By Charis Denison, Prajna Consulting
Daily Dilemma — GoodCharacter.com

The Situation

Kevin is a talented basketball player whose high school team made it into the playoffs and all the way to the city championship game. As a result, Kevin had to miss his school’s baseball tryouts and a couple of weeks of practice. So, he was grateful when the coach gave him an opportunity to come out for the team anyway. Kevin’s older brother had been on the varsity team for four years, so the coach knew the family and assumed Kevin would follow in his brother’s footsteps. But Kevin had never played league baseball before and had no expectation of getting a lot of playing time. Besides, the team already had a solid lineup of experienced players; he would just have to be patient and earn his position through hard work.

Which is why Kevin was shocked when the coach announced the starting lineup for the first game: Kevin was picked to start at third base.

Kevin immediately felt confused, then embarrassed, then guilty. He was confused because the coach had never seen him play. He felt embarrassed and guilty because everyone knew that the coach must have made this decision based on Kevin’s athletic reputation and the coach’s relationship with Kevin’s older brother. Kevin considered himself a team player. He also knew the other third baseman—a strong player who never missed a practice. Surely, the other guy deserved to be the starter. He looked around at his teammates and saw himself through their eyes. He felt bad. He walked to his position without making eye contact with the coach or the players.

After the game, Kevin called his brother and said he was thinking about asking the coach to let him step down until he had earned the position in a way that was fair to the rest of the team. His brother said no way. Life is about seizing opportunity. That’s how you achieve your dreams. Why give up your big chance? “Besides,” he said, “I put in a good word for you, so don’t blow it.”

Kevin felt like he was stuck. If he kept silent, he risked the respect of his team; if he came forward, he risked the athletic opportunity and his relationship with his coach. He needed to make a decision before the next game.

Notes for the Facilitator

This case is a great one for introducing students to the idea that taking no action is taking action. In other words, when my students are discussing scenarios like this and come back with the infamous, “just take what happened and don’t do anything; it’s not your responsibility,” I reply, “not making a choice is a choice.”

Students love to talk about times when they have been the victims of an unfair situation. It’s a lot of fun to turn the tables on them and have them talk about when they have benefited from an unfair situation. Do they bear some responsibility to restore justice? I find it effective to get students to articulate what each of three parties would consider fair in the scenario (the coach, Kevin, the team).

If you have covered any of the more formal ethical principles, this case works very well when you assign one of the three principles to each group and have them apply it to their decision (ends-based, rule-based, care-based).

Discussion Questions (& Debate Topics, Writing Assignments, etc.)

  • What do you think Kevin should do? What do you think you would do?
  • How do you think the team might feel about the coach letting Kevin start without having seen him play or participate in the first two weeks of practice?
  • What do you think is the coach’s reason for making Kevin a starting player? Do you agree with it?
  • How do you feel about the role Kevin’s brother is playing in all this?
  • How might Kevin feel if he doesn’t talk to the coach?
  • How much influence do you think Kevin’s brother has on Kevin’s choice?
  • If you were faced with an ethical dilemma, how important would your sibling’s opinion be?
  • Have you ever seen someone you know benefit from an unfair situation? What happened? What did it feel like? How did the person benefiting respond? If you didn’t agree with that response, how do you wish he/she would have responded?
  • Have you ever benefited from an unfair situation? What happened and how did you respond? Would you respond in the same way again?
  • ?