Should Character Matter in Pro Sports?

Mavs owner Mark Cuban weighs in on the pro athlete-character debate

Mavs owner Mark Cuban weighs in on the pro athlete-character debate

Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban believes that teams can guide risky players with help from psychologists and life coaches.  Photo by Keith Allison
Aaron Hernandez
Former New England tight end Aaron Hernandez stands accused of murdering an associate.  Photo by Jeffrey Beall
Mark Cuban
Aaron Hernandez

The “Room for Debate” section of the New York Times is currently holding a discussion about whether character should matter in pro sports. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has offered his two cents.

Cuban’s short essay, “Teams Can Make a Difference If They Care,” examines how a team can ensure a player stays out of trouble with the right support system around him.

Of course, Cuban says, a lot of players do stay out of trouble in the first place — something he believes social media and its 24/7 surveillance impact — but he also says there are still players who need help.

The reason this is a relevant debate right now is because former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez stands accused of murder and currently is being investigated for several other murders.

​​ Players aren’t required to go to church or create a charity or even be nice people. They’re required to play their sport and play it well.

It is a salacious story that led to much handwringing over whether the Patriots should have known Hernandez was going to murder someone because of his less-than-stellar record while playing at Florida.

The question, some believe, is whether the New England Patriots had a moral obligation to not employ Hernandez — which is to say that some believe that New England should have been clairvoyant. 

But Cuban’s essay touches on the things that a team can do to prepare itself for a player who may be of questionable character. It begins with evaluations before the player is added to the roster to see if he’s the right fit. All players — including those walking the tightrope between altar boy and felon — are given access to a full-time team psychologist and life coaches.

Cuban admits that some players are risks when signed, but that’s as par for the course in professional sports as it is in the business world. What he doesn’t address is that a good player, however troubled, equals dollar signs for a team. That said, once a player is arrested for murder, that revenue potential disappears.

Teams don’t have to do what Cuban and the Mavericks do any more than a company has a responsibility to babysit its employees, and character often only becomes an issue when its absence creates the possibility of prison. There is no moral spectrum to catching a football or making a 3-pointer.

Although the Mavericks’ system of evaluation and monitoring certainly is admirable, it doesn’t mean that character outweighs skill. If Jason Kidd weren’t one of the best point guards in NBA history, his domestic abuse history would’ve been a bigger hindrance to his finding a roster spot.

This is not to diminish the efforts of Cuban and his Mavericks; character is important. All teams should strive to have checkpoints in place to make sure they’re not getting a player destined to become acquainted with the local police.

Players aren’t required to go to church or create a charity or even be nice people. They’re required to play their sport and play it well, and when that stops happening because they’re sitting in jail, then it’s an issue of lost revenue.

Talent, skill and cost are what drive team decisions. Character can be the tiebreaker between two equal players, but character without skill is just the guy playing rec league at your church.