When I was a kid, my Italian-American mom, who was a superb cook, made pineapple upside-down cake, which was an all-American desert. Now I’m retired and living in a nation that has upside-down priorities and ethics.
Two recent examples are particularly telling—and sickening.
The first is former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort being indicted for secretly paying a small number of former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine. At the same time, there are about 11,000 registered lobbyists in upside-down Washington who are paid by various interest groups to lobby on their behalf.
Does the formality of registering make it ethically okay in the case of the 11,000 but not okay in the case of Manafort, because his few lobbyists were unregistered? Using that logic, stealing should be legal as long as thieves register as thieves.
Even more ethically dubious, and a worse double standard, is the case of Bill Clinton taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from foreign governments and companies while his wife Hillary was Secretary of State. The foreigners clearly were trying to buy influence, but the Clintons were not indicted for unethically enriching themselves, because the money was euphemistically called a speaking fee instead of a lobbying fee.
Apparently, ethics and the law in American turn on what something is called.
The second example is closer to home, for it happened in Tucson, where I live. The University of Arizona’s basketball coach Sean Miller has been indicted for speaking on the phone with a potential basketball recruit about the possibility of getting a $100,000 payment for joining the U of A team.
The FBI had tapped Miller’s phone. This would be the same FBI that didn’t follow up on calls warning that Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz was going to kill students in Parkland. Apparently, tapping a coach’s phone is a higher priority to the FBI than listening to calls to its 1-800 number about a potential mass murderer.
In any event, is it unethical for a basketball coach to pay a poor black kid to play college basketball? Well, it is not unethical at all and is actually quite ethical. After all, NBA teams, NFL teams, and MLB teams pay millions of dollars to athletes. It would be unethical if these teams treated their players as slaves by not paying them for their labor, which is essentially what colleges do with their players (that would be the same colleges that preach social justice).
What is unethical in college basketball (and football) is the sham that college sports are amateur endeavors and not profit-making enterprises. The sham has a corrupting influence on coaches, players, administrators, and on the core educational mission of a university.
Everyone has to pretend that sports programs are something other than what they are. Coaches are paid more than college presidents or Nobel Prize-winning professors, players are given a free education in lieu of pay and then graduate uneducated, faculty are pressured to give passing grades to players who would otherwise flunk out, national athletic conferences engage in gross hypocrisy, alumni delude themselves and look the other way, and advertisers, media and fans not only go along with the charade but encourage it.
If Sean Miller deserves to be indicted, then everyone associated with college sports deserves to be indicted.
I may not know much, but thanks to my mom’ pineapple upside-down cake, I at least know when something is upside-down.