by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
That is the question.
We often address ethical issues in my sports management classes. A loss of fan trust dooms sports events. Who wants to emotionally invest in anything where the outcome is controlled by fixers, gamblers, or cheaters? We need level playing fields. Integrity is the coin of the sports realm.
That said, there are many case studies of ethical quandaries and “grey” areas.
Is a coach who plays an injured player testing ethical boundaries? What about shady recruiting promises? Is it cheating to steal catchers’ signs—or just clever gamesmanship? Is it right for a hockey coach to send a goon onto the ice to retaliate for a dirty hit? Or is it part of the game? Is it cheating for a basketball player to fake “taking a charge” and take a dive to draw a foul?
Celtic coach Red Auerbach reportedly turned the heat off in the visitors’ locker room at the old Boston Garden. Was this cheating or was it legitimate exercise of “home court advantage?”
Some baseball teams with able bunters would slope the foul line areas and let the infield grass grow to make it easier for batters to bunt their way on? Is it cheating to let the grass grow?
Conversely, when Los Angeles Dodger Maury Wills led the National League in stolen bases, some opposing teams would hose down and muddy their base paths to slow Wills down. Is it cheating to water an infield or is it a legitimate exercise of home field advantage?
Major League pitcher Gaylord Perry won over 300 games and was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. But he was always doctoring baseballs and throwing illegal spitters. In other words, he was an inveterate cheater. Does he belong in Cooperstown?
What about players who used steroids in the 1980s to enhance their performances, before these substances were banned? Was that cheating?
The ethical scenarios are endless, but they all deserve attention and discussion.
I ask my soccer-playing or basketball-playing students if they’ve ever held an opponent or grabbed a jersey. Virtually all plead guilty.
“Then are you not rule-breaking cheaters?”
Our classroom discussions on ethics invariably result in comments like “It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught” or “Everyone does it.” As a professor/facilitator I try not to proselytize, but I’m compelled to share my evolving perspectives.
Could I have excused Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez if he’d opted to throw a spitball to retire Bucky Dent in 1978 and avoid the three-run homer that won a playoff game for the Yankees?
Honestly, in the heat of the moment, I’d have said “Throw the spitball!”
But a victory that resulted from cheating would later ring hollow—although one can rationalize anything. (Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage were probably throwing illegal pitches for the Yankees!)
All of this, of course, brings us to New England Patriot Tom Brady and “Deflategate.” My sense is that it was all a “tempest in a teapot.” Did someone make some minor adjustments in ball air pressure that found favor with Brady? Sounds like it. Did this become the biggest story in the country largely because of widespread jealousy of Brady and the Pats? Probably. Were the Patriots ethically compromised because of earlier sanctions for illegal videotaping? Certainly.
But would a slightly softer ball have also found favor with Raven quarterback Joe Flacco or Colt quarterback Andrew Luck? Who knows?
The lesson here, for youngsters watching at home, is that there are reasons for rules, that a level playing field is good, and that integrity is the coin of the sports realm. Don’t cheat.
In 1940 Cornell University had the top-rated football team in the country. Its 19th straight victory came on Nov. 16, against Dartmouth by a score of 7-3. After the game, officials determined that they’d mistakenly given Cornell an extra down late in the game, which led to the winning score. Cornell sent a telegram to Dartmouth, asking that the score be changed to 3-0. Dartmouth accepted the forfeit win. Cornell lost out on a national title.
Give me Cornell. You can have Gaylord Perry.
How many times has a New Hampshire men’s college basketball team reached the NCAA Division I championship game? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports figures born on May 28 include golfing legend Sam Snead (1912) and All-Star Major League infielder Jeff Bagwell (1968).
“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.” – Yogi Berra
Twice! Dartmouth College lost the 1942 NCAA title tilt to Stanford and the 1944 championship contest to Utah (in overtime).
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management at NHTI, Concord’s Community College and at Plymouth State University. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines) —which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.