Integrity In Sport

RamdinCricketI’m no cricket fan, but I heard this story on the radio this evening: apparently a player in international competition pretended to have made a catch and moved quickly into celebrating with his teammates. When officials discovered he didn’t have control, he was suspended for two matches (roughly 1/4 of the competition) and fined 100 percent of his earnings. He was expected to admit his failure and act “in the spirit of the game” — and not doing so cost him and his team.

By contrast, Stephen Carter opens his book Integrity with this anecdote about the rise of cheating in our culture:

That, in a nutshell, is America’s integrity dilemma: we are all full of fine talk about how desperately our society needs it, but, when push comes to shove, we would just as soon be on the winning side.  A couple of years ago as I sat watching a televised football game with my children, trying to explain to them what was going on, I was struck by an event I had often noticed but on which I had never reflected. A player who failed to catch a ball thrown his way hit the ground, rolled over, and jumped up, celebrating as though he had caught the past after all. The referee was standing in a position that did not give him a good view of what had happened, was fooled by the player’s pretense, and so moved the ball down the field. The player rushed back to the huddle so that his team could run another play before the officials had a chance to review the tape. …[W]e saw what the referee missed: the ball lying on the ground instead of snug in the receiver’s hands. The only comment from the broadcasters: “What a heads-up play!” Meaning: “Wow, what a great liar this kid is! Well done!”

Now suppose that the player had instead gone to the referee and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but I did not make the catch. Your call is wrong.” Probably his coach and teammates and most of his team’s fans would have been furious: he would not have been a good team player. The good team player lies to the referee, and does so in a manner that is at once blatant (because millions of viewers see it) and virtually impossible for the referee to detect. … Thus the ethic of the game turns out to be an ethic that rewards cheating.

A season or two ago, one of my favorite “clean” baseball players, Derek Jeter, pretended to have been hit by a pitch and took first base. At full speed, it was hard to tell, but the slo-mo replay clearly showed he faked it — baseball’s equivalent of basketball’s flop. He was neither fined nor suspended, to my recollection, and while sportswriters and opponents took him to task, many fans were ambivalent (and some even laudatory).

You can hear in the video above: the commentators  refrain from taking The Captain of the vaunted Yankees to task — they compliment Jeter’s theatrics and no one mentions integrity, honor, or heaven forbid, cheating. I showed the video to my children and asked their opinions. We all agreed it was disappointing that a great player would resort to such tactics, and that people would defend it as “gamesmanship” instead of condemning it as lying.

Professional basketball has garnered attention this year for fining players who “flop” (i.e., pretend to have been fouled hard enough to go to floor) — but when I was a kid, this, too, was praised as “heads-up play.” And today, even in our schools, too often the attitude is, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin.'” Our youth look up to coaches and high-profile athletes, and they can learn a lot about the value of honest effort from sport — but only if we insist the effort is honest. Kudos to cricket for insisting on integrity in sport.

One comment

  1. Didymus says:

    I have to confess that this article made me think back (way back) to a couple of times that I got away with things in sports that I just counted as good luck for the team instead of objectively dishonest actions. In sports where referees and umpires sometimes make the wrong call it is easy to accept a mindset of “in this game reality is whatever he says it is,” which leads to “reality is whatever I can make him believe.”

    It is interesting that there is at least one sport still that cares about integrity on the field (some individual sports such as golf are still exceptions). It is an idea that is completely foreign to American team sports. Then again, everything about cricket is foreign to the American mind. I spent a couple of days once in England watching a match and finally gave up trying to understand the game. Absent everything else I didn’t get, the match went on for three days, and in the end though one team was ahead on points they declared it a draw and everyone went home. Most Americans would be more inclined to watch a sport where they whack a human head with sticks across a line from galloping camels than cricket.

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