Reich gave much the same testimony. "I told them yes, I knew cadets who had cheated, but no, I was sorry, I could not name names," he says. "I was wrong, and West Point was right for what it wanted to do. But I've always thought if you're going to have an honor system, that's fine. It's the reporting of other people that bothers me. You're asking young men to affect the lives of others."
So it went. "Loyalty to a group, particularly among the football players, over-rode all other considerations," the Collins Board concluded. "The average Cadet feels that the football team is not a part of the Corps." A report by a subsequent committee appointed to study the overall problem of cheating at West Point and chaired by a professor of electrical engineering, Col. B.W. Bartlett, confirmed those conclusions. The team had stood above all. You cannot create such a bond as football players develop in America and then expect them to betray that human allegiance in the name of a spiritual code.
The irony is that all the investigating officers missed the obvious point—or refused to admit it. The military ideal is to make men work together, to make them surrender a large amount of individual consciousness to act as...a team. The truth was apparent: Playing football bound cadets together more than playing soldier did. In a real sense, Colonel Blaik had the finest regiment on campus.
Most players spoke the truth before the Collins Board, insofar as they admitted their own guilt. Often a cadet's admission was the only evidence against him. So in the end there was honor among the players. "I'd rather have these men who told the truth lead me into battle than some of the others," a cadet told reporters.
When President Truman's final decision came down on Aug. 3, allowing the 90 guilty cadets to resign (at least they would not be dishonorably discharged), Bob Blaik saw his father. According to David Maraniss's biography of Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, Blaik asked, "Dad, do you think it would have been better to have lied?" Blaik would not respond to inquiries for this article, so we do not know how his father responded. Perhaps he made no reply. Perhaps he wasn't sure anymore.
The next day Colonel Blaik, accompanied by his wife, Merle, drove down to see General MacArthur at the Waldorf. Blaik was prepared to resign. As he approached Manhattan, his car blew a tire. The colonel, never a man to be tardy, left his wife with the disabled car and hitchhiked the rest of the way. He spoke to MacArthur for two hours. "Earl, you must stay on," the general told him. "Don't leave under fire."
A few days later Blaik convened 40 of his reporter "friends" at Mama Leone's, his favorite restaurant in Manhattan, in an atmosphere that resembled, one newsman wrote, "a Hollywood premiere." Blaik announced he would not resign. The sports-writers, abandoning all show of objectivity, stood and cheered.
In Korea, General Ridgway heard the news of the scandal. Shocked, he wrote to Secretary of State Marshall, expressing "the hope, with all my soul" that every guilty cadet would "be relentlessly removed from the rolls of the Academy."
MacArthur thought otherwise. He said the West Point brass had "set back the Academy 20 years." He, who had created the Honor Code, believed the matter should have been handled discreetly, with only regimental reprimands. No doubt he remembered the case of a cadet, class of '03, who as a plebe had been hazed in the extreme, forced to do what was known as "eagling"—perform countless deep knee bends over shards of glass. The plebe went into deep convulsions, and a roommate reported the incident.
After another cadet died from hazing, the plebe was brought up before a U.S. congressional committee. He acknowledged the brutality he had suffered in all its awful detail, but, sweating, stomach churning, the plebe reportedly refused to divulge the names of the upperclassmen who had tortured him. Instead he pleaded not to be expelled. Indeed, despite his stonewalling, he was allowed to return, without punishment, to the Long Gray Line.