Is Integrity an Absolute? — The Tom Brady Issue

BLOG #19, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IS INTEGRITY AN ABSOLUTE?
THE TOM BRADY ISSUE
May 13, 2015

We’ve seen hubris before—think Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Both mistakenly assumed they were too big to fail. Their legions of devoted fans wouldn’t stand for it. Both were wrong.

Ever since the lop-sided playoff victories of Brady and the New England Patriots, people have been wondering whether or not the NFL high command would have the guts to do more than slap the wrist, give a conspiratorial wink, and say, “Naughty, Naughty – don’t do that again” to their favorite cash-cow and glory-boy.

This time (according to newspaper columnists and reporters from papers such as the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal),  it turns out, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was not amused–least of all by Brady’s arrogance and refusal to cooperate by releasing his phone and e-mail records so that the investigation for Deflategate could reach a fair verdict. Brady clearly felt he was above the law. He was, in short, untouchable. Instead, what few expected: he and the Patriots get more than a wrist-slapping—considerably more.

It is now obvious that Goodell and his team realized a truth that Brady and his win-at-any-cost coach Belichick did not: If once the public perceives that the National Football League can no longer provide a level playing field for all teams (in which all teams have an equal opportunity to win games and pennants) – well, once that perception becomes a reality, millions will turn elsewhere with their allegiances and money.

Machiavelli, half a millennium ago, summed the issue up best: A Prince does not necessarily have to be moral; however, if once the public perceives that he is not moral—all is lost, for it can never ever be fully regained. In this respect, perception trumps reality.

Tom Brady–like Armstrong and Woods before him–had everything: wealthy beyond the average person’s fondest dreams, a lovely wife and photogenic family, world-wide fame, and millions of adoring fans. They were on Mt. Olympus. And assumed they’d stay there. Tom Brady, all too clearly, has made the same false-assumption: Oh it will all blow over; nothing will change.

It already has. Brady’s lustre has already dimmed. In today’s public perception, there will always be an asterisk (a la Barry Bonds and A-Rod) after his name and sports achievements. When people think about him–and this will include sports commentators–, there will henceforth always be a noticeable diminution of their respect for him. A shadow, akin to an eclipse of the sun or moon, has already reduced the wattage of Brady’s once undimmed glory.

It will never return.

It can not return.

Reason being this: like it or not, admit it or not, integrity remains as much an absolute as virginity. Neither can be qualified: one cannot be partly a virgin–one either is a virgin or one is not. Just so, one cannot be partly honest–one is either completely honest or one is not really honest at all.

It is also akin to love: love may precede respect–but it cannot survive the loss of it.

The general perception: that Brady is a man of absolute integrity–is now gone forever.

A pity.

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN HERO – PART TWO

BLOG #8, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE DECLINE AND THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN HERO
Part Two
February 20, 2013

ADULATION

Last week, I wrote about the leveling process of perceived greatness that is societally generated. Now, let’s turn to two other factors: adulation and inner erosion.

On April 5, 1887, Lord Acton famously postulated in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” By extension, we might also conclude that adulation tends to destroy and excessive adulation destroys completely.

Few things in this journey we call life are more destructive than adulation—or more difficult to remain impervious to. One has to be almost superhuman to resist it for long. In the newspapers recently was a column that addressed this issue: the subject being an obsequious interview of retiring Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and President Obama (perhaps the most powerful person in the world today, and Clinton, the person second in line to succeed him in case of death or incapacitation). The writer of the column felt that the interview imploded once it degenerated into fawning by the outgoing Secretary of State. Clinton perhaps didn’t realize at the time that there is a fine line between respect for the office of the President and obsequious overkill.

But who of us has not been guilty of the same sort of thing in our own interactions with those who are powerful and can, by a word or an act, strengthen or weaken our standing in the eyes of our peers? Nevertheless, just think of the impact of such adulation on the recipient—especially when such behavior is replicated in others, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Could you remain unchanged were you the recipient of it? Could I?

Yesterday, a similar situation occurred on Fox Television when famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins was “interviewed” in what turned out to be an overkill of adulation both by the interviewer and by the studio audience of VIPs. I’m not denying that Dr, Carson isn’t worthy of such obsequiousness, I’m just wondering what the effect was on him. And, as a sidebar, I wondered if I could have resisted it.

Where all this is leading to, I’m sure you’ve already figured out: the impact of continual—not just national but international—adulation on perceived superheroes such as Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. Were they truly noble, how long could they have held out against it?

INNER-EROSION

But the third leveling factor is by far the most significant of the three (deconstructing, adulation, and inner-erosion). Inner-erosion is insidious in that it tends to destroy the victim of it from inside, thus the person infected by this virus all too often remains unaware of what’s happening within. And since we all tend to view our actions through rose-tinted-glasses, it is very difficult for any of us to be objective about our own inter-deterioration. History—and Scripture—are full of prototypes of such inner-erosion. Just look at Saul, David, and Solomon (all three devoured from within by inner-erosion). Look at Nebuchadnezzer (“Is not this great Babylon that I have built?”); Napoleon, Henry VIII, Lord Byron, Louis XIV, Benedict Arnold, Richard Nixon—the list is endless.

America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, likens this inner-erosion to a work of art, a perfect piece of sculpture, that, ever so slowly (so gradually that the process is almost impossible to see with the naked eye) is chipped away in tiny almost invisible fragments—until, one fateful day, all the world can see is a ruined work of art.

Both Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong eroded from within, over long periods of time. The very first time each was false to what he knew was right was a first chip. The first time Lance doped in order to win was a chip, and then came chip, chip, chip, and chip. And to avoid losing his perceived cycling supremacy, the first time he viciously turned on, and sued, associates who dared to tell the truth about what it was that made all those Yellow Jersey victories possible—another chip and then, of course, a long succession of such chips. And then there it was for all the world to see: a ruined work of art.

* * * * *

But having said all this, who am I to cast the first stone? When I take off my own rose-tinted classes and look at my own journey, I see so many mistakes, so many failures, so many sins, that I would despair were it not for the good Lord, who in His great divine mercy, stoops down each time to help me get off the floor, forgives me once again, and encourages me to try harder to be true to the better self in me, next time—and next time.

THE DECLINE AND THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN HERO

BLOG #7, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE DECLINE AND THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN HERO
February 13, 2013

Two weeks ago, I discussed the implosion of erstwhile superhero, Lance Armstrong. At its conclusion, I promised to return to the subject.

Heroes – we all have them. Boys especially. It is healthy to have in your mind a shining image, an idealized prototype one can grow towards. But it is not healthy when that ideal is shattered like The Picture of Dorian Gray. During the last couple of years, two of the world’s superheroes – Tiger Woods and now Lance Armstrong, have been toppled from their high pedestals, in the dust of the dramatic collapse of their reputations, leaving behind widespread disillusion and feelings of betrayal – not only in the young but in the older as well.

Heroism has always been with us, but the obsessive attempts to destroy heroes once they are perceived to have arrived at such status is relatively new.

This phenomenon has a long fuse, and was born (in a literary sense), in a French movement of prose fiction scholars label Naturalism, that flowered in the last third of the nineteenth century. Zola was its principal spokesman in Europe, and writers such as Dreiser in America. The novels that spread this philosophy were characterized by flawed heroes who, sooner or later, were destroyed by inner weaknesses and inherited tendencies. Generally, all their supposed heroes end up floundering in the muck in the midst of their shattered pedestals. God and spiritual values worth living by are noticeably absent in Naturalistic fiction.

All through the twentieth century, the moral slide continued, nudged down by Jacques Derrida’s deeply erosive movement (also begun in France) called Deconstruction; the net effect across the western world has been to undermine the foundations of all heroes and debunk anyone who is perceived to be noble or great in any way. Though the movement in America reached its “peak” in the 1960s and 1970s, it remains very much with us today. Its critics apparently have no life outside of character assassination – even of each other. No one, no matter how high, is safe from these intellectual harpies.

Parallel to Deconstructionism is the so-called Theatre of the Absurd movement, especially as portrayed in the dramas of playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Eugene Ionesco (all of which have been widely celebrated and performed in America). In essence, these plays exemplify the illogical and purposeless nature of contemporary existence. They are directly related to the DADA and Surrealistic movements in art.

None of these literary practitioners have much of a place in their works for religion or values worth living by. The net result of generations of debunkers is today’s widespread sense of disillusion, immersion into virtual reality rather than the real world, addiction to substance abuse of all kinds (liquor, drugs, pornography, sexuality, etc.), and an almost terrifying rise in suicide. Not to mention the fallout on the moral front (the nonstop assaults on the institution of marriage, Christianity, and traditional values). Half of all marriages ending in divorce, live-in relationships are becoming the norm, and half of all children are being born out of wedlock, 75-80% in African-American households.

The same is true for our national heroes. For over a century and a half, these preachers of negativity have done their utmost to strip Abraham Lincoln of his spirituality and all the ethical and moral qualities that made him a worldwide icon in the first place.

Even Great Books classics have become an endangered species. In a world where there are no absolutes, no right or wrong, no goodness, no bravery, no courage, no greatness of any kind, neither in the arts nor in real life, there can be no great anything!

Instead, no subject is permitted to rise above all others: spiritual values are removed from life, the Decalogue is trashed, and God is replaced by Relativism.

Nathan Harden, author of Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad, has this to say: “And the fact that Yale [a symbol for American higher education here] as an institution no longer understands the substantive meaning of academic freedom—which requires the ability to distinguish art from pornography, not to mention right from wrong—is a sign of its enslavement to the ideology of moral relativism, which denies any objective truth (except, of course, for the truth that there is no truth).

Under the dictates of moral relativism, no view is more valid than any other view, and no book is any greater or more worth reading than any other book. Thus the old idea of a liberal education—that each student would study the greatest books, books organized into a canon based on objective criteria that identify them as valuable, has given way to a hodgepodge of new disciplines—African-American Studies, Latino Studies, Native American Studies, Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies—based on the assumption that there is no single way to describe the world that all serious and open-minded students can comprehend. . . .

Unfortunately, what’s happening at Yale is indicative of what is occurring at colleges and universities across the country. Sex Week, for example, is being replicated at Harvard, Brown, Duke, Northwestern, the University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin. . . . Our universities have lost touch with the purpose of liberal arts education, the pursuit of truth.”
–Man, Sex, God, and Yale, by Nathan Harden (Hillsdale, Michigan: Imprints, January 2013).

Truly, America is at the crossroads!

HUMPTY DUMPTY – AND – LANCE ARMSTRONG

BLOG #5, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
HUMPTY DUMPTY – AND – LANCE ARMSTRONG
January 30, 2013

During the last several years, we’ve seen the fall of two of the world’s super heroes: Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. But of the two, Armstrong fell further. Reason being: Woods betrayed his immediate family; Armstrong betrayed us all. Let me tell you why.

Over the last two decades, my wife Connie and I have made watching the Tour de France an annual tradition, even getting up at 5:00 a.m. to keep up with the race’s progress. Why? Because of the mesmerizing presence of that indomitable cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong. How vicariously proud he made us feel of our nation, the bicycling sport, and the human spirit. Not just in America alone, for Armstrong became a world icon.

Then the doping dominoes began to fall, one after another; but, in spite of multiple accusations, Armstrong’s teflon armor withstood all attacks. We collectively believed in him, attributing the doping accusations to envy, sour grapes, or mere plea bargaining. After all, Lance had given us his word. Given it to us in thousands of sound-bytes. Had sued one after another of his accusers. Had spent a fortune to protect his good name.

And then, like a Greek tragedy: the fall. The long, long fall. The sitting in a chair opposite Oprah where he admitted, matter-of-factly, that yes, his entire climb to the very top of cycling’s Mount Olympus was riddled with lies: there was no substance to his room full of yellow jerseys, for they’d come to him via years of stacked decks—no level playing field for him! Yes, he admitted in deadpan fashion, he’d lied to everyone: teammates, racing officials, interviewers, fans, even his own son. He’d viciously attacked and done his best to ruin those who dared to speak the truth about him. In short, he’d lied to the entire world. And there, in that chair, he revealed to us all that the Emperor had no clothes—never had had clothes. It was all sham.

Why? For the same expressed reason all those other cyclists used to justify their acts: “because everyone else was doing it.”

But Lance was not “everyone else”—we’d held him to a higher standard than they.

Humpty-Dumpty had such a great fall that not all the king’s horses or all the king’s men could put him together again. The same is true of Lance—he can never be put back together again. Others who betray those closest to them, we may in time forgive. But not Lance, for he betrayed us all.

My wife and I will never again look at cycling the way we did before. Always, in the back of our minds, will be that insidious question: Are we being betrayed again? Which of today’s leaders got to the front because of doping? Of what value are time trials when some win through performance-enhancing drugs? Which ones are winning through deceit today? How many wide-eyed hero-worshiping children will be stripped of their innocence, their faith in their sports idols? How many will, as a result, become disillusioned, cynical about sports victories that used to mean something?

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into this international tragedy. Not just Lance and Tiger, but how we as a society have got this way.