Judging from the reaction and the national discussion it inspired, BYU's decisive suspension of a basketball player last week was more stunning than Secretariat on the homestretch and more befuddling than a Kanye West interview.
The school suspended its starting center just as the Cougars were closing in on the No. 1 ranking in the nation, thereby risking millions of potential dollars as well as victories. The player had broken the school's honor code, which bans premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, swearing, lying and just about everything else that has come to be widely acceptable, but was once considered shameful.
It was the talk of the nation.
In retrospect, the surprise isn't that BYU drew a line where it did. The surprise is that the school drew a line at all.
Who does that anymore?
People will do anything, especially for fame or money, which is all the same the thing, and nobody really cares. Au contraire: The public swarms to the scene with its wallet out.
Kim Kardashian launched a "career" with a "leaked" sex tape and our pop culture fell for it. Outrageousness = fame = fortune. That's the formula. She and her sisters made $65 million last year with no discernible talent.
Sex tapes have become de rigueur for celebs wanting to boost their careers.
Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off of a dove on stage, splattering blood on his clothes. He and his wife and kids get their own TV shows.
Janet Jackson once bared a breast with the help of a "wardrobe malfunction" and Justin Timberlake's hand, live from the Super Bowl in front of a worldwide TV audience. It was another way to jump-start a sagging career.
Last week Sports Illustrated published an investigative story revealing that the rosters of the Top 10 college football teams in the nation included 138 players with criminal records. Schools will let anyone play for them if he can help them win games and the millions that come with it.
The best athletes in the world, particularly those in cycling, track and baseball, have enriched themselves by using steroids, and pretty much everyone knows it.
ABC is working on a pilot for a prime-time TV program called "Good Christian (B-word)." As long as you're going to offend, you might as well target two groups with one show. The offense will likely lead to attention, viewers, money and acceptance.
The public conscience, or what is left of it, is being worn down, year by year. Our sensibilities have hardened into calluses.
There is nothing off limits. There's hardly an actor who won't drop his or her clothes and an F-word or two. There isn't a word in the English language that can make any of us blush anymore.
Reality shows featuring the lowest form of human behavior have gone viral on the tube, which means somebody is watching them. The "bad girls" shows are one long-running sleazefest. Remember when the worst things girls did on TV was a pillow fight?
There is nothing that is out of bounds. Nobody draws a line anymore.
Don't you wish they would? Even if it's not where you'd draw the line, just draw a line somewhere. Shouldn't everyone have a personal code for right and wrong? Doesn't everyone need to establish boundaries — an honor code?
Instead, we cheer on or at least support the behavior. What does it say about a culture that has enriched Madonna, Lady Gaga, Dennis Rodman, the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Pam Anderson, Charlie Sheen and the rest of them? Forget about drawing a line in the sand — bad is good and good is bad or at least boring.
Last week struck a blow for lines and personal codes and consequences. Whether you agree or not with BYU's honor code, at least they have one and they give it more than lip service. BYU administrators were widely applauded for setting aside victories and monetary considerations for what it believed was right. They actually did what they said they would do, no matter the price, and the NCAA didn't make them do it.
Last fall the school suspended its best football player and all-time leading rusher for violating the honor code, and the team wallowed through its worst season in years; a good running game would have done wonders for BYU's freshman quarterback.
Then BYU suspended one of its best basketball players after the team had moved to No. 3 in the national polls and there was of a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Cougars lost their first game after the suspension and slipped to No. 8 in the polls.
It was a costly suspension, but finally someone drew a firm line and stood behind it.