This thing called honor

In the culture of rules that is modernism, logic demands a governor. That governor can be internal or external; it all depends on the society being served. In totalitarian regimes, the bayonet is an effective governor. In a democracy, however, the governor must be internal, for where the rule of law ends, promises and oaths are all that stand between civilized behavior and the base elements of human nature.

19th-century French political historian Alexis de Tocqueville noted that its churches was what made America strong. This is because religion provided the internal governor that the American experiment in democracy required. We swear to tell the truth with our hand on the Bible, because we believe that telling a lie will bring punishment beyond that which the courts can administer. At least that’s the assumption behind the oath.

But now that religion is publicly vilified in the U.S., what do we have as a governor?

I’m brought to this thought this morning after witnessing something in a football game last night that I simply couldn’t believe. The game was between Louisville and UConn. Late in the third quarter, UConn’s Larry Taylor signaled for a fair catch on a Louisville punt. I saw him wave his hand in the air. The Louisville players racing down the field saw him wave his hand in the air and stopped their pursuit. Even the UConn players nearby relaxed and slowed down, because they knew the play was over.

But no. Taylor scooted up the left side of the field and scored a 74-yard touchdown. UConn won the game by four points. That punt return made the difference.

No referee blew a whistle, so apparently the men in the striped shirts didn’t see him wave his hand. Players are taught that the play isn’t over until a whistle blows, so Taylor just did what he was taught. This morning, the spin is that a fair catch technically requires more than one wave.

“That wasn’t no fair catch, that was a fair play out there,” Taylor told the Associated Press. “The referee didn’t call anything, he said it was a fair play. I felt I didn’t fair catch it anyway.” He even went so far as to suggest he planned the fake fair catch by not “really” raising his hand over his head. And we all just turn away.

Taylor is full of crap, and everybody in that stadium and around the country knows it. It is, however, the fruit of that missing internal governor. Honor and respect for the truth were nowhere to be found in that stadium last night. The referees represent absolute authority, and when they make a mistake, so what? It’s such a sad commentary on our whole culture.

What the University of Connecticut did Friday night was get away with cheating.

UConn coach Randy Edsall, if he had even an ounce of integrity, would forfeit the game, but he won’t. All that matters is that they are undefeated in their conference, but that’s only on paper, for the real losers in the game were the UConn players, who will now go forward in life understanding that in America today, it’s all about what you can get away with.

Every fan of the University of Connecticut, every alumni group, every supporter and the parents of all those players should feel an enormous sense of shame this morning. But wait; that would require a conscience, the core of an internal governor.


  1. Are you insane or just a bitter Louisville fan who can’t take a loss? Sure, one bad call hurt you. Guess what. One bad call helped you even more. Remember that punt that hit a Louisville player that UConn recovered on the Louisville 1 and brought into the endzone for what should be an obvious touchdown? Yea, the refs ruled that it hit a UConn player first (which it clearly didn’t) and gave Louisville the ball at the point of contact. The Cards went on to kick a field goal on that drive so it ended up being a 10 point swing. A bad call helped Connecticut get a touchdown they shouldn’t have scored, but another one took away a touchdown that they did score, so the score evens out there. UConn won the game fairly, don’t try to blame the refs. And to say Edsall would forfeit if he has any integrity is just idiotic. His team played a great game and won fairly. They did not cheat. A bad call is not cheating. The players didn’t make the bad call, the refs did. Not that it matters because, as I said earlier, it was evened about by another bad call anyway. There’s this thing called class and it seems you’re the one who needs it. Learn to accept a loss.

  2. Mike P,
    I’m neither a Louisville fan (bitter or otherwise), nor am I insane. Your comment proves my case, because the “bad call” isn’t the point. The rules of games have removed honor from the table, and I think that’s a bad lesson for young people, whether they’re athletes or fans.

    Life will call upon you one day to call a penalty on yourself. The question is will you have the courage to do that, or will you just get on with life, because nobody “caught” you? Life has a way of catching up with people, and that’s the real lesson.


  3. okay, 2 questions.

    1. You said that UConn got away with cheating. Tell me, how is the ref missing a call cheating? The players had nothing to do with the ref not calling it. Forget what Taylor said, it’s a load of crap. What happened is the ref didn’t blow the whistle so he continued playing the the Louisville players didn’t. What do you expect him to do? Say, “I called a fair catch so the play should come back?” If that’s what you think, then I guess you also think that Louisville cheated on the UConn punt where they should have had a touchdown. The Louisville player who was hit should have said, “the ball hit me first so it should be a touchdown.” I guess in both instances, it would be the right thing to, but lets face it, things like this happen all the time in sports and people usually don’t admit to it. Don’t tear apart Connecticut for this call, because it’s far from the first time something like this happened.

    2. How can you expect Edsall to forfeit for this? Do you think every coach should forfeit every game in which his team benefits from a bad call? Bad calls are part of the game, but they’re not the whole game. Even this one wasn’t the whole game. Louisville still had a great chance to win and actually ended up taking a 17–7 lead before falling apart. And in this situation, Louisville benefited from an equally bad call that essentially canceled this one out. So should Louisville forfeit too? Okay, now who wins the game? I actually suspect that the refs made the 2nd bad call taking the touchdown away from Connecticut because they knew they messed up the first call and wanted to cancel it out.

  4. Mike,
    Thank you for the response. I didn’t see last year’s game, but if it went down as you say, then I would say the same thing about Louisville.

    Rules govern athletic competition, not referees. In the game of golf, for example, where no “refs” call infractions, the players do it themselves. When we play games ourselves — and there are no refs present — we attempt to play by the rules, calling infractions on ourselves and each other. I’m an old guy, so I remember a day when the violators in basketball actually raised their hand before the ref pointed at them after committing a foul.

    I’m arguing that this is missing in big-time sports, and it allows people point fingers at the refs instead of the rules. This, I believe, is a lack of honor.

    What I saw in the game wasn’t just a “bad call” — such as those that can be reviewed. I’m talking about UConn’s own players easing up before Mr. Taylor started to run. They KNEW he had made a fair catch, and that’s what makes it different than a “bad call.”

    I realize, Mike, that I’m talking idealistically here, but I comment on culture, and what we have in our world today is a society bereft of conscience and internal codes. When things go wrong, we blame everybody except ourselves, and this is one of the things that’s producing madness in our streets.

    Sports — like life in a free culture — is governed by rules, not referees or courts. When athletes get away with cheating in the name of “bad calls,” then I will throw my own penalty flags.


  5. If Taylor had any honor, he would have fair-caught the ball, and handed it to the ref. He didn’t. He cheated. The Louisville players allowed him to catch the ball and didn’t tackle him BECAUSE he called for a fair catch. This isn’t about sore losers, it’s about cheating.

  6. I see where you’re coming from, but I disagree with some of it. I don’t think you can expect players to turn themselves in for violations, just because it doesn’t happen. And in Taylor’s case, it wasn’t even a violation. He called for a fair catch, a rule that is in place to protect him, the receiver, from being hit. When he didn’t get the fair catch called, he had to run just for his safety. If he stayed put and handed the ball to the ref, he could have (and probably would have) gotten slammed by the Louisville players and fumbled the ball. And there would have been nothing wrong with that because the ref didn’t blow the whistle, so the ball was still in play. The ref is supposed to blow the whistle as soon as the ball was caught, when that didn’t happen, the smartest thing to do was keep playing. If he had been hit, the ref would have screwed up even more by calling the fair catch late. The play was fair game because the ref didn’t call the fair catch. Nobody was intending to cheat here. If he didn’t run, he’d have been hit and the Louisville players would be accused of “cheating” except for the fact that the play was never blown dead.

  7. Mike, I’ll let you have the last word after this, if you wish, because I don’t think we disagree about much. I’ve appreciated this conversation and I mean that.

    The only response I’d have to what you’ve written is that the lack of a blown whistle is a good argument. I’d buy it totally, if Taylor hadn’t gone on to say that he “faked” the fair catch deliberately. That’s just crap, and it clouds the whole thing. If it was, in fact, JUST a blown call, then why not admit it after the game? Why not just say, “Hey, the guy blew it. He didn’t blow the whistle, so I just took off?”

    Again, Mike, I think the game should be played according to the rules, not according to the refs. I fully acknowledge the practical difficulties with that statement, but I’m trying to comment on culture as a whole. To be successful, democracy must be based on oaths and promises, and those oaths and promises must be based on something other than ourselves. What’s happening on our athletic fields — where money is the real contemporary motivator — is illustrative of the lack of an internal governor in society.

    This thing called honor is a missing element in our culture, and it’s much bigger than what happened in that game.

  8. I’ve appreciated this conversation too and I fully understand your approach to it. In this situation, I honestly don’t think Taylor had any intention of cheating. He just realized after the game that he got himself a spotlight with that play, so he decided to start talking it up and act like he planned the whole thing. I think that it was either, A- he took off because their was no whistle, as I said before. Or B, he intended to call for a fair catch, but pulled his arm down quickly in order to catch the ball (if he properly called for a fair catch, he would have muffed the punt). He then was not sure if he would get the fair catch call or not because he brought it back so quickly, so he chose to not take any chances and run with it. I think everything he said after words was crap. He was trying to make himself look “smart,” but he only really succeeded in making himself look bad.
    I know you said you were going to let me have the last word, but will you please respond? I want to know what you think of my second theory on the play since you already addressed my first.
    And I agree, our culture really does lack honor, and it really shows on the sports fields.

  9. Your second theory is quite plausible, Mike. Thank you for sharing it and everything else. Be well.


  1. […] Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has punished a referee for a big mistake in Saturday’s game between Louisville and Connecticut. With Louisville leading 7–0, Connecticut punt returner Larry Taylor waved his hand signaling a fair catch. Subsequently, many players on Louisville’s punt unit stopped pursuit after Taylor caught the ball. But then Taylor proceeded to run with the ball 74 yards up the sideline into the end zone, and the officials called it a touchdown! Obviously, Louisville and coach Steve Kragthorpe were furious and asked for a review, but whether or not a fair catch was signaled is not a situation that can currently be reviewed. Commissioner Tranghese called Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich to admit the mistake and tell him the official responsible was punished, but we don’t know how exactly. Still, that play was certainly a factor in Louisville receiving another disappointing loss. It’s too bad those kinds of plays can’t be reviewed so that bonehead refs are kept in line and bad calls can’t stand up like that! Please subscribe to our posts to get instant bonehead updates! […]

  2. […] Expectations that broadcasters could self-govern themselves had been predicated on widely held beliefs in Congress that the promises, agreements, and oaths made by broadcasters to earn licensure would obtain. This has proven to have been a foolish assumption, for since deregulation, broadcasting has changed dramatically from public service oriented to just another cash-cow. The lesson is clear: broadcasting is no different from any other business — where there is no governance, self-interest rules. Terry Heaton, publisher of the PoMo Blog, recent wrote about the importance of effective broadcast governance in his essay This Thing Called Honor. While Heaton and I see the purpose of television news very differently, I found Heaton’s arguments on the importance of governance to be clear and probative, […]

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