I recently spoke with my twelve-year-old son, Corey, about what it means to have integrity and character. As part of our conversation, I read a passage from Bo Schembechler’s autobiography, co-written by Mitch Albom. (Bo Schembechler coached the Michigan Wolverine football team from 1969 through 1989.)
Today, people seem more likely to justify cheating because they believe others are doing so. You can see this in many facets of our society, even sports. With Thanksgiving now here, I thought I’d share the passage about Bo and his father (named Shem). I hope you enjoy it.
One night we were all sitting in the living room. I was maybe ten years old. The phone rang and my dad picked it up. I could hear him saying, “No, no…no…never!” By the time he hung up, tears were coming down his face.
“Shem, what’s the matter?” my mother said.
“Those bastards,” he mumbled. “Those bastards.”
“That was the guys from the club. They want me to come down there. They want to give me a cheater’s copy of the civil service exam.”
He looked at her with a mixture of anger and shock.
“Because the other guy has one.”
The “other guy,” it turned out, was my father’s rival for a promotion to fire chief. It was a job my father wanted. He was qualified; he was a captain. But you had to take these civil service exams, and somehow, the other guy had gotten hold of the questions. My father’s friends found this out and got a copy, too. They were offering him a chance to cheat before he got cheated.
“It’s only fair,” they told him.
Not to my father, it wasn’t. He never went down to that club. He refused to look at the questions beforehand. He took the test cleanly, scored high, maybe a ninety-seven. And the other guy beat him by a point.
So they made the other guy fire chief. My dad walked up to him, looked him square in the eye, and said, “You son of a bitch. I know how you got that score. And I am not working for you.”
And he didn’t. He took an inspector’s position. Drove a red car around town, checking buildings for fire hazards.
He died doing that job.
I learned more from that night than any single lesson of my childhood. Do not bend your principles. Even if it costs you. Even if everyone else is doing it. I remind myself of that, and my dad, all the time as a football coach.
Especially during recruiting season.
I am thankful that I get the opportunity to teach my son that it’s better to lose with integrity and character than to win without them.
Have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving!