A Sure “Win-Win”


Imagine being a highly-touted college football player and receiving offers of all-expenses paid trips to South Beach and keys to a Bentley?  You know it is illegal to accept the offers, but let’s think about what happens to you if you accept an offer like this from a sports agent or other booster.  One scenario is that nobody finds out.  You dominate in your college career while living like a king, and then you go on to have a professional career and become a 22-year old millionaire.  This seems to be the perfect life, but someone will probably find out, right?  Well, even if they do, you will get kicked off the team and have your character questioned by NFL general managers.  Then, after sitting out for a year and just having to stay in shape for the NFL draft, these same GMs offer you your first payday worth more money than you could have ever dreamed about receiving.  Deciding whether or not to accept these gifts then seems to be the best ever “win-win” situation for the athlete—take the gifts!  If you think I am just making this up and stretching the truth of what really happens in these situations, pull out your laptop and google “UNC football agent scandal.”

This is a case of three players receiving significant amounts of gifts from sports agents while still students at North Carolina in 2010.  Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little gave every Chapel Hill resident reasons to believe in the UNC football team, until they took the gifts, and consequently took away this same hope.  The three players were found to have accepted items including, but not limited to, rent payments, travel expenses, thousands of dollars in accessories, Bentleys, and all expenses paid trips to South Beach.  All three players were dismissed from the team, and the University of North Carolina took a huge hit to their reputation.  The school also suffered direct and measurable penalties with fines, vacated wins, and loss of future scholarships.  However, all three players are currently on NFL rosters—Austin signed for totals of 4 years and $3,675,000, Quinn for 4 years and $9,436,053, and Little for 4 yeares and $3,327,500.  Not to mention, the hundreds of thousands in combined gifts they received while in college.  Clearly, there is some sort of problem with the system if a player can take these gifts and be “punished” with angry college alumni and the loss of a year of college eligibility before becoming multi-millionaires.

There are many characters at play in this ethical conversation when you consider the behavior of the players, the agents, the athletic program, and the university administrators. There are many ways this relates to ethics from class when you consider the way these behaviors and interests may conflict.  The athlete being offered gifts clearly has an interest in getting to the NFL and having a multi-million dollar professional career, but accepting the gifts causes damage to others without having much effect on the prospects of their NFL careers.  The agents are in a bloodbath competition with other agents to sign the next big superstar.  With some star athletes earning lifetime salaries of over $300 million dollars, an agents 3% take of that is $9 million.  Therefore, agents could risk a few tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to sway a player to sign with him and earn him 500 million times his investment throughout the player’s career.  Then we have the athletic program—all they want to do is win and generate revenue for their program and their school, and putting highly talented players on the field on gameday is the best way to do this.  So, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tempted to look the other way if a star player was receiving suspicious treatment from outside members of the program. Lastly, the University administrators have a similar incentive to look the other way when you consider how much money and recognition sports programs bring to their school.  Essentially, with the penalties and system the way they currently are, this is the perfect storm for serious ethical scandal.

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Managing the Madness of a 20-year-old Overnight Millionaire


Publisher’s Note: Winner of Best Post of Blog 5 Round!

Kevin Durant is 24 years old and is arguably the best player in the NBA (sorry, LeBron).  For his efforts, the Oklahoma City Thunder pay will pay him $16.7 million dollars this season, but that’s only a small percentage of what he will go on to make throughout the rest of his career.  Kobe Bryant has already made over $230 million since his 24th birthday, and Durant will likely surpass that as a superstar in the league with growing contracts.  I don’t know where all this money could possibly go, but one thing for sure is that Kobe Bryant made his agent, Rob Pelinka, a lot of money.  Durant just split up with his long-time agent before this season, and with him on the open market, some of the most powerful agents took their shot at landing him and the greater than $7-$10 million dollar commission he will bring them throughout rest of his career.  I can only imagine what their sales pitch and attempt at wooing the multi-million dollar superstar included, but I am sure ethics and rules were bent, twisted, and maybe even broken throughout the process.

Imagine a young 20-year old college athlete about to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, about to have his entire world flipped upside down.  From walking around campus doing homework assignments and eating cafeteria food, to earning millions of dollars, moving to a new city, and playing a game watched and analyzed by millions of people throughout the world, the jump to the pros can be frightfully exciting.  How can you really expect a young kid to be able to train at a world-class level, deal with the media attention, and negotiate contracts and make financial decisions worth amounts of money he only dreamed of having someday?  Fortunately, sports agents exist to assist and guide these young kids, often times forming family-like relationships with the player and his family.  On the other hand, there have been a number of agents in the news for serious ethical scandals and violations.

One well-known, recent case involved Reggie Bush and his agent while he was a student at USC.  News broke that Bush and his family received hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts, including a limousine ride to the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, from his agents.  These were ploys to further their relationship with Bush and the USC football program, but seriously violated NCAA rules of paying college athletes and contracting with agents before declaring for the pro draft.  This is not the only case, though, of agent violations.  Three UNC football players were suspended indefinitely for illicit contact and involvement with sports agents—but now they are millionaires in the NFL and the agents are still serving after paying fines.  This is the root of the problem, according to Mark Yost of the Wall Street Jounral.  In a 2010 article, Yost writes,

“they’re (the punishments) never enough to deter future bad behavior. The school lost 30 scholarships, valued at about $50,000 each. That’s $1.5 million. Last year, the participating teams in the five BCS bowl games—Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar and BCS National Championship Game—each received $18 million. If you were a coach or athletic director, would you risk a $1.5 million fine in a loosely enforced system to look the other way on illicit contacts with an agent, fudge a transcript or pressure a professor to change a grade in exchange for a payday that’s 12 times what the penalty would be?”

He clearly puts forth a consequentialist view to explain why it seems the problems will not go away.  Perhaps harsher punishments would further deter these unethical and illegal doings by agents, but other schools of ethics raise other questions.  Nowadays, over 50% of all sports agents are attorneys, as law degrees have become required for licenses in many leagues.  Therefore, these agents have the code of conduct of professional attorneys to live up to as agents, likely resulting in more ethical behavior.  The non-attorney agents, however, are not excused from making good ethical decisions.  While it may be tempting to offer money or other gifts to try and woo an athlete who could go on to make you millions of dollars throughout your lifetime, they would be breaking the trust of their players by putting them in situations to either awkwardly turn down, or accept thousands of dollars in illegal gifts – either of which can not be desired in a working relationship.  To some extent, though, I do believe the players and college athletes have a duty to refuse these gifts.  Sometimes there are gray areas and it is unclear what constitutes as violating the rules, but other times, athletes knowingly take gifts, sometimes even pressuring agents into a bidding war of who gives more benefits, as part of the process.  In my experience at a sports agency during my internship this summer, I was told a story of a college basketball player who essentially sat down in a meeting and asked what gifts they would give him.

Depending on the school of ethics you most believe in, I wonder who you feel is most to blame?  Is it the system and the structure for not having stricter rules and harsher punishments, the agent for offering gifts and soliciting illegal contact, or the player for knowingly accepting and sometimes seeking out gifts and illegal contact?  Vote to tell me what you think!

Row, Row, Row your boat, quickly down the stream


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fmZmKsL5eE

Three hours a practice, twice a day, six days a week. This was my workout schedule when I was a rower both in high school and in college. We would row for hours working on stamina, power, and technique all in order to cut an extra tenth of a second off of our total time. What is amazing, though, is that in the world of rowing we were not doing anything above and beyond what any other team was doing. Continue reading

Are You a Dope?


Ethical conduct has always been a source of contention in the world of professional sports.  This makes sense once you realize that these individuals are being paid to win.  It is no surprise then that many individuals have turned to illegal or unethical means in order to ensure their victory.

Most of you are probably familiar with the recent doping scandals that have rocked mainstream sports organizations, such as the MLB and NFL.  In the twenty-first century doping has became a major issue for all professional sport organizations, not just the mainstream ones.  Being a professional athlete has become such a glorified career path with so many perks, including fame and extreme wealth, it is no wonder that some people have done whatever it takes to stay at the top.  So how does this relate to me?

Well, I am an equestrian (horseback rider for those of you who have not heard that word before). Most people don’t know much about the equestrian sport and therefore most of this organizations dealing go unnoticed by the general public.  However, I am here today to give you a little idea about why the horse industry has the potential to be corrupt at times. 

I have been riding and showing horses since I was five years old. I have traveled all over the country with my horses to various nationally recognized competitions.  While, I was not (nor am now) a professional, I was regularly competing against and being trained by top professionals.  Being in this environment I heard and saw a few things that still make me cringe to this day.

 I know what most of you are thinking, horses on steroids?  What a silly thought.  But it is true.  What many people don’t realize is that the equestrian sport is a multimillion industry.  Horses are expensive, and I mean expensive.  To buy one of the best horses in the country today, no matter what the discipline (jumper, dressage, eventing, etc.) would cost you more than most people spend to buy their first house, and that’s just what you are paying to buy the horse.  After that you have to pay all kinds of monthly maintenance fees such as care and board, insurance, and training fees.  It all adds up quickly, and needless to say, the more valuable the horse and the better facility you are training at, the higher your bill will be at the end of the day.  Ultimately, the people that are competing at this level have a great amount of capital invested in these animals, and the money trail doesn’t end there.  Besides just the projected sale value of your horse, there are major financial prizes for winning top competitions.  For example, there is a competition held in September in Saugerties, New York, where the total prize money for ONE class is $1 million, with the winner walking away with $350,000.  Not too bad right? 

Well, with all this money up for grabs it is no surprise that some individuals have become greedy, willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to win.  In my time as a rider I have heard some absolutely terrible stories about the things trainers and/or riders have done to give them that “competitive edge”.  Some of the horrible things that occur at competitions regularly include trainers giving horses dangerous drugs for anything from trying to effect energy levels to trying to mask an injury; or trainers injecting the horses legs with a drug that makes it causes pain to make the horse jump higher.  So what do we do then to ensure that these horses are treated humanely? 

Well the equestrian community has already created the FEI (the international governing board of equestrian competitions) and the USEF (the domestic governing board) for this very purpose. Both of these organizations have an ethical code of conduct that all equestrian participants pledge to uphold when competing at their events.  Both the FEI and USEF officials do not take these issues lightly and send individuals that work for both organizations the horse shows that they sponsor in order to conduct random drug and welfare checks on competitors and their mounts.

Drugging in the sports world is a serious and widespread issue.  While authority figures are doing all that they can to ensure the health and welfare of the horse community, it is ultimately up to the caretakers of the animal to do the right thing.  I hope that with the recent publicity surrounding unethical behavior in professional sports that people will continue to be encouraged to behave responsibly and if all else to scared of repercussions to act otherwise. 

Riding a horse is not so easy…here is a video of the 2009 competition to break the world record for the tallest jump cleared by a horse and rider combination.  Skip to the end of the video and see the winner clear 6’7″.

Cited Sources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRFPlaN1JvA

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/sports/22iht-olydoping22.16375787.html?_r=0

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_z9xJw6i_6bQ/TAMHXKS6urI/AAAAAAAAAI4/4VnunLNS84k/s1600/rabbit+jumping.jpg

http://www.usef.org/documents/highPerformance/driving/USEFEthicsCode.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/sports/21riding.html?_r=1&

http://www.fei.org

Gamesmanship vs. Sportsmanship, the Ethics of Sports


From a very early age, I was always playing sports. At the age of four was when I first joined t-ball, after that I played travel sports once I turned eight, varsity baseball and football in high school, and have been playing pick-up games and beer league softball since I’ve been done. Along this nearly twenty years of playing sports, I picked up on A LOT of different things along the way. Many of things I picked up on were the ethics of sports, but in order to understand these ethics, you need to understand the differences between sportsmanship and gamesmanship.

Gamesmanship, to be put very simply, follows the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” to a whole new level. When people are considered “Gamers” in sports, it means they are dedicated to win and are willing to do whatever it takes to do so. Whether that’s faking a foul, inflicting pain on an opponent, or even using performance-enhancing drugs; its bending or possibly breaking the rules in order to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent.

Sportsmanship is very different in terms of sports ethics. Sportsmanship requires honest play and trust between competitors. The goal is to still win the competition, but to respect the rules of that competition and all those who partake in it. It’s that honor that you receive when you achieve victory by giving it your best effort. It’s about playing the game with fairness and integrity, and by doing so, earning the respect of other competitors and the rest of the sports world.

Sportsmanship

Sportsmanship
“Commitment and respect to the game.”

Gamesmanship

Gamesmanship
“It’s only cheating if you get caught.”

So, how can one know the difference between improper gamesmanship tactics and legitimate techniques and strategies that qualify under the sportsmanship model? There are two major factors that usually define the difference between the two: safety and the integrity of the game. With safety, many rules are designed to prevent conduct that creates unnecessary risks of injury. Keeping in mind the recreational/fun foundation to sports, techniques that inflict pain or endanger athletes violate the fundamental premise of athletic competition. Thus, throwing at a batter for any reason, physical intimidation, intentional injuring, tripping and similar tactics often justified as “part of the game” introduce unacceptably dangerous elements into the game. With the integrity of the game, every sport has developed, over the years, with rule refinements and changes. The rules not only establish standards of fair play, they actually define the game. When traditions begin to develop that corrupt the game, such as chop blocking or spear tackling in football, flagrant fouls or hand checking in basketball, the matter is generally addressed by additional rules or instructions to officials to enforce existing rules more vigorously. In the end, ethics is a major part of the wide world of sports, it’s which side you believe is correct that defines you as a player.

No Harm, No Foul?


Luis Suarez Intentional Handball in 2010 World Cup

There are some actions performed during the course of a game that could be considered “unethical” by some people, but as an athlete I feel different about them.  As some of you may know I am a soccer player.  Over the many years of playing the sport I have developed many different skills and strategies that I continue to develop each and every time I play.  One of the concepts I have picked up from several of my coaches was the notion of a “smart foul” during a game.  First of all, fouling is technically breaking the rules of the game.  You are supposed to play within the rules, and it would seem unethical to some to purposely do otherwise.  The rules are there to be followed and under no circumstance is breaking them the right thing to do, right?  This argument gets a little gray with the idea of a smart foul.  A smart foul, in the game of soccer, can happen in hundreds of different situations.  Sometimes you do something as simple as delay a free kick on purpose so your team can get back in numbers.  I would say the most common smart foul occurs when a defender purposely grabs, trips, pushes or nudges the offensive player around midfield, as to prevent a fast break, numbers down situation, or dangerous 1v1.  There’s even a pretty common saying for when you attempt to tackle someone coming at you: “If you don’t get the ball, get the man.”  This is saying if you miss hitting the ball on a slide tackle, at least catch the opponent in the leg so there’s a foul and he “doesn’t” beat you.  It’s strategy, albeit an old-school one, but it’s still said today.  I have done all of these past examples; it’s the nature of the game.  It’s not like I wasn’t penalized for my actions.  There were fouls called and cards given, and the proper procedures were followed.  I accepted my consequences with open arms.  Is that unethical?  You tell me.  I think it is part of sports.  The objective of a game is to beat the other team, which means drawing up and implementing a better strategy than them.  Sometimes the only thing to do to preserve the win is to break a rule.  If the rule is broken and there is no severe physical harm done in the process, then I consider it okay to commit those fouls for the sake of the win.  This brings me to a very famous example of a player purposely breaking a rule to save a win.

In the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay squared off with Ghana.  The game found itself in extra time and the score 1-1.  There was only a few seconds left in the match, and if the extra time ended as a tie, there would be a penalty shootout.  If someone were leading at the conclusion, that team would advance.  So with just mere seconds left this play happened:

What you just saw was Luis Suarez of Uruguay purposely saving the ball of the line with his hands, something only the goalie is allowed to do.  The ball was CLEARLY going into the net until it met his fists of fury.  The ref promptly called the penalty kick and issued the standard red card for the intentional handball.  Luis Suarez was ejected from the game, as is protocol for a red card, and Ghana was awarded the proper penalty kick.  All Ghana had to do was put away the PK and they would have advanced.  PK’s are scored about 85% of the time.  If you are Ghana you are upset because the 100% goal was illegally saved and replaced with an 85% goal.  Lo and behold, Ghana MISSES the penalty kick and the game goes into penalty kicks to decide the winner.  As fate would have it, Ghana lost the PK shootout and was eliminated from the World Cup.  Suarez got a lot of flack for his move on the line, but as a soccer player, I saw a player who sacrificed his playing for not losing.  He saved a sure thing, giving his team a chance to survive, and survive they did.  I know a lot of people will disagree with me and say the play was awful and he should be ashamed but I understand the level of competition sports can bring out.  I do have a line.  As long as no one is actually hurt (and by that I mean in more pain than a normal foul in the course of the game would cause) then these fouls are being used strategically and not for any harmful reason.  I also wouldn’t consider it cheating because fouls are built into the game.  They are expected to happen and as long as they are properly penalized, then the game is being played as it should.

I’d be interested in hearing what some of you think about the Suarez play or about intentionally fouling in general.  It would be interesting to see what some of the other athletes in the class would say in comparison to those who may not play sports.  Just to see what some people think, here’s a poll: