A Response to Mr. Keady
Todd David Whitmore
The Common Good
Last Monday, James Keady spoke at the symposium on sweatshops. I invited Mr. Keady because I thought that his analysis of the situation would be both timely and provocative. He did not disappoint. He told of his experience as a graduate assistant soccer coach at St. John's University and the crisis of conscience that led him to resign that position in light of St. John's association with Nike. Last Tuesday's Observer provided excellent coverage of Mr. Keady's talk.
Given that Mr. Keady articulated his argument in terms of Catholic teaching, it might be helpful to look at two ways in which his approach appears to diverge from that teaching. It is important to point out that such divergence does not make Mr. Keady non-Catholic; it does, I think, show that his indebtedness is greater to other strands of the Catholic tradition.
The first area of divergence is in Mr. Keady's failure to follow John Paul II's distinction between capitalism and the market economy. John Paul argues that the market economy puts persons before things and the common good before narrow self interest. Capitalism is a form of market economy that, because it operates without real limits, reverses these priorities. "Precisely this reversal of order should rightly be called `capitalism.'" This distinction allows Catholic teaching to affirm entrepreneurial initiative and profit without condoning an unlimited market. In John Paul's words, the "church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit."
Mr. Keady did not make this distinction in his talk, and this created the impression that the market itself is intrinsically evil and that profit by its very nature is wrong. In an earlier conversation, I told Mr. Keady that whether Notre Dame's task force judges its licensees to be out of step with Catholic teaching will depend on empirical investigation of their practices. He replied that in his view it is "the system" itself that is the problem.
This position would be more in keeping with certain strands of liberation theology. For instance, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff critique the American bishops: "The system as such was not called into question. Once again capitalism has escaped being cursed." The Boffs are clear that they reject the capitalism/market economy distinction; Mr. Keady fudges it. Such fudging provides an ironic point of contact between Mr. Keady and neo-conservative thinkers. Mr. Keady needs to be clear about whether he accepts the distinction or, like the Boffs, rejects it.
The second distinction that Mr. Keady did not articulate was that between the principles of Catholic teaching and their application to concrete circumstances. He therefore created the impression that if one did not agree with his specific applications, then one was necessarily out of step with the teaching. What gave this impression particular force was his showing of a clip from the film "Romero," where a military chaplain lines up with a political leader who orders people to be tortured.
Keady said that the political leader represents the apparel companies and the military chaplain represents the schools that do business with them. Without a clear distinction between the principles of Catholic teaching and their application, Mr. Keady seemed to suggest that anyone who did not agree with his specific recommendations was akin to a torturer. Nowhere did he acknowledge the possibility that someone with good will could come to different specific judgements than he does. This is not to say that all judgments are equal and that no judgments are ruled out, only that the application of principles is not univocal.
Mr. Keady will need to address the above points if he wants to claim Catholic teaching. At present, his seemingly complete rejection of the market appears to have more in common with liberation theology and American Catholic radicalism. This can be for the good. Catholic teaching has learned from these strands of the tradition in its appropriation of the language of "the option for the poor" and acceptance of pacifism for laypeople. The main thing that I gained from Mr. Keady was his concern for coaches and athletes. In light of what I learned, I will suggest to the task force that we require a "conscience clause" in our contracts: Any coach or athlete who after discernment cannot in good conscience wear the licensee's apparel is permitted to wear alternative apparel. St. John's claims that it did not force Mr. Keady to wear Nike or to resign; Mr. Keady disagrees. Either way, the whole experience indicates that a conscience clause is in order.
Todd David Whitmore is the director of the program in Catholic social tradition. His column runs every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, October 1, 1999