Flogging ’round the fleet

Tom Arenberg’s column in the Birmingham News was a utilitarian’s delight—Arenberg wants punishment to fulfill a laundry list of things like helping recruiting, deterrence and sending a public message to fans and players. Nowhere in his list were important reasons for punishment like helping the player become a better person.

Arenberg’s arguments could be advanced to promote old punishments. Maybe we shouldn’t stop at suspensions, but return to really effective methods like flogging ‘round the fleet? Sure it might leave scars, but managing a football program is more important. Right?

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Coaches do not understand how private discipline hurts them and their programs. Disciplinary decisions are never about just one player, though coaches pretend they are. They need to remember that if you’re the University of Alabama or Auburn University, the whole world is watching, and drawing conclusions.

These decisions of discipline are a chance for present and future recruits to see their behavior boundaries even before they get on campus. A coach ought to love that. And certainly a recruit’s parents would.

Here is the crux of the problem, is punishment done for the sake of the player or the sake of the coach?

It is a question fraught with importance not only for football but for society. Do you punish a criminal (or a child) because they deserve punishment or do you punish them for other reasons? One of the worst reasons to punish someone is as a deterrent to others. Deterrence is a side benefit of punishment, but should not be a primary reason for conducting punishment. If deterrence or other utilitarian goals are the point of punishment, why wait for someone to be guilty of something? Just punish random people for random things—it’ll accomplish your goals just as easily. That is if you want to be seen as draconian.

Why worry about the dignity of the person? We’ve got a football program to manage!