It’s no secret that sports are a cornerstone of Duke culture. On a campus where some students spend nearly two months “tenting” for spots to the Carolina basketball game, the importance of athletic is incredibly clear. This past Tuesday, the week before the historic rivalry game, the Honor Council paid homage to Duke’s tradition by hosting a sports ethics-themed event. The Council invited Duke’s Senior Deputy Athletic Director, Chris Kennedy, for a conversation about sports ethics, NCAA regulation, student-athlete demeanor, and the role of honor in the Duke Athletic Department. Mr. Kennedy began his talk by describing his forty-one years at Duke and the incredible development he has witnessed throughout. He offered an interesting account of how, upon arriving at Duke, academic advising was only offered for football and men’s basketball players. Kennedy found this unethical from the beginning and immediately began working to expand advising to all varsity sports.
His engagement with college sports is not limited to Duke, however. As a peer review reviewer for the NCAA Certification Committee, Mr. Kennedy has significant experience working within strict NCAA rules. He was careful to emphasize that, while many see NCAA regulations as overbearing and unnecessary, it is crucial that the Duke Athletic Department ensures all of these regulations are strictly enforced. He recounts a specific incident in which a Duke varsity coach accidentally sent a recruiting email three minutes before it was technically legal (he mistakenly pressed send at 11:57, 3 minutes before 12). The slipup was minuscule, and had he not come forward to Duke athletics, it’s possible that no one would have ever known. Instead, Kennedy says, the coach immediately came forward, extremely flustered and remorseful about the mistake. Though the three-minute mishap was obviously an extremely minor incident, Kennedy says Duke Athletics had no choice but to report it to the NCAA. This is because, according the Senior Deputy Athletic Director, it is easy to set a precedent that could lead to larger transgressions in the future. With this decision, Duke avoided creating a dangerous “gray area” between incidents deemed minor and incidents deemed major. According to Mr. Kennedy, a consistent approach is necessary to ensure consistent adherence to all rules. An approach effective in athletics, sure, but also one that is undoubtedly applicable to life, in general.
In fact, much of Kennedy’s talk seemed to illustrate the importance of morals in sports and more importantly, in life. Because, at the end of the day, what is any athlete, or person, for that matter, without a foundation of honor and ethics?