I recently watched the film Team Foxcatcher (2016), which covers the story of Foxcatcher, a professional wrestling team led by multi-millionaire and philanthropist John Du Pont. The movie follows the wrestling team as Du Pont begins displaying erratic and paranoid behavior, eventually leading to the murder of Dave Shultz, a lead wrestler on the team, in 1996.
Despite growing up in a wealthy family, Du Pont had a troubled and lonely childhood. Du Pont had close relationships with all the wrestlers on his team. He provided housing, training facilities, food, and comfort to the athletes, which resulted in a clear power dynamic between the wrestlers and their coach. Of the entire team, Du Pont was closest to Dave Shultz. As Du Pont’s behavior became increasingly erratic, his team raised speculation that their coach was of danger to them, but Shultz defended Du Pont to the rest of the team. Du Pont’s erratic behavior included driving his car into a pond, removing all the African American wrestlers from the team due to his fear of the color black, competing in orchestrated wrestling tournaments, thinking that Dave Shultz was inside the walls plotting to kill him, believing the deer and trees on his estate were robotic, and pulling a gun on wrestler Dan Chaid. During his paranoia, Du Pont hired an FBI agent as security. Unfortunately, this only furthered his fears, and the FBI failed to get Du Pont help for his state of mental distress. Throughout the film, there are several clear ethical issues that could have been addressed to prevent the murder of Dave Shultz.
First, the police are examples of both corrupt leadership and insular leadership. The police allowed Du Pont to stay in his mansion for two days while communicating with the police over the phone, which casted a shadow of inconsistency. They demonstrated corrupt leadership because many of the local police officers would commit illegal acts, for example hunting on Du Pont’s property. For this reason, many of the officers had developed close relationships with Du Pont. However, these close relationships made them biased in his favor, and they did not have objective points of view when analyzing his erratic behavior. This led to insular leadership because the police would minimize the severity of his paranoia and the dangers of his erratic behavior. For example, when Du Pont held a gun to Dan Chaid’s chest, the police laughed it off and stated that it was just typical behavior for Du Pont.
There is a plethora of ethical challenges that the people within this story faced. The people to be considered are: police, the wrestlers, and Du Pont himself. In terms of the police, they casted a shadow of inconsistency which allowed Du Pont to stay in his mansion for 2 days while communicating to the police over the phone. They demonstrated types of bad leadership such as corrupt and insular leadership. Corruption can be seen because many local police would cheat and be allowed to commit illegal acts like hunting on Du Pont’s property. This allowed them to be biased towards Du Pont’s erratic behavior because of their close relationship with him. This leads to Insular leadership because the police would often minimize the mental state of Du Pont and the dangers that he created such as when he held a gun to the chest of Dan Chiad, which the police laughed off and stated that it was just typical behavior of Du Pont. This is something that the wrestling team also did to make excuses for Du Pont, especially because they were benefiting from him so much financially. The team often turned a blind eye to the danger because they were getting to live out their dreams as olympic wrestlers, but they all have some guilt to carry in the murder of Dave Shultz, even Dave himself. The wrestlers all had unhealthy motivations. Dave even defended Du Pont to the USA Wrestling team board because he was an Accolate, a true believer, of Du Pont's positive intentions. He stated that “I would not have my family living on the estate if there was a true danger there.” The wrestlers admitted to having moral disengagement, knowing the right decision to make in this situation but ignoring to take action because of the benefits they were reaping from Du Pont. Lastly, Du Pont himself held a faulty worldview and even had a personality disorder which was recognized by the court. Du Pont stated that because of his power over the team, police, and the money he acquired, he believed that he has the ultimate authority which is a false theory about how the world operates. Du Pont also demonstrated psychopathy, lack of empathy, and poor behavior controls which could have been due to his childhood and environment, brain autonomy, or drugs. All of these moral issues lead to the outcome of Dave’s murder and impacted many people.
The people most impacted by the neglection of Du Ponts behavior before the murder and the ultimate actions of Du Pont is the Shultz family. Nancy Shultz, Dave Schultz wife, begged him to move to California with him just before his murder. She had an inkling that things were going to go wrong but Dave refused. Some things that could have been done to prevent the outcome would have been if USA wrestling held longer deliberations or had systems in place to prevent an abuse of power. The police could have taken his paranoia seriously and even taken Dan Chaid’s concerns to heart. Even in the beginning as the erratic behavior was first noticed the wrestlers could have expressed more concern amongst each other and to professionals. Shultz and another wrestler, Robbie, saw a psychiatrist who stated they could help Du Pont and he could be prescribed medication for his paranoia. Du Pont refused to seek help and refused to believe that he was clinically insane and was convinced that no one around him believed what he was seeing. Due to the power dynamic Dave and Robbie never brought it up again but the wrestlers were what was considered his only friends and family and possibly if they pushed a little more they could have gotten him help. On the other hand this could have hightened his paranoia and caused him to commit an act of murder earlier. No matter the hypotheticals there are still many people to blame for the rise and fall of John Du Pont.
Ultimately there is no shortage of people to blame for the death of Dave Shultz. One could look back on Du Pont’s life and blame his parents and siblings for neglecting him, for not exposing him to children his own age, and even paying a chauffeur to be his friend. External pressures and unhealthy motivations such as masculinity could be to blame because of the removal of both of Du Pont’s testicals in a horse riding accident which caused a deep rooted insecurity which he believed he could fix through wrestling. You could blame the wrestlers and Dave himself for not taking their concerns more seriously, for letting money and success cloud their judgment. Even the USA Wrestling board for being presented with all the red flags and yet not holding Du Pont accountable, especially for his racist acts against the African Americans on the USA Olympic team like Kevin Jackson. Personally I feel that the police are the most to blame and none of them were held accountable. They simply failed to assume their responsibilities. They did not hold Du Pont accountable because they were benefitting money, equipment, and rule breaking privileges from him, they did not take responsibility for their actions, and ignored many ethical dilemmas. The police’s job is to protect everyone, even if it is not in their interest and they failed to do so because they were blinded by the benefits of Du Pont’s fortune. These officers, especially the FBI agent, should have been fired and even been questioned for their impact on not stopping the inevitable breakdown of Du Pont. Lastly, Du Pont is ultimately to blame for the murder of Dave Shultz. Although there are many factors that could have prevented this and the fact that he was mentally ill to consider, he is at fault for the murder and did time in prison until his last day which I believe to be just. Overall, this story can provide many people, especially leaders, an example of how many issues can be wicked and multifaceted and leaders must remain ethical in their decisions. Hopefully today’s leaders can take the mistakes of the people in power with them in their career and prevent future incidents similar to this one.