Shame On Us!

Shame on us! Once again, we have allowed the media to shape and exploit how we think. Countless major newspapers around the country have carried endless stories on the fall of Don Imus. It has ...

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Shame on us! Once again, we have allowed the media to shape and exploit how we think. Countless major newspapers around the country have carried endless stories on the fall of Don Imus. It has re-ignited a national debate on race and what is appropriate and respectable for public consumption.

The Imus debacle has forced us to revisit a culture that is out of control. The "Shock Jock" visited by the rich, famous and politically powerful because of his insensitivity and ignorance, has unintentionally pushed us to take a critical look at ourselves. He has forced us to look at the mayhem we have created and neglected for far too long. This obtuse and obnoxious personality has caused us to look at our culture, its' characters and its' behaviors. If tolerated and passed on to our children, what will their future be? What will be their fate?

Don Imus' prolific mouth of slime and sludge is an ongoing reminder that we have lost our moral compass. An innocent group of hard working young women who play basketball for Rutgers University were the unfair recipients of one of Imus' misguided diatribes.

The young women athletes have demonstrated a moral fortitude and courage that many of our self-appointed civil rights voices and political leaders profoundly lack. These young women met with Imus and shared their hurt and disappointment caused by his demeaning and disparaging remarks. He, on his part, apologized for his insensitivity and poor judgment. The victimized women accepted his apology.

The floodgates are open. We can be narrow-minded and think that this is all about race, the racial divide in our country and/or our exploitation and lack of respect for women, no matter what their color. Or, is this really about something much deeper and broader than a vulgar humorist, who is out of control?

Certain voices, who like to stir the pot, would like us to believe it is merely about race. I think it is partially about race, but equally as important, it is about a "gangsta" culture that has a stranglehold on our youth. The entire nation was watching and listening. We have allowed a few pot stirrers and media brokers to steer and navigate this fiasco.

We have an opportunity to confront our out of control culture. We have a chance to begin a national conversation about ethical and moral standards of behavior, not only for one another, but for the press and media as well.

It seems to me that any controversial circumstance that puts people at risk or makes them vulnerable, is not driven by facts or by truth, but rather by what the press and media believe will interest the larger public. It seems that the press and the media subscribe to the principle: "never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Look around at high school and college campuses, and even many of our middle schools, listen to how our young people speak to each other. Listen to how they tease and disrespect each other. Most of us would be embarrassed and ashamed.

However, we should not be surprised. If we are really astute and observe the environment that is nurturing or infecting our youth, we will understand. A growing body of contemporary music and film celebrates a lack of respect and a lack of tolerance for diversity. Too often, we hide behind humor as a mask for bigotry and intolerance.

After examining the music and the movies that our kids embrace, look at the video games many are playing. And yes, blame yourself because you are funding this nonsense. Directly and indirectly, we are supporting companies that are making billions of dollars on exploiting people in general and our kids in particular. Some of us call this freedom of expression!

Does freedom of expression mean we have the right to demean and disrespect others? What boundaries should there be? What standards should we hold people to?

In many ways, Imus did us a favor with his crude mouth. The real tragedy of the Imus debacle is that we might fail to look at ourselves and commit ourselves to wanting to do things differently. If the national conversation dies before it really gets started, then we have learned nothing.

As we sorted through the chaos caused by Imus in the Morning, we also learned that the three college lacrosse players from Duke were exonerated. All charges against these former lacrosse players were dropped. It took three hundred and ninety-five days for the Attorney General in North Carolina to dismiss all charges. As these young men communicated to the press, they cannot reclaim the year that was lost because of how they were treated by law enforcement and the press.

However, let us not be so quick to canonize these athletes or make them martyrs. Unfortunately, they symbolize social behaviors that are out of control across college campuses all over America. It is unconscionable that they were charged and convicted in the press of crimes they did not commit. But we do know that they did attend a lacrosse party with illegal drinking and a hired stripper. If the athletes involved honored the contract they signed and weren't at the party, none of this probably would have happened.

It is troubling that we speak about athletics as a venue that builds character, integrity and honesty. However, at a growing number of college campuses, those principles seem to be suspended. Underage drinking is epidemic at many colleges across the country, and specifically out of control among many college athletes.

What happened to calling our athletes to a higher standard and expecting them to lead by example? Where are our college coaches and college administrations, when it comes to holding our college students and our college athletes to a responsible and respectful way of living? Why have student athletes signed a contract regarding drug and alcohol use, if there is no intention of enforcing the contract and holding these athletes accountable? Why have one at all?

We have to stop making excuses and blaming others for why social behavior is so out of control. It is what it is because we, as adults, choose to be silent and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to very challenging social circumstances. In recent times, that silence has caused the loss of innocent life.

Recently, a very successful high school lacrosse team from Western Nassau County went to California to play a series of games. The coaches discovered that some athletes had been drinking vodka in their hotel rooms. Some of the guilty athletes came forward and acknowledged their involvement with alcohol. They admitted to breaking the school's code of conduct. However, there were other athletes that elected to remain silent.

These high school lacrosse coaches took an important stand. They indicated that if all involved in the drinking did not come forward, the entire season could be in jeopardy. If this high school was forced to withdraw, it could potentially hurt some senior players and their scholarship opportunities for colleges next year. Although no coach wants to jeopardize an athlete's scholarship possibilities, they made it clear that the character and integrity of this team was paramount. They also indicated that the code of silence was the real infection that could hurt individual athletes.

These coaches need to be commended for taking such a clear and admirable position on a very troubling issue. I have heard too many adults suggest that these coaches are overreacting and are making a big deal out of nothing.

Breaking a contract, dishonesty and putting people's lives in jeopardy is a big deal. Forfeiting a high school lacrosse season, in the grand scheme of life, is not the end of the world and could possibly teach those involved a very important life lesson.

Unfortunately, too many people in power and leadership don't think anything is a big deal. That is why social decision-making on the part of a growing number of young people is so impaired.