Is saying “no” to $12 million ethical, or unethical?

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    Today’s NY Times reports the story of Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche, who was contractually entitled to $12 million in compensation for 2011, but instead forfeited the money by retiring. As reported by Tyler Kepner, Meche was contractually entitled to the money if he showed up to spring training next week, even if he didn’t end up playing. But Meche didn’t perform well in 2010, and was uncomfortable receiving a star starting pitcher’s salary, even if he was in the bull pen.

    As reported in the Times:

    “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche said this week by phone from Lafayette, La. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

    The Royals fully expected to pay Meche what was due him. “Still, the Royals fully expected Meche to pitch in relief, and to pay him the $12 million — three times more than any other player on the team. If nothing else, they believed, Meche could be a positive influence for a young roster.”

    Is Meche showing strong ethical character by rejecting the money? He certainly was entitled to the money, and no one has to feel that his employer was being taken advantage of.

    We like ethics heroes. When someone does something extraordinary we like to hold them up as a standard that we can aspire to. So it’s interesting when someone comes along and follows their own conscience and does something right, but it may not be a model for others to follow. Someone could argue just as passionately that the ethical thing to do would be for Meche to receive the benefit of his contract and if he felt bad about it, donate the money to a worthy cause.

    I respect Meche for living up to his own values. I am intrigued though that this may be a case where my respect is for his individual integrity and not necessarily for the act itself.

    Any thoughts?

    David Gebler is the President of Skout Group, an advisory firm helping global companies use their values to clear the roadblocks to performance. Send your thoughts and feedback to