During an National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Eastern Conference finals game last month, Chicago Bulls’ center Joakim Noah directed a homophobic slur toward a fan sitting behind him in the arena stands. The next day, the 26 year old former Florida Gator’s player emerged from a meeting with NBA officials and said he expected to “pay the price” for what happened.
“I apologize. The fan said something to me that I thought was disrespectful, and I got caught up in the moment, and I said some things that I shouldn’t have said.”
“I said the wrong thing and I’m going to pay the consequences — deal with the consequences — like a man.”
Noah was given a $50,000 fine which the league automatically deducts from his paycheck. Through the terms of the players and owners’ collective bargaining agreement, the funds are donated to charities designated by the two groups. Why can’t more individuals and organizations behave like Joakim Noah and other NBA players, admit their mistakes, take it “like a man,” and pay the consequences?
I’m thinking, for example, of companies that violate worker safety policies, especially those infractions that lead to fatalities or cause serious harm. The former Massey Energy coal mining firm racked up millions of dollars in unpaid monetary penalties. And it’s not just Massey. An analysis prepared last year by USA Today’s Thomas Frank and Peter Eisler revealed that major coal mining companies owed more than $90 million in unpaid fines for safety violations assessed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
The examples go on and on, and it’s not just corporations. Last fall, a University of Notre Dame (ND) part-time employee and member of the junior class Declan Sullivan, 20, was killed while working on a scissor lift. Sullivan was a videographer employed by the ND’s Athletic Department to film the football team’s practices. October 27, 2010 was a windy day. Prior to starting work, the ND student tweeted:
“Gusts of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work . . . I guess I’ve lived long enough :-/.”
At 4:06 p.m, he wrote:
“Holy f__k holy f__k this is terrifying.”
At 4:54 pm, a wind gust blew over the elevated lift where Sullivan was working. He fell 40 feet to his death.
Indiana OSHA (IN-OSHA) investigated the incident and on March 15 issued their findings:
“The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated that the university made a decision to utilize its scissor lifts in known adverse weather conditions.”
IN-OSHA classified one citation as “knowing,” the most grievous category available to the agency, and five serious violations. IN-OSHA proposed a $77,500 penalty. Notre Dame contested the citations and penalty, a right afforded to employers under the Section 10 of the OSH Act. The case remains open until an administrative law judge decides the case, or Notre Dame and IN-OSHA reach a settlement.
Unlike Joakim Noah who admitted his error, accepted the consequences and paid the penalty, Notre Dame has decided not to behave, in Noah’s words “like a man.” The University’s own internal investigation identified serious safety lapses that were inexcusable for such a big employer and institution. These included:
*administrative barriers between the school’s risk management office and the multi-million dollar ND Athletic Department (AD) [the report suggests that football operations were off limits to the school's risk management office];
*failure to train the videographers in how to properly use the aerial lifts;
*failure to maintain and annually inspect the lifts;
*absence of a written wind-safety procedures for those using the lifts;
*absence of a real-time weather monitoring system, and
in my view, the grievous error of all may have been:
*expecting 20-something, school-spirit filled college students, who want to please powerful football coaches and staff, to withdraw themselves from a workplace condition if it “felt unsafe.”
I also learned that ND objected to giving IN-OSHA investigators a copy of the video film created by Declan Sullivan, 20, just before his fatal fall. Something about “proprietary information”—as if the ND football team’s plays are super-secret or are confidential business information.
Maybe Joakim Noah’s sentiment to “take it like a man” is antiquated, or too colloquial for high-brows at Notre Dame. Perhaps the university has forgotten the motto of the school’s founder, the Reverend Edward Sorin, CSC:
“This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.”
But, like Massey Energy with it loads of safety slogans and public relations apparatus, words are cheap.
Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH, was part of the WV Governor’s independent team investigating the Upper Big Branch disaster. Two of her brothers, Tony Monforton (BA, 1975) and Roger Monforton, Jr. (BS, 1977) graduated from the University of Notre Dame.