"I don't understand… Colonel Jessup said he ordered the Code Red."
"I know but…"
"Colonel Jessup said he ordered the Code Red! What did we do wrong?"
"It's not that simple…"
"What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!"
"Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn't fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willy."
This exchange between the dishonorably discharged, but not found guilty of murder, Pfc. Louden Downey and Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson is understandably lost to the shadows of the explosive exposition given by Jack Nicholson's Col. Nathan Jessup in preceding scene in the 1992 film, "A Few Good Men."
The exchange occurs after Jessup colorfully cops to commanding the Code Red; after the two have been cleared of all charges, save being dishonorably discharged for displaying conduct unbecoming of an officer in the US Marines.
Col. Jessup's oratorically-oriented admission, aimed at disarming, if not belittling Tom Cruise's Lt. Kaffee, includes his sentiment that, "we use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline."
During a high school football game outside of Marble Falls, Texas on Sept. 4, two teenagers, Victor Rojas and Michael Moreno, violently blindsided a referee, Robert Watts, as Watts was standing defenselessly in the secondary, one of them spearing the referee after he'd already been knocked to the ground. The video of the play has been viewed 11 million times on YouTube.
In the interim since the incident occurred, the narrative has evolved, including via an appearance by the two teenagers on ABC's "Good Morning America."
During that appearance, Michael Moreno said that an assistant coach, Mack Breed took the two players aside and ordered them to hit the referee in retaliation for a series of ejections of the team's players earlier in the game, as well as in retaliation for Watts' use of derogatory racial epithets.
As the attorney for Coach Breed was quoted in an article on ESPN.com last week, "Michael Moreno resorted to the historical defense of 'I was just following orders.' However, we are all responsible for our own actions, and his defense will fail in this situation as it has in the past. Moreno paints himself as a saint on television while withholding the truth that shows how out of control he was in that game. Moreno fails to mention that he was not ejected after striking the referee. He stood by while an innocent black player, Trenton Hobby, was wrongfully ejected for Moreno's hit on the referee. Moreno followed that hit on Watts by committing another flagrant foul on the very next play. The Marble Falls High School (the opposing team) quarterback kneeled in a victory formation, the whistle was blown, and then Moreno hit the kneeling quarterback. His behavior is exactly what one would expect from a rogue player blaming a coach for the player's actions."
Football teams — all teams for that matter — like to enlist, and waive and raise banners with catchy slogans: "honor," "loyalty," "character," and "family" among them.
As best as we can tell, Coach Breed did, in some version or another of fact, encourage, if not flat out instruct the two teens to take out his, and their frustrations on Watts. That is absolutely wrong in the worst way – not the least of which is for the fact that, as a coach, Breed is supposed to be a teacher of life lessons that transcend and extend beyond the field, a father-figure, and a setter of moral compasses. Coach Breed failed as a coach, a teacher, a father-figure, and as a human being. His resignation should be refused, replaced instead with a lifetime ban from coaching.
Breed, if he did instruct the two teens to enact some sort of violent revenge veiled as vigilante justice on the referee, should, like Col. Jessup, have charges brought against him.
His reaction would likely mirror Col. Jessup's confused, "I'm being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I'm being charged with a crime? This is funny. That's what this is… I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and puke into your dead skull!" SMH as the kids say.
But, perhaps equally guilty, if not worse so, is Michael Moreno, who, if allowed to return to school in the spring, and ultimately to the football field, is not being taught the right lesson, at all — particularly in light of the facts about his subsequent behavior found on the periphery as brought to light by Breed's attorney.
Honor. Code. Loyalty. Honesty. Integrity. Character. Composure. Knowing right from wrong.
Michael Moreno wasn't being initiated into a gang. He was on a high school football team. He should have known right from wrong. He should have known enough to shrug off his coach's instructions. What's worse is that he's now being enabled to play the role of the victim, being empowered via the media to pass the blame. In the words of the coach's attorney, "we are all responsible for our own actions," and Moreno should be required to take ownership of the wrong in his, to accept the punishment and consequences of the same, and to take responsibility for their audaciousness.
There is a teachable moment here, and letting Moreno skate any blame or consequences is failing to teach the most important lesson to be learned from this tragedy of an event that unfolded on a football field.
We are, after all, all responsible for our own actions; or at least we should be.
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