A person with integrity discerns right from wrong and acts on it, unafraid to state why a particular position was taken. Integrity takes courage because sometimes being a person of integrity comes with a personal cost.
Ralph Friedgen will be there with his Maryland Terrapins. George O’Leary was supposed to have been there, too, as the new coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It would have been his second straight Kickoff Classic. Last year O’Leary coached his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to a 13-7 win over the Syracuse Orangemen.
However, O’ Leary will not be on the sidelines for Notre Dame, having resigned only days after being hired as head coach last December.
The record books will place an asterisk by O’Leary’s name, giving the explanation as to why he never coached a game at the nation’s most prestigious football program. In fact, O’Leary’s entire career, as great as it has been, will be asterisked in the minds of many who will remember him more for falsifying a resume than for his abilities as a coach.
O’Leary’s incident reminds us all that we can build a great career and reputation, but have them overrun by our own lack of integrity.
It’s tempting for successful people to rely on their achievements for security. Regardless of level of achievement, if people have lapses of integrity, the gates to their reputations are left unguarded and their opportunities to lead are jeopardized. O’Leary’s incident teaches us that lapses of integrity, even from years ago, can devastate one’s future ability to lead.
“Integrity” comes from a Latin root that carries with it a sense of wholeness. The Great Wall of China has integrity because it is solid. Likewise, a person with integrity is solid in his or her ethics and judgment. A person with integrity discerns right from wrong and acts on it, unafraid to state why a particular position was taken. Integrity takes courage because sometimes being a person of integrity comes with a personal cost.
However, the cost of leaving the ethics gate unguarded is much higher. In the Bible we see many examples of the cost of having a lapse of integrity. The book of 1 Samuel says that “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war … David remained in Jerusalem.” The implication is that David should have been at war with his men, but instead he remained at his palace.
I suppose such a decision is a king’s prerogative. But there are standards even for kings. There was no place where David was safer than in the well-fortified surroundings of the palace. Yet it was from the palace’s roof that David saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing and inquired about her. The gates to the palace were well-guarded, but David left the gate to his moral code of ethics unguarded. One bad decision led to another.
When news came that Bathsheba was pregnant, David had her husband brought from the battlefield, believing he would sleep with his wife, which would later cause him to believe the child was his own.
But Uriah was a man of such integrity that he slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. He refused pleasure with his wife because of his loyalty to men left behind and camping in the fields. Uriah’s integrity cost him his life. King David had him sent to the front lines, where he was killed.
David suffered as did Bathsheba. God’s prophet Nathan foretold the death of their child. Though David pleaded with God to spare the child, he did not live.
Yet, even with David’s terrible lapses of judgment, he is still lifted up as Israel’s greatest king. David is an example that a few bad decisions should not sum up the character of one’s life.
In fact, in speaking to King Solomon about David, God said: “As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel'” (1 Kings 9:4-5). Apparently, God looked at David’s whole life in judging his character.
Likewise, I do not believe that falsifying a resume years ago sums up George O’Leary’s character. I base this on the way he handled his resignation and by the many positive comments others made of him in the weeks following. He was honest, forthright, gracious and repentant. He explained how as a young married father he had allowed his dream to be a football coach to cloud his judgment in preparing his resume, which in later years was never corrected.
In his resignation remarks, O’Leary said, “I pray that my experiences will simply be yet another coaching lesson to the youth of this country that we are all accountable for our actions and there can be no double standard.”
He is right. If we think otherwise, we’ve left the gate to our character unguarded. May integrity and uprightness protect us, because our hope is in God (Ps 25:21).
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.