Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lessons on Law, Ethics and Life

Two stories, beginning with similar facts but ending very differently provide opportunities to discuss important issues about the nature of law and education.  Which is more important, strict interpretation of legal language or fidelity to the spirit of the law? Is enforcement of a legal right always justified or are there situations where ethics dictate declination of rights enforcement? What lessons do our students learn about law and life from teachers, parents, coaches, media, and other sources prior to getting into our college classrooms?

As reported by Yahoo sports, this February, the Omaha, Nebraska Burke High School girls basketball team wore pink uniforms for a home game in order to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The uniforms were to be auctioned off after the game. At halftime, the athletic director of the visiting team reminded his coach, who in turn advised the referees that the league rules require that the home team wear white uniforms. A technical foul was assessed against Burke and the visitors sank two fouls shots to give them a one point lead at the start of the second half.  Ultimately, Burke lost the game by a margin that made the free throws irrelevant.  But at the time that the visitors insisted on enforcement of the rule, the game was close. What did these students learn about "law" from this incident?

When I first read this article, I thought about all the issues raised in the opening paragraph above.  But I also had a vague recollection of a similar scenario that sent a far different message.

As reported by ESPN sports, in 2009, Dekalb, IL High School boys basketball team travelled to Milwaukee to play Madison High.  A few hours prior to the game, the mother of Madison's senior co-captain Johntell Franklin succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer. Believing that Franklin was not going to play in the game, Madison's coach did not enter Franklin's name into the scorebook as a possible participant for the evening.  However, during the second quarter, Franklin arrived suited up to play and telling his coach that he wanted to participate.  The situation resulted in the assessment of a technical foul due to a rule requiring player's names to be listed in the scorer's book prior to the game.  The DeKalb coach told the referees that they didn't want the foul.  The referees insisted that they had no choice but to shoot the foul shots. DeKalb senior guard Darius McNeal asked his coach to allow him to take the shots. McNeal strode to the foul line and, in accordance with his coach's instructions, surprised the crowd as he intentionally heaved consecutive air balls, extracting a just result from an otherwise unyielding law of the game.

Rules are rules. They maintian order by confining conduct within predictable ranges. But the environment created by these rules must be tended by thoughtful and competent caretakers. The laws only lay out the landscape upon which the game of life is played. Ultimately, the way you play the game is more important than whether you win or lose.

See also, "Ethics - '...But it's Legal'"

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