What Casey Pachall Teaches Us about Us

Casey Pachall, star quarterback for TCU, has been suspended from play indefinitely by Coach Gary Patterson.  Another brush with the law – this time a DWI arrrest – has apparently forced Coach Patterson’s hand.  Dallasnews.com  blogger, Mike Hashimoto, says of star Pachall, “The world isn’t a vacuum, although clearly one could draw a comparison to that and the space between Pachall’s ears.”

Notice: while making a moral judgment, Mr. Hashimoto makes it sound as if Pachall lacks brains rather than wisdom.

College students often talk similar language.  Paying the price for extreme drinking or engaging in other risky behavior, students typically say of themselves, “I was stupid.”

Evidently, we no longer know how to use moral language in this country.  God forbid that we sound moralistic.  Another lesson students have learned well: never, ever, ever sound “judgmental.”  It would be wrong.

Somewhere between 30 and 40% of college students binge drink.  Our concern is not with the students who drink a little too much once or twice, pay the price for it and become the wiser.  Admittedly, this is most of them.  But far too many are engaging in truly dangerous behavior.

That we are concerned at all reveals our moral judgment.  It is bad for student to engage in this kind of dangerous behavior.  We let the moral assumption lie, however, while using other terms to describe the problem.  Are we trying to hide the moral judgment?   But students don’t let the moral assumption lie, though they likely don’t recognize that they’re engaging in moral speech.  They state very clearly that they are going after something good – a good – when they party this hard.  While we hide our moral judgment under clinical-sounding “analyses” our students “party on,” knowing exactly what they are doing.

This is why I think Mr. Pachall’s case is paradigmatic. Let’s use his situation as a device for doing a little moral thinking.

For starters, we can imagine the stress star Pachall lives with.  He is a big-time quarterback of a big-time program.  He has a potential NFL career in front of him.  And then there are those pesky little things like going to class and doing homework while building a career.  Maybe he drank to “relieve stress.”

A common theme in the literature on college students’ binge drinking is the combination of having fun and the need to relieve stress.  Relieving stress is good, no?  And partying is the preferred way to do it.  It’s fun!  And fun is good, no?  (I’m telling you things college students actually say about partying.)

Second, Pachall is a college student, after all, and “everybody knows” that the college years are “the best years of your life.”  College is “our time,” so let’s make the most of it.  And “making the most of it” means parties – lots of them.  Several nights a week.

Notice the moral vision in this way of thinking of college.  To cut to the chase, the party life associated with college is viewed by the students in question here as a good.  Yes, a good, as in the goods we aspire to.  As in the good life.  A good that they believe is theirs to have – at least while they are in college.  Partying is a good.

Let’s not be tricked by political language like, “It’s my right to party.”  Don’t be fooled by terms like “peer pressure.”  Peer pressure is moral pressure.  As one student said in response to a professor’s question about why students party to the danger point, “We’re supposed to!”  Notice the obligatory language.  Peer pressure is moral pressure.

The pleasure and sociability of partying (remember, we’re talking about extreme, bingy, dangerous partying that is far more prevalent than it should be) is a good to which many college students aspire.  I know it seems a bizarre way to say it, but we must recognize the moral character to their way of viewing the party scene.  They are demonstrating at the very least a tacit moral vision.  The pleasures they feel associated with partying is a moral good.  Those pleasures are worth the risks.

Casey Pachall’s case becomes a morally paradigmatic one, once we start to notice.  And we’d better notice.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

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