How College Tennis Corrupted Me


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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.

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8 thoughts on “How College Tennis Corrupted Me

  1. I really liked the personal aspect of your blog. But let me ask you this, just because bad calls are “part of college tennis” does that make it right? I am not saying I wouldn’t have made the exact call you did, because I probably would have. But in a way, just because everyone is doing it doesn’t exactly make it right. Essentially, the game revolves around honesty. If everyone were honest, no one would have to lie. I am sure people justify their bad calls and brush them off by saying everyone calls them. So, where does it end?

    • That is a great point Sal. It isn’t right but if you get cheated in a match, you throw a close call right back. In college tennis, that isn’t considered being a cheat. Rather, it’s considered being competitive and resilient. Of course, it’s not right or moral but that’s kind of just how it works.

  2. I loved reading your blog–since I have played tennis all of my life (and varsity for a while here), I can absolutely relate to this. I think you made a great point about the reaction you give to a (potentially) bad call. Is it really worth throwing a fit about? Personally, I would love when my opponents would show their emotions; then, I knew it would only be easier to win points from there on out. Not only does showing emotion and reacting poorly make the opponent happy, but I agree that it tells you a lot about that player as a person. Going back to the prompt, I think that how one acts in sports can directly relate to behavior in the business world. Imagine a CEO who completely overreacts and has a breakdown after hearing about a minor setback for the company…might not be the person for the job. To be successful both on the tennis court and in a business, composure is often a key to success.

  3. Awesome anecdote. Were you cool with your loss at the end? Would you have been satisfied if you had won? (Kind of reminds me of the “Ball Don’t Lie” Rasheed Wallace incident) Interesting how officiating often determines how certain games are perceived. Self-officiating is sometimes unjust, but so is professional officiating at times. Tim Donaghy was a former NBA ref who is now in jail for betting on the games that he was officiating.

  4. Comparing this to Kyle’s post-which I think said that there is no room in sports for ethics beyond the rules- , I am interested in how you refer to a larger set of values and expectations of behavior as the “culture” of tennis. To me, Vinny’s points about smart fouls also are an example of a supra-rules system of expected behavior. These systems often rely on status and reputation to limit deviance.

    Is the “culture” of a sport about ethics? about social values? Both? Do all sports have them?

  5. I understand the situation in a different way. In throwing it is easy to foul, you nip the toeboard, clip the top of the circle, etc. Usually the officials see it, but sometimes they don’t. I can remember numerous times where I felt myself foul, barely, and the officials missed it. So do you tell them it was a foul? What if it was the best throw of your life? It’s happened where the throw in question was the one that got me through to finals. It might be the nature of the sport that if they don’t see them, we don’t tell them, but it comes down to whether that is the right ethical action or not. In essence, I can understand where you’re coming from

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