Among the unflattering signs of our times are efforts college and professional teams must take to teach their athletes how to behave and be better citizens.
These programs reflect the steady decline in maturity and personal responsibility at all levels.
The Washington Redskins of professional football didn't try to disguise the purpose of one job it just created. Ken Harvey, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, is now the team's "director of responsibility," hired to guide players to make good decisions and stay out of trouble.
We are in an era when athletes, particularly the overpaid and childish professionals, frequently have run-ins with fellow citizens and law enforcement agencies. Harvey is charitable in projecting the people he will be dealing with as "victims" of a sort. As if they don't have some control over their own destinies. For NFL players today, he says, "it's a game of 'who do you trust?' Everybody wants something from you and you don't know whom to trust."
Many observers agree it's important for officials, teams and schools to get involved in some type of social engineering, for their own best interests. "Way back in the past," says Harvey of Washington, "it was a case of where if you did what you needed to do on the field, nobody cared about anything else." Clearly there is much to "care about" now.
When the number of lawsuits, arrests, convictions and related antisocial activities started to grow, football, basketball and hockey teams, among others, began to hire their own people, or other counselors, to address the bad reputations teams were getting for harboring troublemakers. Colleges have been in the "character search" field for longer than many realize.
Recently two basketball players who starred on Kansas University's 2008 national championship team faced possible suspensions and were fined $20,000 each because they were suspected of having marijuana in their hotel room and having women as guests. Ironically, the ex-Jayhawks were attending a professional league program designed to teach them how to manage money, avoid trouble and become better citizens. A former Kansas State star, who also appeared to be involved in the misbehavior, has been fined $50,000.
It is not a new development that a lot of colleges, KU among them, run character and background checks on many athletes they recruit, particularly if the young people have had troubled pasts. More and more college athletes are getting into trouble, ranging from violent crimes to theft and fraud. The schools hope to weed out such potential misfits with character checks, but there is no foolproof system.
So many athletes in this day and age have been coddled and favored from as early as junior high that they never have learned to take responsibility for their actions. And they don't perceive that rules others must follow also apply to them.
Sports in general has to be embarrassed by the need for a "director of responsibility," but at least something is being done to stem the tide of ill-behaved athletes who reflect poorly on their teams and sports in general.