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Why I Can’t Conjure Up Pity For Jim Tressel

I try to keep my feelings, and many opinions, about sports off the blog. But sometimes, sports provides an excellent example of something that applies in the professional realm.

One recent example is Jim Tressel resigning from Ohio State. Obviously, I lived in Columbus for some 25 years, I’ve followed OSU football a little, and I’ve followed this whole story pretty intently. Many people are feeling very sorry for Coach Tressel, but I can’t really count myself as one of them. As I tried to explain my reasoning for this, I realized that what I do for a living has a pretty big influence here.

Anyone who has ever worked in a law firm, even if you’re not practicing law, or handling ESI, has been reminded again and again that there are certain ethics rules that we must abide by. Maybe other people, in other industries, can talk about their clients, or what cases they are working on, but we can’t. We have to keep client confidentiality, we have to abide by the e-discovery rules, we can’t just hide documents, we have to cooperate with the court, etc. These are the rules of the industry. Breaking these rules simply isn’t acceptable. If you don’t like the rules, or don’t feel like you can abide by them, you need to find something else to do.

The NCAA has rules too, and we can argue until the cows come home about whether they are good rules, or effective, but it doesn’t matter. For the record I think many, many NCAA rules are stupid, and exist to protect the financial interests of the people in charge. Alas, my feelings on the NCAA are irrelevant.

If you are going to exist in that environment, as a player, a coach or a college administrator, you must abide by those rules. Breaking them isn’t acceptable.

If I, in the course of doing my job, decided to simply hide a bunch of data collected from a client, and then lie about it later, I would no longer have my job. It’s also highly likely I would never have a job in this industry again, no matter what sort of good intentions I had. It simply isn’t acceptable behavior. Hiding violations on behalf of his players, and lying about them is unacceptable, no matter what the rationale is.

Coach Tressel made a lot of money as part of big time college football. If he didn’t like the rules, he could have very easily done something else for a living, or simply retired with the money he’s already made if he felt that strongly about what the right thing to do was. Trying to break the rules of his industry, while continuing to take the pay checks, isn’t something that pushes me to feel sorry for him.

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