Utah Union High School football Coach Matt Labrum believes “…the most important thing is that we build character.”
Labrum backed up that belief with action. Immediately after last Friday’s game, the coach sat his players down in the locker room and told them that after learning of reports that many of them had skipped class, received poor grades and allegedly cyber-bullied another student, he was benching the entire team.
“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going,” Labrum said. “We’ve got to make a change.”
In a letter he handed out to each student player, Labrum said, “Gentleman, we are not pleased with how our football brothers are representing our family, school … and yourselves…. The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field… It is a privilege to play this wonderful game!”
Labrum then detailed the criteria each player would need to meet in order to rejoin the team: “attend all practices, be on time, have no discipline problems. Each would need to complete a community service project and memorize a quote about good character.”
The story landed on CBS This Morning (Sept. 26) where reporter Manuel Bojorquez told a national audience of the remarkable decision by one high school football coach whereby character skills precede athletic skills.
“With the support of his coaches,” Bojorquez reported, “the school administration and even the player’s parents, the team spent football practice Monday and Tuesday working on a different set of skills. Labrum said, ‘We did some service as far as digging weeds and cleaning. On Tuesday we went to the senior center and played some games with them and listened to their stories.’
“Wednesday’s practice was study hall, followed by a team meeting — with some good news. Labrum recalled, ‘We went back through all criteria that we’ve been marking throughout the week and we saw who earned their jerseys back.’
“Not all of Labrum’s players met that criteria, but most did. One player said, ‘It’s a lot of relief for sure, getting my jersey back. I love it.’
“It was just in time for the homecoming game on Friday. Labrum said, ‘It’s a wonderful thing to see young men take on a challenge. I think a lot of lessons we’re learned this week, I think some will be learned later in life I think this is something that we’ll all remember.’ ”
In March 1995, I sat with a class of approximately 28 other students for the first session of what was then called The Josephson Institute’s Ethics Corps. Ethicist-Teacher Michael Josephson smiled as he stepped forward to introduce himself, and then began: “Every day our society pays a heavy price, both emotionally and economically, for the consequences of unethical behavior. In these extraordinary critical times, the well being, perhaps the survival, of our civilization requires an involved, caring citizenry with sound moral character.
“It is clear that now, more than ever, that we need to embrace the pro-social values inherent in the Six Pillars of Character –Trustworthiness (honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, loyalty),Respect, Responsibility, Justice & Fairness, Caring, and Civic Virtue & Citizenship. It is especially important,” he continued, “that the decision-makers of the coming decades are taught to honor moral obligations, as well as to assert legal rights.
“The Josephson Institute of Ethics is dedicated to the advancement of ethics by being creative, constructive, and aggressive change agent: a catalyst for increased ethical consciousness, commitment and competency.”
That was the purpose Josephson laid out for the class: to create a Corps, an Ethics Corps of individuals who would learn, discuss, debate and go forth to advocate and teach ethical values along with a decision-making model for making better, more effective decisions.
We need more coaches like Union High School’s football Coach Matt Labrum, now, more than ever.