The Character Clause and Bad School Rules

Tomorrow, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame will be announcing its newest inductees, paying tribute to those individuals whose lifetime on-field accomplishments have earned them the right to be called all-time greats.  While there are always many long and involved discussions about who is worthy, what makes someone worthy, and so on, this year's discussion is quite different than any that I can recall.  For the first time, there are a significant number of players on the ballot who are known or suspected to have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs to improve their performance and perhaps to raise their statistics to Hall of Fame levels.

I am not going to go into all of the arguments for and against any of these players.  Wonderful writers over at and the Sports and Earth blog and just about anywhere else where sportwriters lurk have already hashed, and rehashed, and re-rehashed all of these arguments, and many others, so many times that it amazes me that that have anything left to write.

No, my issue for this time and this blog is what is known as the “character clause”.  According to the official voting rules, the voters are to consider “the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”  While most of that seems fairly logical – basically vote in the best players – many people are getting hung up on what it means to consider a player's “character”.  Some argue that steroid users, by definition, have character issues, since they effective cheated (whether or

not that it technically true is not my issue here), and thus they should be kept out.  Others argue that the Hall of Fame already includes many people with so-called “character”

issues, including racists, scoundrels, drunks, and so on – and so therefore this clause is meaningless.

Interestingly, I have never heard

about the character clause being used the other way – as an actual qualifying criteria for the Hall.  No one has ever said that a player (for those familiar, think Dale Murphy or Don Mattingly) has below-Hall of Fame numbers but also was such a wonderful role

model for other players or for fans or for the city in which he played that those considerations should compensate for the missing numbers and earn him admission to immortality.  In other words, the character clause is a one-way rule – it can only be punitive but cannot be advantageous.  It exists only to catch people for their misdeeds but not to reward them for their good ones.

As educators, I wonder if we ever fall into a similar trap.  Every school has its rules, and those rules are hopefully aimed at providing a safe and nurturing environment in which children can grow and receive an education.  However, we should ask ourselves if we have rules which do not really benefit the children, but do provide opportunities for those children to get caught and get punished.  Dress codes spring immediately to mind.  My school does have a dress code, but most of our focus on it is enforcing it and dealing with infractions.  Does that make the rule inherently punitive – or do we as a school need to do a better job of explaining why the code exists?  Similarly with cellphone restrictions.  Many school still restrict their use during school, and there is a healthy debate about that point.  However, if the restriction comes solely from a fear of the unknown, or if it comes from a good place but the students see it as primarily a noose around their neck waiting to be tightened, then the rule is not only doomed to be ineffective, but is likely to be a source of ongoing tension between student and faculty.

Take a moment or two to think about it – does your school have any “character clauses”?

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