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Monday Night Considerations

A recent Monday Night Football [MNF] matchup featured a suffocating Seattle Seahawk defensive performance (8 sacks in the first half) and a grinding second-half comeback by the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, a replayed disputed last-second touchdown reception dominated the national airwaves for the next five days. Fortunately, this football game can be redeemed by discussing the business ethics of officiating.

In moral-decision making, similar choices produce different consequences because of contextual considerations; some actions are termed morally lucky or unlucky. For instance, a drunk driver coming home from the football game scrapes the side of a tree while another runs over a pedestrian. The first driver is the beneficiary of moral luck and public disapproval; the second driver is morally unlucky and receives outrage and disgust. It does not matter that their act of swerving in the street is exactly the same and certain circumstances (an innocent bystander walking outside) remains out of their control.

Likewise, this alleged mistaken call during MNF not only results in a morally unlucky finish for the officials but also produces the perfect unethical storm because of its timing [end of game], exposure [a nationwide football audience on Monday night], and context [replacement officials replacing striking referees]. If this call took place in another quarter or at least not during the final drive, if the game was played along with many others on Sunday, and/or if the contest was officiated by a regular NFL crew, the moral outrage would be muted or at least not have risen to this level of hyperbole. That particular call was not the only error Monday evening. Pundits acknowledged a series of gaffes throughout the game on both sides that could have changed the outcome at any given point.

What this football game shows is that non-ethical considerations (i.e. timing, exposure, context) affect how we view the morality of a given act. We hardly ever judge actions on ethical merit alone.

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Consider the financial impact of this moral decision: US$ 300 million shifting from those who bet on the Packers to those wagering on the underdog Seahawks.

Disclosure: The Monday Morning Business Ethicist is a long-time fan of the Seattle Seahawks.