Persons

Antonio Brown, an outstanding football player who just can’t seem to get his act together, is much in the news of late — for all the wrong reasons. A warrant for his arrest has been issued lately because allegedly he beat up the driver of a moving van outside his house. Details are sketchy.

Last Fall it appeared he would play football for the Oakland Raiders but his odd behavior resulted in his dismissal from the team. He was later picked up by the New England Patriots and then let go for, again, behavior unacceptable in an adult human. He apparently has a court case ongoing involving possible aggressive behavior toward a former girl friend. And the list goes on.

The talking heads are all in a dither and it seems to be the consensus that this man is a loose canon and needs help — and fast. They all agree, to be sure, that aggravated assault against another human is not acceptable behavior. The same conclusion surfaced when Kansas State and Kansas basketball players got into a brawl at the end of their game recently and one of the players was suspended twelve games for raising a chair apparently in order to hit another player before it was taken away by one of the coaches. In all cases, most reasonable people would agree that this sort of behavior is simply not acceptable.

But why not?

We go along insisting that people should let it all hang out, do their thing, and generally be completely honest with their emotions — if not their actions. If this is so and the basketball player and Antonio Brown enjoy hitting other people why do we now say this cannot be allowed? On the face of it we seem to be inconsistent if not contradictory in our likes and dislikes, not to mention our ethical claims. Either we should allow people to do whatever they want or we should agree that they should not do whatever they want.

Many would say we draw the line at hurting other people. Folks should be allowed to let it all hang out and express their feelings until or unless their behavior involves harm to another person.

But what is “harm”? Physical harm seems straightforward, though there are masochists out there that love to be punished — the harder the better. But generally speaking physical harm is where we draw the line. What about emotional harm — such as bullying, for example? Surely we don’t condone that even though the bully is simply letting it all hang out: he enjoys making other people feel bad. But he is not physically harming anyone. Still, there is damage being done to another person and any sort of damage, whether it be physical or emotional is simply not to be allowed.

If this is then the place where the line is drawn then we can say that we have an ethical principle: one should not harm other people. Persons ought to be respected to the extent that they are persons and as such capable of feeling pain, both physical and emotional. Kant would argue, further, that they as persons they are capable of making moral judgments (whether or not they ever do); thus they ought to be respected by other persons. But in any case, whether  or not we agree with cumbersome Kant, we seem to have arrived at what might be said to be the cornerstone of an ethical system.

And I suggest that we have done just that and in staying this I would add that this lends the lie to the claim that ethics is simply a matter of opinion and feeling: what is good is what we want to do and what is bad are those things we find repulsive. This sort of emotional guide gets us nowhere, whereas the ethical cornerstone we have uncovered — persons are valuable in themselves — allows us to build an ethical system that leads to important conclusions — such as: slavery is wrong; women have the same rights as men; women are entitled to the same rewards in the workplace as their male cohorts who perform the same jobs. And so on. There is a plethora of legitimate ethical claims that stem from our one principle.

And in the process of uncovering those ethical claims we find ourselves thinking about ethics and not simply emoting. Any idiot can emote just as any idiot can take a swing at another person. But it takes a reasonable person to think his or her way through conflict and arrive at a conclusion that can stand up to criticism. That’s what ethics is all about.

Redemption

One of the more bizarre stories in sports the past few weeks has been the saga of Antonio Brown, a very gifted and self-absorbed wide receiver who plays football in the NFL. He had played for the Pittsburg Steelers for a number of years though at the end of his time there he made it clear that he wanted to be traded, making it impossible for the coaches to want him around. Rumor is that he wanted to be traded to the New England Patriots, the standard for excellent football programs in the NFL — whether you like the team or not. But Pittsburg would not trade him to another team in their division because he has immense talent and they didn’t want to have to figure out how to stop him twice a year. So  he managed to orchestrate a trade to the Oakland Raiders where his behavior became truly bizarre. A recent story on CBS Sports gives us a sense of what Oakland had to deal with and why, eventually, they decided to get rid of him — and trade him to (wait for it) New England. This story centers around Jerry Rice who helped Brown work a deal with the Raiders where he was reported to have signed a contract worth more than $30 million. But it also hints at the various things Brown did to make it impossible for the team to keep him on the roster.

Rice isn’t alone in thinking that Brown becoming a Patriot was the plan from the beginning. On Sunday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that New England offered Pittsburgh a first round pick for Brown before the Steelers traded him to Oakland for third and fifth round picks. Additionally, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday that Brown hired social media consultants to help expedite his release from Oakland. As everyone knows, it worked, as Brown was released on Saturday after posting a video that included a private conversation between himself and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden on Friday night.

Earlier in the week, Brown was nearly suspended by Oakland after reportedly starting an altercation with GM Mike Mayock. Brown kicked off last week by sharing Mayock’s letter informing him of recent team fines on social media. All of this came after a preseason that saw Brown miss significant time with frostbitten feet while also fighting with the NFL for the right to use his now illegal helmet.

As I said, it was clear from the beginning that Brown didn’t want to play for the Raiders even though he seemed to say the right things at the right time — even offering a seemingly heartfelt apology to the team and the coaches in an effort to win a place back on the team — before he started trawling social media seeking ways to be traded to another team, preferably the Patriots. He signed with the Patriots within hours after being released by the Raiders. Very interesting!

As suggested in the quotation above, the theory that is floating about in the airwaves among the braintrust that knows all about very little is that Brown orchestrated the entire long drawn-out episode in order to end up with the New England Patriots. If this is so we must give the man credit of some sort, while hoping that perhaps this is the end of his bizarre behavior. But I do wonder if the reasons for his wanting to play for New England have to do with his unconscious desire for structure and discipline in an otherwise directionless life.

Folks like Christopher Lasch have told us a number of times that the current generation suffers from a lack of authority in their lives and that deep down we all crave structure and authority in order to find some sort of psychic balance. I find those arguments compelling and see Brown’s antics in the light of that analysis. On the one hand we have an immensely talented athlete whose life lacks direction and purpose, and on the other hand we have a coach in New England who is known to be a strict disciplinarian and who had reclaimed a number of talented athletes who seemed to have no direction and were given to chronic outbursts and bizarre behavior. Randy Moss was one of these who eventually ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame and was one of the most talented players ever to play the game of football. Could Antonio Brown be craving this sort of redemption? Could he want to be in a place where the line is clearly drawn and he will find some sort of peace of mind in an otherwise out-of-control existence? We shall see.

But if I am right, there may be a lesson  here for us all as we go further down the road to undisciplined out-of-control behavior designed to simply “express ourselves” while we draw attention to ourselves and cry out for someone to finally say “STOP!” Like Antonio Brown, perhaps?

P.S. And this just in — after the above was posted. Brown has been accused of rape and sexual assault by a former female trainer. Stay tuned!!