You know the old saying, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose but how you play the game”? In today’s sports world, that saying rarely holds true. In youth sports, last place is hardly rewarded compared to the winner’s prize. At the professional level, there is no consolation prize for the losers. Is rewarding winners and consoling losers unethical then? Celebrating achievement is not in itself unethical – but it can drive some competitors to unethical behavior.
Unethical behavior in sports is nothing new. From the “bounty scandal” involving the New Orleans Saints to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse occurring at Penn State, professional sports has been a fruitful one for ethical analysis lately. And, of course, there are the issues we hear of on a weekly basis – cheating, doping, and recruiting scandals. The list goes on.
The scary thing in my mind is that sports continue to get increasingly unethical at the youth levels. I can understand ethics being a problem at the professional level with so much at stake and so much to win (or lose). However, what is increasingly problematic for me are severe issues at the college and youth level. As some of you may know, I am on the tennis team here at Bucknell. My tennis career (I began competing in tournaments at age 10) has been quite interesting to say the least and I have been in some pretty ugly situations on court. As some previous posts and comments have alluded to, tennis at the high school and college level is self-refereed for the most part. You call your own lines. Throughout my career, I have prided myself on being fair and honest. I rarely get into confrontations with opponents and my teammates chide me for being too nice.
Obviously I have been cheated before though. Numerous times in numerous matches. Over the years, my philosophy has developed into this: Getting a bad call may cost you a point, but your reaction may cost you the match. You must, at all costs, remain unemotional and practical about the situation. In college tennis, I EXPECT to receive a bad call or two in each match I play. It is a part of the game and how you react to it (or any other distraction for that matter) is a part of what makes you the player you are.
Never before had I purposefully “hooked” an opponent…before this weekend. We were playing a team that my partner and I absolutely hated. We both had gotten into with these guys in previous matches and yeah, we hated their guts. We quickly fell behind 6-0 (first to 8 wins) and we were both playing like shit. One of our opponents hit a lob over our heads that landed just inside the line. I signaled out with my hand out of frustration. Our opponents seemed suspicious but didn’t really question me because they had such a big lead. My partner just laughed at me because he knew I had “hooked” them when I had never done something like that in my life. We ended up winning the next 6 games to tie the match at 6-6. And then we lost the last 2 to lose the match. Guess it was fate huh?
Some of you may think I was completely in the wrong by cheating my opponent but if you understood the culture of college tennis, you probably would have done the same thing. It doesn’t make me a bad person by making a close call on an opponent who does something to irk me or if I’m struggling out on the court that day. If they really deserve to win the match, they will be able to shake off a bad call and close out the match – just as I (and others) have done many, many, many times in the past. It’s just a part of college tennis.