is—when we see someone for who they truly are, how they look, how short or tall they may or may not be, we have a whole new vision. I like that lens...

Photo Credits
Jayson Carter

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