Strategy or Ethics?


My first present from my father was a soccer ball. I was two years old, and had just begun to walk. I joined my first soccer team at age three, and from that moment on until my senior year of high school, I went to soccer practice every single weekend. When I was little, it was all about the fun of the game. That was until I joined my first travel soccer team, The Yorktown Amazons.

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We were eight years old, and my father was our coach. I played on the same team with the same girls for the next ten years of my life. As soon as middle school rolled around, team parents were already starting to talk about college scholarships. All of a sudden we had enormous pressure to perform well in tournaments. We went on to win first place in countless tournament for the next few years, and became classified as a Northeast Region 1 Premiere team. This was a huge achievement. After clinching some more wins, we had succeeded in becoming nationally ranked.

However, the road to glory was not as easy as I just made it sound. In the game of soccer, just as with life, unethical behavior can sometimes give you an advantage. For example, I know from experience that it is fairly easy for a team member to fake an injury or a foul an opposing player in order to get the ball back. For instance, pretend for a moment that you are a defensive player. You are one-on-one with an offender on the opposing team. They are heading for the goal and you fear that they will pull ahead of you. You know that your team will have a better chance of preventing a goal if the opposing team has a free kick rather than a wide open shot in front of the goal. What do you do? Foul her outside of the box. This way, your team can recover back towards the goal, and set up a defensive strategy to increase our chances of getting the ball back. As long as you do not trip her inside of the box, you will usually not receive a yellow or red card and get thrown out of the game. With the enormous amount of pressure that we carried on our shoulders, these type of fouls were commonplace (among others). There are countless “strategies” such as this that people use in the world of sports to gain advantage in a game. But where is the line drawn between strategy, and poor ethical behavior?

During my senior year, I was tripped by a member of a different team while playing in the State Cup Tournament final. I completely tore through my hamstring. The same “strategies” that my team had used on others, had been used on me. I was done. I would never be able to play in another soccer game with my team. I would never be able to play Division 1 soccer. Everything that I had worked so hard to accomplish meant nothing now. I had given up hundreds of weekends (seriously hundreds) to go play in tournaments down in Virginia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, etc. I would never again be as fast or as strong as I had once been. I was completely crushed. All of this pain stemmed from one personal foul against me on the field. I couldn’t help but wonder, had I done this to anyone at some point? I felt terrible.

On another note, I feel that there are no sports organizations that are perfect models for ethical behavior. Every organization that I can think of has had some scandal or debate about their behaviors.  For example, in the sport of Jockey, some horse owners have been known to break horses legs if they are not performing well enough, or even murder the horses, in order to collect insurance money and purchase a new young horse. Is this ethical? NO!!!!! It actually disgusts me that animal cruelty such as this exists at all.

It took me forever to locate this clip, but I finally found it. I remember when I was younger and saw this for the first time, I was completely shocked. It has been burned into my mind ever since. In the following clip we see pro soccer player, Tab Ramos, taking an elbow to the head. Would you classify this as “strategy” or “unethical behavior”? Why?

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7 thoughts on “Strategy or Ethics?

  1. Wow. Thank you for this intense look into ethics and soccer. I play a lot. Some amount of fouling is not unethical. It is part of the game, I thought. But what about your injury? Or the Ramos elbow? Are those intended to harm? You didn’t say the girl who fouled you intended harm, but the Brazilian player did, I think. (I totally remember this World Cup. When I became a fan. Was it Romario who threw the nasty elbow?)

    Could the game even exist though if the rules were such that “normal” fouls were forbidden somehow?

    And if sports is a mirror on business, on life, what does this conundrum say? Are there “professional fouls” that are ok and even expected and are they different from malicious ones? If some expected fouls cause permanent harm, how does that change how we look at them.

    Heard this week about a wastewater hauler of fracking liquids in Ohio (or PA?) who just dumped huge amounts of fracking wastewater into an open storm sewer causing the whole area to be dug up to try and remove it before it poisons water, creeks, wildlife, watersheds. Is that an “expected” foul?

    • In the moment, I am pretty sure that the girl intentionally wanted to harm me. I remember everything like it happened yesterday. I was inside the box about to shoot, and she tripped me from behind, kicking my legs out from under me. She received a red card and was thrown out of the game. And I completely agree with you, Leonardo definitely intended harm when he hurt Ramos. I do not think that the game would exist without “normal” fouls. “Normal” fouls are bound to happen. I think it is the somewhat “unethical” fouls that result in yellow and red cards that are the problem born out of the pressure and competitiveness of the game.

  2. Ramos had a fractured head… This quote from 1994.

    Leonardo visited him in the hospital, crying and sorry. Leonardo was banned from the rest of the World Cup, and Ramos believes the video shows that the elbow was intentional. Yet he does not seem to blame his opponent for the fracture of his skull above the ear and all of the ensuing dilemmas, for Ramos admittedly has thrown such elbows.

    Neither does he appear to feel pity for himself. He returned to Spain in mid- August with his wife, Amy, to find that his club of three years, Real Betis, had taken on seven foreign players, all of them capped by their countries. Only three can play at one time. He has spent most of the time recovering and regaining fitness, but the opportunity to prove some things to himself on the field has been delayed by the success of his club, ranked fifth in the first division after earning promotion last spring. At most, Ramos has played one half against a second-division team.

  3. I can easily relate to this post. I am (“was” I guess now….) a competitive soccer player and have played at the DI level, and it has only gotten more physical over the years. In my post, I also comment on fouling on purpose, which can be considered a “smart foul” if done correctly. I have fouled hundreds of people, most of the time on accident, but on purpose my fair share of times. Generally, when on purpose, my main intention isn’t to inflict pain but rather I do it strategically to prevent something from happening. Sometimes it ends up in an injured opponent, but it’s part of the game. It’s happened to me too. I view it as an aspect of the game of soccer, and only if there is intent to physically harm someone do I begin to feel it may be wrong. Another interesting observation on myself is that when I do tackle someone (which is my favorite part of the game), I aim to do it as hard as possible. 95% of the time it’s a clean tackle (which means I hit the ball first before the man) and no penalty is called, but I have still hurt countless people in the process. Is that unethical? I am playing cleanly, just extremely intense. I know that if I don’t go in hard, someone else might, and then I’ll be the one on the floor. But I do go into every tackle with the goal of absolutely dominating an opponent physically, and if he gets hurt in the process, so be it. For example, I found this video of me from freshman year tackling an opponent. It was a clean tackle and no foul was called, but I wrecked him. He stayed down for 5 minutes and I even go my team a waterbreak. My intentions for the tackle were to win it, but I went through the tackle as hard as I did so that I would also be able to go through the man if he tried to challenge me.

    I won this battle and I view nothing wrong with what I did. I am proud of that tackle and was glad someone was able to capture that moment. I guess I ask this question now: We already have a debate on whether or not purposely fouling is ethical or not, but what about playing within the rules but doing it so intensely as to possible cause injury to others?

  4. Kaitlyn and VInny, I really enjoyed your blog and comments. I don’t play soccer, but I have watched it constantly with my relatives and I have always wondered how many of the fouls are intentional or not. And it must be so hard for the referee, to determine whether the players are being honest or not! The ref must also battle ethical decisions when making calls.

    In regards to the horses, I had no idea that breaking their legs/killing them to collect insurance was an issue! Sometimes I can’t even watch horse races, because I am always worried one of the horses will hurt themselves, and then they will be essentially useless to their owners. And of course, whenever I think of animal cruelty I can’t help thinking of bull fighting, and how in some countries the round isn’t over until the Bull is dead! Any sport that involves animals always makes me wonder how ethical the “sport” can really be.

  5. Pingback: The Ethics of Flopping | Stakeholder14Monday

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