BYU chooses honor over victory

City Times Editorial Board

On March 2, with the NCAA tournament fast approaching, Brigham Young University suspended basketball player Brandon Davies for violating the school’s honor code. In its first game without Davies in the lineup, BYU’s basketball team — which had been #3 in the nation — lost by 18 points to an unranked opponent.

Critics said BYU had gone too far. But those critics were wrong, because the school played this one exactly right. By holding Davies accountable, BYU shouted to the world that winning isn’t everything and that integrity comes first.

Too many collegiate athletic programs operate on exactly the opposite premise. Take the University of Pittsburgh, for example.

Authorities say that in July 2010, Pitt football player Jabaal Sheard threw a man through a window of an art gallery. Then, as the man lay on his back, bleeding, Sheard kept punching him in the face, even after police showed up.

After a temporary suspension, Sheard was reinstated to Pitt’s team.

Pitt’s not alone. Most sports-heavy colleges and universities seem prone to putting victory before integrity.

In fact, CBS and Sports Illustrated examined the criminal records of all players on 25 of the nation’s best college football teams in 2010. More than 200 players — 1 of every 14 — had been charged with a crime, and dozens had multiple arrests.

“Of the 277 incidents uncovered,” said an article on SI.com, “nearly 40 percent involved serious offenses, including 56 violent crimes such as assault and battery.”

According to the article, the finding “reinforces a pervasive assumption that college coaches are willing to recruit players with questionable pasts to win.”

This win-at-any-cost mentality often shows up not just in college sports but in other highly visible pockets of American culture.

President Barack Obama, for example, selected Timothy Geithner to head the United States Treasury even after it was discovered that Geithner had underpaid income taxes. Geithner, a Wall Street insider, was deemed too valuable to not have on board.

Later, the Obama administration quickly fired USDA official Shirley Sherrod when a doctored video seemed to show her making racist comments. Sherrod, whose career centered on helping minority farmers, was deemed too much of a liability to keep around.

In both cases, Obama’s administration operated more like the University of Pittsburgh than BYU.

Of course, right after Sherrod was fired, it became obvious she had never said those racist comments. And when the Obama administration tried to hire Sherrod back, it got a lesson in how integrity works: She said she wasn’t interested.