Monday, November 7, 2011

Should Joe Paterno be fired

Joe Paterno has the most wins in Division I NCAA football.
Joe Paterno holds the record for most wins.

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has won more games than any coach in college football history. But now he faces a fight to keep his job because of something he could have done, but didn't.

The story involves one of the worst crimes imaginable -- child sexual abuse. Paterno is not accused, but one of his former assistant coaches has been indicted for the crime of molesting eight young boys.

The question for Paterno is whether he could have prevented more children from being harmed by acting differently when he first learned of the allegations. And the question for us is whether Paterno had an ethical duty to do so.

The man accused is former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was long considered to be the the heir to Paterno's job. But Paterno continued to coach. He's now 84. Sandusky retired in 1999.

However, Sandusky remained close to Penn State, hosting summer football camps and working with a charity he founded called The Second Mile. A grand jury now accuses Sandusky of sexually assaulting eight boys between the years 1994 and 2009. The indictment alleges that about 20 of the incidents took place while Sandusky was employed at Penn State.

The charges say Sandusky would give boys sporting gear, sports clothing and trips to sporting events, including a Penn State bowl game. The grand jury says Sandusky then coerced the boys into involuntary sexual relations. The key incident occurred in 2002, after Sandusky had retired. According to the indictment, a graduate assistant walked into a Penn State team locker shower room and saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy about 10 years old

Sandusky being arrested.
The assistant reported it to Coach Paterno, who immediately informed his boss, the athletic director. The athletic director barred Sandusky from bringing children to the the campus. But the athletic director never informed police, and now he has been indicted himself for covering up the abuse. No one ever tried to discover the identity of that 10-year-old victim or stop such crimes from happening again.

Police did not become aware of sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky until 2009, when another boy's mother made allegations to the high school her son attended. That school not only banned Sandusky, it triggered a state investigation.

"The failure of top university officials to act on reports of Sandusky's alleged sexual misconduct, even after it was reported to them in graphic detail by an eyewitness, allowed a predator to walk free for years -- continuing to target new victims," Attorney General Linda Kelly said in the report. "Equally disturbing is the lack of action and apparent lack of concern among those same officials, and others who received information about this case, who either avoided asking difficult questions or chose to look the other way."

The question for you is what what was Coach Paterno's ethical duty in this case. He broke no law. He did what the law requires, and reported it to his supervisor. After all, Paterno's job is to be a coach, not a police officer. And even now, no one has yet been convicted of a crime.
However, some people think Penn State needs to immediately clean house because of this scandal, firing everyone including Paterno.
Others say the scandal was allowed to grow like a mushroom in the dark because Paterno wrapped his football program in a shroud of secrecy. "Practices are closed to the media. Assistant coaches are off-limits. Reporters have virtually no access to players," writes one reporter. In such a program, many dark secrets can be hidden, the writer says.
Sandusky and Paterno
Paterno's defense is that he was never told about the "very specific actions" of child abuse observed by his graduate assistant, implying he might have acted differently if he had known. Paterno said he met his responsibilities by reporting the incident to the athletic director. He's saddened about what has happened to the victims, Paterno says, but now people need to let the legal system do its work.

Did Paterno do enough? Did he have a duty to protect that unknown 10-year-old and other children? Did he have a moral obligation to inform police? Did he have a duty to ask deeper questions of the graduate assistant and discover the details of what happened back in 2002?

Or did coach Paterno do enough by following the law, reporting it to his supervisor and expecting that they would uncover the truth? Should the winningest coach in college football keep his job?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What can we do to reduce fan violence?

Fans riot in Vancouver following loss in Stanley Cup

How far is too far if you’re a sports fan? Is name-calling OK? What about trying to distract the opponent? We probably agree that when fans commit violence, that is going too far. Yet we seem to be seeing a growing amount of fan violence in sports around the world.

When the Vancouver Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals of the National Hockey League, the city erupted in rioting and looting. After a baseball game in March, two hometown Los Angeles Dodgers fans severely beat a visiting San Francisco Giants fan, nearly killing him. In August, following a professional football game in San Francisco, a fan was shot because he was wearing a T-shirt that nastily denounced the hometown San Francisco 49ers.

The San Francisco incident led to calls for curbing violence by football fans, perhaps by reducing alcohol sales. The National Football League fears the perception of violence is driving away some fans, particularly families.

Fan violence has not been limited to North American sports. Italian soccer fans have been banned from a match against Serbia because of fear of riots, as happened at a match between the teams last year. In Uganda, the police have opened an inquiry into violence at soccer games and they’re threatening jail time to soccer hooligans. In Turkey, which has a long history of violence at soccer matches, hundreds of Istanbul fans stormed the field during a competition this summer.

But Turkey’s football association has come up with a novel solution to the problem of fan violence. In response to such problems, some soccer leagues force teams to play a series of games in front of an empty stadium. But in Turkey, rather than close a game to everyone, the league decided to penalize only men. For that day of violence in Istanbul, all men were banned from attending one game. However, women and children under age 12 were allowed to attend
Female fans cheer in Istanbul.
Last week, more than 41,000 women and children were admitted free and watched Istanbul play to a 1-1 draw with Manisapor. Rather than fans hurling insults at the opponents, the game began with players hurling flowers at the spectators. And the visiting team was greeted with cheers instead of the usual jeering.

The Istanbul captain said, “The memory will stay with me forever. It’s not always that you see so many women and children in one game.”

A Manisaspor player said, “It was such a fun and pleasant atmosphere.”

Now the league says the same penalty will be applied whenever there are invasions of the pitch or unrest outside the stadium. Men will be banned for a game, and female fans will get the benefit.

Toronto Star writer Cathal Kelly recommends that sports leagues everywhere take a lesson from Turkey and do much more to fill the stands at the home games with women and kids – in part to deter violence. “There is no threat that works better on a surly drunk than, ‘There are kids who can hear you saying that,’” he wrote, concluding: “Feminizing a game can make its masculine attributes even more appealing.”

But some, such as James Calvert, wonder if this is just another example of rules that go too far, even in the interest of curbing violence. Under current anti-violence laws England, football fans convicted of shoving a rival fan or swearing at a stadium steward can find themselves banned from attending their team’s matches. In addition, they have to surrender their passport whenever the team plays abroad and they may be subject to police surveillance as high risk fans.

In Turkey, this new rule that blames all men for the acts of a few is the ultimate kind of guilt by association. If you’re a man, you must be the source of sport violence. Without doubt, it discriminates against men.

Do we need such strict measures to curtail violence by fans? And what is at the root of this violence, anyway? Tell me what your thoughts are on kicking out all men when a few fans get violent. Or do you have other ideas about how to make sports fans more civil?

Go to the comment section and share your thoughts.

Women and children were the only fans allowed into this soccer match in Istanbul.
Here's what one expert, Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS*, says about banning men from games as a way to reduced violence in sport.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Is it winning to beat a cancer survivor?

This is a video blog about the case of Romney Oaks, a 9-year-old baseball player from Bountiful, Utah, that we are using as part of a research project.

We also use this video from Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS, who provides an expert view of the case.

The research project is examining whether a sports blog like ours can affect moral reasoning scores.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Are stem cells medical treatment, or cheating?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

The comeback of New York Yankees pitcher Bartolo Colon has been phenomenal. So phenomenal that Major League Baseball is investigating whether his rehabilitation surgery may have been cheating.

Colon was the Cy Young Award winner in 2005, when he went 21-8 for the Anaheim Angels. But he tore his rotator cuff during the playoffs, and his career went downhill rapidly. His best season since then was 4-2 with the Boston Red Sox in 2008. He didn't play in 2010.

When the Yankees signed him to a minor league contract in 2011, he was 37 years old and 25 pounds overweight. He's 38 now. But his record is 5-3 and he's throwing his fastball in the mid-90s.

The secret of his recovery, according to The New York Times, was stem cell treatment. 

Stem cells, according to the National Institutes of Health, serve as sort of an internal repair system. The doctor who treated Colon in the Dominican Republic says he used a pioneering technique of removing stem cells from Colon's bone marrow then injecting them in his elbow and shoulder to help repair his ligaments and rotator cuff.

Was this just good medical treatment? Or is it cheating? The line is not clear. Here's what ESPN columnist Howard Bryant wrote:

The real question is where on the continuum of available therapies rehabilitation and recovery ends and gaming the system begins. One end of the spectrum is Gatorade and aspirin, which are legal, available to everyone and widely used. But it gets murkier as the treatments grow more aggressive, experimental and scarce: from ibuprofen to cortisone, glasses to laser eye surgery, Tommy John surgery to stem cell procedures. What of cloning and gene therapy and the ideas doctors and scientists are just beginning to explore in labs? It is a question that has never been answered, and the league's attempts at regulation -- such as limiting the number of cortisone shots a player can receive in a given season -- disappear in a pennant race or contract drive.

If Colon's doctor had used human growth hormone (HGH) to supplement the stem cell treatment, as he has done for other patients, the case would be clear. Major League Baseball has outlawed HGH and can test for it.

But neither Major League Baseball nor the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) have a position on the use of stem cell treatments. Is using stem cells to rehabilitate a pitching arm like using laser treatments to improve eyesight or getting Tommy John surgery? Or is it more like using HGH in baseball or blood doping in bicycling, which are both illegal. After all, doctors can use HGH treatment for non-athletes and blood doping is just taking an athlete's own blood and transfusing it back at a later date.

One way to look at it may be to consider whether the treatment is truly for rehabilitation, or whether it is being used to gain an advantage. Athletes should be allowed to rehabilitate. But even that line seems blurry sometimes.  HGH can be used for rehab, but it's illegal. And anabolic steroids can help healing, too. And they're illegal. In fact many medicines are banned in competition. Even beta blockers, a common heart medicine are banned in some sports. Should the old guy in a curling match be forbidden to use his medicine? WADA says those beta blockers are cheating in curling.

Another way to look at it may be to consider whether the athlete is being honest. If Colon or his doctor lied about whether there was HGH in the treatment, that would clearly be a violation of Colon's agreement with Major League Baseball. But what if they told the truth about the treatment, but lied about whether it was being used to gain advantage. What if he used stem cells not merely to rehabilitate but to strengthen this arm. What if anyone could use stem cell treatment to create a stronger throwing arm? Would that be honest and fair?

And what about the other athletes the doctor has treated with stem cells. No one noticed until Colon made this dramatic comeback. But now many are noticing. Major League Baseball will have to address that issue as more athletes try to for the Colon effect. Should stem cell treatments be allowed or outlawed?

Monday, May 30, 2011

For the health of a catcher

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Baseball is not a contact sport -- except for catchers, that is. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey guarded home plate in the traditional fashion earlier this month, standing over home plate as the throw came from outfield. The runner also responded in traditional fashion, smashing into Posey to score the winning run. Posey never caught the ball. The video shows Posey took a frightening hit. And he's now out for the season with a broken leg and torn ligaments.

Some have suggested that if Posey were a third-string catcher, no one would care. But Posey is a star player for the World Champions and one of the top hitters in baseball. The team has a huge investment in his performance. Many are now asking whether regulations to prevent -- or at least reduce - contact at home plate.

In light over rising concerns about concussions in football and hockey, baseball's attention to home plate collisions seems warranted. Baseball already has rules against blocking runners in the base paths. But the home plate collision is perhaps the most exciting play in the game and fans like it. The movie A League of Their Own climaxed when the base runner smashed into the catcher to score the winning run in the World Series.

The proposed rules include forbidding the catcher from blocking the plate -- unless he has full control of the ball. An alternative is to prohibit the runner from having any contact with the catcher if the catcher has control of the ball. Both alternatives have a downside. Catchers are often forced up the third base line to catch the call. And runners may have difficulty making split second decisions about whether the catcher has control of the ball.

However, in other sports we expect players to make those split second decisions. Pass rushers have to avoid hitting the quarterback if he has already thrown the ball, for instance.

And some catchers are opposed to changes. They think the home plate collision is just one of the risks of playing the game. Players can get hurt, and not just a home plate. The can be hurt sliding into third, leaning into a slider or catching a pop fly.

But it seems that if you have a game like baseball, a game of inches where speed and finesse are as important as mass and power, the game could survive without the home plate collision. Yes, it's an incredibly exciting play. But wouldn't a sneaky hook slide be just as exciting?

And if we want to see the best-of-the-best on the field facing each other at the end of the year, why would we want to sacrifice a few of them to injuries that might be avoided? If we looked at the Posey collision and considered the principle of beneficence -- that one ought not to inflict harm -- such plays would be avoided. Or you can weight the harm of the collision against the entertainment value it offered professional baseball. Is the excitement of one play in May worth the loss of one of the heroes of October?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Manny Ramirez and the sport of lies

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for Ethics

Manny Ramirez retired this week rather than face a 100-game suspension following a positive test for a banned substance.  And the taint of steroids continues to plague baseball. It's Manny's second positive test.

The Barry Bonds case continues to look like just the tip of the iceberg. Bonds' remains in the hands of the jury, though that group is deadlocked on all but one count. And the fate of baseball is in the hands of fans.

Will fans find it repulsive that so many players have been caught trying to cheat, using human growth hormone and designer steroids to try to gain a competitive advantage? Or will they quietly accept that baseball stars use the juice to get a little extra power. Some even dare to say that steroids saved baseball. They suggest that the muscle-bound home run hitters gave the sport excitement at a time when it was becoming upstaged in the public mind by football and basketball.

But to others, this writer included, baseball has become a sport of deceit, not much different from bicycling or professional wrestling. And it's not so much about performance enhancing drugs as it is about the lies. Who can trust any power hitter today?

Albert Pujols has been hailed by such top-flight media institutions as 60 Minutes as the new savior of baseball. He hits more than 30 home runs a year and has never failed a drug test. Yet the rumors continue even about Pujols.

The concensus seems to be that baseball players will do whatever it takes to improve their game, then lie about it. The Bonds' trial is about his lies. Ramirez's retirement shows that the steroid era continues. And so does the lying era.

Professional wrestlers were once the used car salesmen of sport. Then bicycling, with stars such as Tour de France winners Floyd Landis and Bjarne Riis admitting doping, became the sport of lies. And now baseball has so deeply mired itself in the liars and cheaters club that we can't trust the heroes of America's pastime.

You can say it ain't so, Joe. But in the back of our mind, we still won't believe you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Character matters even in basketball

By Tom Grant
PhD Student, Center for ETHICS*

The Aggies of Texas A&M played great basketball Tuesday night, with Danielle Adams scoring 30 points in the second half to help her team to a win over Notre Dame in the women's NCAA basketball championship

Compared to the ragged play in the men's NCAA championship matchup -- which one writer called "cover-your-eyes awful" --  the women's game was a sign of what basketball at it's best can be: smart, aggressive and thrilling.

Adams represents the American dream in athletics. She was a great high school player and signed with Missouri. But that plan was derailed because she had to attend a junior college. She had to fight her way back. She used junior college to get her academic and basketball career on track, then signed at A&M after being named junior college player of the year in 2009. But she had a lot more work to do.

Here's what she told ESPN: "After I had to go to junior college, I knew it was a chance for me to work harder and get better," Adams said. "I thought, 'Maybe another team will pick me up that I really like.' And A&M gave me that chance."

Even that wasn't enough. Adams, a 6-1 post, was overweight. She needed to lose 40 pounds to get in shape to become competitive in Division I. And she did.

The Texas A&M team represents what is rarely seen in men's basketball, a team of  highly skilled and highly experienced players committed to a great team performance. A&M was led seniors Adams and Sydney Colson along with junior Tyra White. They were experience heavy, and had worked together for years.

In men's basketball, the one-and-done has changed the character of the game. John Feinstein writes that it's one of the things leading men's basketball downhill:

"Many college coaches call this the 'AAUization' of the game. Stars are coddled from the very beginning; no one tells them they have to play defense, no one teaches them fundamentals and no one gets on them if they don’t play hard. Why? Because if a star gets yelled at by one coach, he goes and finds a new coach. That’s why it is now common for players to go to three or four high schools and play on a different AAU team every summer. Then they come to college knowing they hold all the cards with their coach: They only have to deal with him for one year, so why put up with him if he makes unreasonable demands such as 'Would you please try on defense?'"

Feinstein says the NBA needs to change its rules, allowing high school players jump to the NBA if they think they're good enough but forcing those who commit to college to stay there for at least three years. Such a rule would mirror Major League Baseball's relationship with colleges.

Feinstein also argues that men's college basketball needs to clean up its act: "There is also the continuing issue of what everyone who cares about college athletics has known to be true for years: cheating pays. The team that just won the national championship is on probation for major rules violations. The Hall of Fame coach who just joined John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only coaches to win at least three national titles will be suspended for his team’s first three conference games next winter because of a “lack of compliance” with NCAA rules. In English, a lack of compliance means you cheated."

NCAA men's basketball could learn a bit from Adams and A&M. They won their title with dedication, perseverance and hard work. They had to make the grades and come together as a team. And they did it without a blot on their recruiting record. And, in my opinion, they played a lot better game than the men -- and not just on the floor.