The independent news organization of Duke University

Commitment to integrity

In the beginning, there was chaos and continual disappointment. Duke football was one of the worst programs in the entire country, to the point where attorneys were able to defend Duke’s team in a scheduling lawsuit by arguing that Duke was unable to win a football game. But order was finally brought to the chaos. 

In the first year, Coach David Cutcliffe brought a winning attitude, an entirely new staff and “Cokes with Coach Cut.” And it was good. In the second year, Cutcliffe brought fresh recruits, high expectations and a much improved team. And it was good. Now, just before his third season, Cutcliffe has brought something the sporting world seems to lose everyday—integrity. And it was very good.

Too little has been said about the decision Cutcliffe made to stay at Duke. He turned down a dream job at Tennessee to continue his remarkable rebuilding program at a perennially weak football school. For context, his would-be-predecessor in Knoxville left his position only one year into his contract to take up a more prestigious position in California. Coaching changes happen all the time, and it would have surprised few people if Duke had to start a search for a new head coach. But when weighing his decision, Cutcliffe sacrificed the potential for an even bigger salary and, perhaps, even a personal dream to uphold his integrity. 

Integrity has been slowly slipping away from our daily lives. The drain is painfully obvious in sports. The steroid era, which was recently punctuated by the admission of Mark McGwire, will leave an indelible stain on baseball. The recent application of the Rooney Rule in the National Football League, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies before making a hire, was a joke—the Seattle Seahawks already settled on a white candidate, and a black coach was flown in and interviewed just so the team could fulfill their obligation. Even the college football national championship lacks fairness. At the end of this past season, two teams performed exceedingly well in their respective bowl games and both ended their seasons undefeated. But only one was deemed the national champion.

The loss of integrity in sports has been elevated to such levels of national importance that Congress has even interposed itself into the steroids crisis and national championship debate. But Congress need look no further than themselves and our government to deal with another abhorrent loss of integrity. Members of Congress are bought out by lobbyists, the president is likewise beholden to interest groups and those honorable few who call for reform to the system are often hushed in the halls of the Capitol Building. The entire recession had its origins in diminished integrity among institutions that should have been impervious to such a collapse.

Where has integrity gone? Was it even ever here to start out with? As Americans, we are encouraged to push the envelope, to stretch perceived boundaries beyond their natural limits. We went from a series of 13 colonies to a nation of 50 states. We successfully competed with established national powers, from Britain to France to Germany. We wrote the book on wealth creation and pushed the material quality of life to new heights.

But, in doing so, did we lose a quality that was at the very basis of our earliest settlements: integrity? A well-functioning democracy requires integrity. Credit rating agencies are supposed to ensure integrity within the financial system. Banks are supposed to lend to those who can repay. Doctors are supposed to write referrals based on the best interests of the patient. Every person in this country is supposed to act with integrity, but the reality is not so rosy. Politicians’ election campaigns require that they be obliged to interest groups, bankers are pressured to squeeze out profits any way they can and doctors have an incentive to make a larger income through the self-referral process. 

We like to preach integrity, but when children grow up in a country that glorifies the cheating athlete over the overworked elementary school teacher, and profits over morals, what kind of a country are we actually building? The U.S. may not have had more integrity in the past, but as we progress through time, the potential destruction posed by an absence of integrity becomes ever larger.

That is why actions like those of Cutcliffe are so important to not only note, but to praise. If only ESPN spent as much time talking about the man’s decision to stay as they did discussing his apparently obvious departure to Tennessee. Perhaps then we could inculcate a national expectation to uphold personal integrity to stand alongside the ever-important expectation to win.

Elad Gross is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Friday.


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