The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday December 1st

UNC Steps Up to the Plate to Support Sports Ethics

They are yelling about who is doing what wrong and expressing their displeasure in any number of inappropriate ways about how the events on the field or in the dugout are unfolding. In California, for example, the father of an 11-year-old Little Leaguer assaulted a coach for taking his son out of a game. In Arizona, a youth softball team exploited a loophole in the rules of a league for girls by putting boys on the team.

Let me contrast those negative examples with another, more positive case of football fan behavior I saw as the University of Nebraska at Lincoln's chancellor. In 1998 the unranked University of Texas team, led by star running back Ricky Williams, upset seventh-ranked Nebraska at home, destroying Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak, one of the longest in NCAA history. At the end of the game, Nebraska's 76,000 fans gave the Texas players a standing ovation as they left the field. Texas coach Mack Brown said he had never before seen such a display of good sportsmanship.

Another great story is about Jessie Owens' gold medal broad jump performance at the Berlin Olympics that so enraged Hitler. What is not generally known is that Owens had faulted on his first two jumps and was one fault away from being disqualified when the German jumper (whom Owens subsequently defeated) suggested a different approach to the line to avoid the third fault. This was a totally unselfish act of good sportsmanship.

Clearly, played the right way, sports can inspire and teach -- especially our young people. We must reach them in middle school or even earlier with the messages of why good sportsmanship and ethical behavior are important. The key is the coaches themselves, who can either be teachers and models of good sportsmanship and fair play or the reverse. We have an urgent task to enlist coaches, both professionals and volunteer, in this effort in recognition of a basic premise that the profession of coaching is a teaching profession.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will address these issues by co-hosting, along with the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the N.C. High School Athletic Association, the first sports awareness seminar of its kind on the East Coast on April 30. "Pursuing Victory with Honor: A Summit on Sportsmanship, Ethics and Character Building" has attracted more than 500 middle and high school coaches, athletic directors, school administrators and municipal or community recreation professionals representing club and youth sports, as well as interscholastic and collegiate sports programs. Over 1,000 other coaches wanted to attend the seminar, but we cannot accommodate them all.

Such intensely strong interest in this topic speaks volumes about how hungry coaches for information and the need for sports to reflect the best -- not worst -- in all of us.

Participants will come for a free program and the opportunity to learn from some of the biggest names in American sports. Presenters will include legendary former UNC head basketball coach Dean Smith, who holds the NCAA record for most wins but is also well known for the nearly perfect graduation rates recorded by his players, and former Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne, who won two national championships, leading the nation in football academic All Americans and who last fall was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Smith, for whom a faculty teaching award has been named at UNC, and Osborne, with whom I worked in Lincoln, are revered for their integrity.

They will lead discussion about current issues with other top coaches and administrators from UNC and the collegiate and high school ranks in addition to Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and its Character Counts! sports program; Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials; Tom Selleck, the actor, a former All-American volleyball player and a Josephson Institute board member; ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke University player.

The seminar is part of the Josephson Institute's national "Pursuing Victory with Honor" campaign to help youth and collegiate sports programs implement the principles of the Arizona Sports Summit Accord, which was crafted almost two years ago by nearly 50 influential leaders in sports to encourage more emphasis on the ethical and character-building aspects of athletic competition.

Those of us who helped draft the accord and signed it hope it will provide a framework of principles and values that will be adopted widely. The accord has been endorsed by most major amateur sports organizations.

Some of the most practical information shared at the UNC conference will focus on tips for teaching what the Josephson Institute calls the "six pillars of character" -- trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship. Those traits were developed by a diverse group of experts, including educators convened by the institute who agreed those six values were central in the lives of ethical people, despite their other differences.

Much of the behavior we see in youth sports on the part of both players and spectators is modeled on what these youths see in our collegiate games. I am equally concerned at the growing trend of trash talk and taunting on the field or court and rude and abusive behavior by fans.

And some college coaches have been notable exemplars of poor behavior themselves. We must repair our own house.

We should want our college teams to play hard, to compete with intensity, but we must also want them to respect their opponents and to play by the rules.

This is serious business. Whether we like it or not, competitive sports have become the embodiment of our values as a culture. What is at stake therefore is nothing less than the cultural foundation of America. We can no longer say, "It is only a game."

James Moeser, chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, will be among the speakers at the "Pursuing Victory with Honor" seminar. He serves on the Board of Trustees for the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina Del Ray, Calif.

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