The Conscience of a (Now Former) Football Commentator

business_ethics_highlights_2The word ‘conscience’ comes from the Latin conscire—to be conscious; to know. ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham explains in the linked article his decision to leave the broadcast booth and resign from ESPN, informed by his consciousness of the long-term effects of playing the gridiron game.

This piece could be used in the classroom to jumpstart a discussion about conscience and the relationship between one’s work and one’s values. Comparing Cunningham’s explanation of his decision to resign with NBC football commentator Al Michaels’s explanation of why he is untroubled morally by his identical role raises the titular question of business ethicist Ronald Green’s excellent 1991 Business Ethics Quarterly article, “When is ‘Everyone’s Doing It’ A Moral Justification?” >>>

LINK: ESPN Football Analyst Walks Away, Disturbed by Brain Trauma on Field
(by JOHN BRANCH for New York Times)

[Ed] Cunningham, 48, resigned from one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. The hits kept coming, right in front of him, until Cunningham said he could not, in good conscience, continue his supporting role in football’s multibillion-dollar apparatus.

“I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport,” he said. “I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot.”

“In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear,” Cunningham said. “But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”

He made it plain that he was not becoming an antifootball evangelist. The sport’s long-term success hinges on moving more urgently toward safety, especially at the youth and college levels, he said. He has pointed suggestions on ways to make the game safer.

Cunningham, too, spoke glowingly about ESPN and the job he left behind.

“I was being paid a really nice six-figure salary for not a lot of days of work, and a live television gig that, except for nonsports fans, people would beat me up to take,” Cunningham said. “I’m leaving a job that’s great. It’s not kind of good. It’s great.”

If nothing else, Cunningham’s decision could prompt some self-examination among those who watch, promote, coach or otherwise participate in football without actually playing it.

Al Michaels, the veteran broadcaster who does play-by-play for NBC’s Sunday night N.F.L. broadcasts, said he did not see his role in the booth as an ethical dilemma.

“I don’t feel that my being part of covering the National Football League is perpetuating danger,” he said in a phone interview. “If it’s not me, somebody else is going to do this. There are too many good things about football, too many things I enjoy about it. I can understand maybe somebody feeling that way, but I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody else in my business who would make that decision.”

What do you think?


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