Fraternal Thoughts in Print!

Big news! 24 of the most-read and beloved posts from this blog have been compiled into a book, Forever Fraternity: Essays to Challenge, Celebrate and Advance the College Fraternity. Discussion questions have been added in order to make the book an educational tool as well.

Order your copy off of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you wish to order a quantity of 20 or more to use for a program or Greek leadership class, contact John Shertzer at for a discount.

An e-reader version will be available soon!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brother Blago

It's been almost a decade, but perhaps you remember the story of former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, aka Blago. He was a promising politician until he was impeached, removed from office, and thrown in prison for bribery. And that's where he still remains today.

The first thought that occurred to me when I learned of this scandal right after it happened was “uh oh – he’s a Theta Chi!” I might not have known that except for his picture being included in a slideshow of famous Theta Chi’s, shown at our convention the prior summer. I hope and expect that the slideshow is Blago-free these days.

The Blagojevich episode and others like it calls into question a standard practice of marketing fraternity: using the famous and powerful to showcase our significance. We’ve all seen or heard the statistics (which vary wildly depending on who is sharing them) and they’ve continued to be a staple of our proof that we are effective. We claim a high percentage of Presidents, Senators, Governors, and others as an indication of our strength in developing leaders. Nobody has ever proven that this is even an effective practice. Did you join because Calvin Coolidge was Greek?

Maybe it used to work – but I doubt it would anymore. Especially since the approval ratings of politicians tend to be in the gutter (congressional disapproval currently stands at 75%). Are people able to turn off their filter of distrust and distaste for politicians when we use them as a marketing tool? Probably not. If we proudly told someone yesterday that a person like Blagojevich rose to his position because of the teachings of fraternity, what do we tell that person today?

Because humans are fallible, we can’t completely escape incidents like this. In most cases, we should be proud of famous folks that wear our letters. And some are going to screw up. However, the propensity of this happening with politicians (and possibly Hollywood celebrities) seems to be greater. So why are they the ones we tend to showcase most often?  

I’m reminded of hearing Wolf Blitzer, the CNN Host and a fraternity man, speak at an NIC event. We were all excited to have someone of that stature speak to the fraternity movement. That excitement wore off a bit when Wolf began sharing stories of hazing and how that helped him later in his work as a journalist. Thanks Wolf!

I would be excited to see a national Fraternity or Sorority take the lead and begin promoting the influence of Greek membership on other segments of society – the ones (in my opinion) that really
matter and really prove that we make a difference. What percentage of social service providers are affiliated? What about leaders of nonprofit organizations? How many doctors, nurses, and teachers belong to a fraternity or sorority? How about military leaders? Community organizers? Rescue workers? Entrepreneurs? These percentages would send a powerful message about the things we value and the contribution of fraternity. We can then include politicians and celebrities, and know that we are sharing the whole picture.

By the way, I’m assuming with some confidence that the percentages in those other fields would be high. Maybe not. That could lead to a whole new set of conversations.

Even greater questions remain for us. How do we explain the fraternity/sorority experience of those politicians who end up being corrupt? Did their fraternity/sorority make matters worse? We all know plenty of chapters where this would be possible. If we want to claim leaders in society as our own, we better keep doing the values-based work on the ground that ensures we can be proud of those we claim.  

Perhaps it also requires that we publicly denounce those that embarrass our organizations.  

For every Rod Blagojevich, there is a fraternity man who lives the principles of his organization each day and makes all of us proud. In fact, there are thousands of them. Despite my misgivings about Brother Blago, I trust that they will win the day.



  1. The famous alumni/ae list is starpower meets mutual admiration society. Some of our most famous members had horrible fraternity experiences: Steven Spielberg and Joel McHale are two examples.

  2. Agreeing with anonymous: some may remember that a famous former NFL star spoke at a national event for Theta Chi. He began by using several words and gestures from the Ritual and continued into hazing, the number of kegs his chapter used at parties, and "Good times". Not one word about values, ideals or standards. Tom Selleck, a Sigma Chi, is one of a handful of famous fraternity alumnus members who get it. Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana, a Beta Theta Pi, is another who understands the true purpose of a fraternity.

  3. John,

    I really enjoyed reading this and your other posts. Sure, having some famous names among the alumni is definitely a plus, but is it going to sell the product?

    And I agree with you...for everyone idiot fraternity member out there, there are also those of us that live and breather our values and rituals everyday.

    Let's keep up the good work!

  4. Kevin Costner is another that talks about his unfavorable fraternity hazing & alcoholism memories, but credits the overall experience as positive.

  5. Another great post, John!

    Personally, I don't accept the famous celebrity/politician argument for any one organization of the fraternal movement. If this is what makes an individual to join a specific organization, then I would have great concern for both that person and the chapter.

  6. Its funny how politicians who are members of Greek organizations often credit their leadership skills, ability to work well with others and handle a crisis to their Greek experiences....but show no sign of said skill today.

  7. There is a lot of academic research that points to higher volunteering and philanthropic giving rates of affiliated members, compared to unaffiliated individuals. The NPC annual report posts similar aggregate statistics for our member groups. The data are there, it's just a matter of finding someone who is interested in writing a positive story for us...

    Also, the press are more interested in Joel McHale's perspective than they are in Nancy Binker's (Founder of Komen) because of name recognition and "sizzle". Don't know if the big names are so important for recruitment anymore, but they are certainly important for spreading the message (good, bad, or ugly).

  8. I was a founder of my fraternity's chapter at a state university. Yes, knowing that actor Paul Newman was a member was interesting yet it had no bearing on my reasons for joining. This rather shy guy was given the unique opportunity to build something from the ground up. The no hazing policy of the organization was a big sell for me. I went into public service as an investigative agent for a small federal agency. Because of my great experiences I have continued to be involved at both the local and national levels. I've been involved in some fashion for 40 years.

  9. Brandy Storey - Alpha Omicron PiNovember 24, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    I agree. I think it can be frustrating at times when groups promote one person or another to show the impact of the organization. It would be much more impressive to see the overall statistics rather than just focusing on a few recognizable members. In reality, the vast numbers of Greek alum are much more powerful and influential. I like to think that we are all "indivdually unique, together complete".