Sunday, January 7, 2024

To Call Them Cheaters is Just Too Easy: Michigan Football and Integrity

I think of myself as a positive person. I try to see the good in people, places, institutions and organizations and give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I have entered into new(ish) territory. I find myself actively, passionately rooting against a team: the University of Michigan Wolverines. Their entry into the College Football national championship has raised many questions for me. What's it like as an alumni of the school to cheer for a team like this one? How do you defend your alma mater? What do you think of Coach Harbaugh? For those who are Michigan fans: What's it like to stand behind a team that has a foundation of sand? And for me and others who share my misgivings: Is it wrong to cheer against a team (even when it doesn't affect your own?) And why should I even care?

From an early age I have had it out for USC and for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I never wanted to see their success, and on occasion I've delighted in their demise, but this one feels different. I feel my blood begin to boil. I went so low as to cheer for Alabama. I fear the worst on Monday, January 8 but hope for the best (the University of Washington story is so good). What gives?

Notre Dame and Michigan are natural, long time rivals. I learned the alternative lyrics to their fight song within two weeks of my freshman year. The home opener that Fall day, September 3 1992 resulted in a tie (17-17). While I never wanted a "Muck Fichigan" shirt—that's definitely not my style—I saw plenty of them. I don't think I have ever rooted FOR them but certainly not actively against them.I  know I am not alone. Ohio State, Michigan State, Central Michigan—any Big 10 school football fans share my sentiment. Here's why.

To refer to Michigan as a bunch of cheaters is easy. To me, however that label is short sighted. What grates me about this team is their utter and total lack of integrity. As written in The Sporting News

the 2023 season for Harbaugh and the Wolverines has now been marred by an investigation into sign-stealing allegations, a scandal that follows closely on the heels of another of alleged recruiting violations and lying to the NCAA during its investigation. His program has also come under further scrutiny when former quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss was fired after the 2022 season amid an investigation into computer access crimes.

They have violated sportsmanship rules, NCAA rules, and privacy rules. Their actions have led to a four game suspension for the head coach and the firing of others. At what point is enough, enough? or too much?!

There isn't a program out beyond reproach, but this one—
has yet to take responsibility for their actions. Were it my alma mater, I would keep a very low profile. I wonder, if they raise the championship trophy on Monday, how many people will see its tarnish? Will you?

Integrity is a catch-all virtue. It combines honesty with bearing responsibility. It builds trust and leads to human flourishing. Integrity is compromised when the truth is hidden. Since the beginning, Harbaugh has denied knowledge of the sign-stealing scheme and said he never instructed staff members to break NCAA rules. A friend said "he reminds me of 45...always feels he's picked on and is never responsible for his actions." Ouch. I wonder how things might be different, if Harbaugh admitted otherwise. He still hasn't, but recourse was taken. As written on ESPN,

"This is not a sanction of Coach Harbaugh," Petitti wrote. "It is a sanction against the University that, under the extraordinary circumstances presented by this offensive conduct, best fits the violation because: (1) it preserves the ability of the University's football student-athletes to continue competing; and (2) it recognizes that the Head Coach embodies the University for purposes of its football program."

Everywhere he goes, Harbaugh has taken programs from the red to the black. He works incredibly hard, he demands a lot of himself and his players. With Harbaugh, there is no confusion—he wants to win. It's his job to win. The perpetuation of offenses however sends the message: winning is the ONLY thing. It's not a matter of why you win or how you win, it's "Just Win Baby!" (FWIW: I would love to see Jim Harbaugh as the head coach of the Raiders—a team that thrives on disfunction). Thoughts?

If I went to Michigan, I honestly do not know how I could—in good conscience be excited about this team. I've asked people who I respect and trust to answer this question. I ask it from a place of curiosity and not judgment. I have yet to hear a principled response, most Wolverines waffle. They've lived with Harbaugh for eight years now. They've beaten Ohio State, too (I get it).

I'm not throwing stones.This is not newish territory for me. Super Bowl XLVII, featured my San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens. A life long Niners fan (thanks Dad), I actually felt dirty—a moral slime—cheering for my team. This team was undeniably physical, but they played dirty...tons of penalties...a whole lot of very late hits. Losing in the Harbaugh Bowl was disappointing, but not in the way it could have been had I loved this team.The elder brother, John Harbaugh and the Ravens beat Jim Harbaugh and the Niners 34-31. Seems that the better Harbaugh won. (This team also didn't have a series of league offenses that went unaccounted for or left fans scratching their heads. That was one year later when Niner LB Aldon Smith was arrested for a DUI and played a game a few days later....Harbaugh explained why he allowed Smith to play. I did not support that decision. Niners lost and Smith went into rehab that week. I supported that one).

There could be a rematch of the Ravens and Niners in the 2024 Super Bowl. I will be thrilled if my team plays in it. They aren't perfect but I can say as a fan, they've made my job a whole lot easier. We fans hold our own responsibility and this game has brought that task into a new light.

Good luck to the University of Washington, Huskies. 

Photo Credits
Michigan vs.

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