Thursday, April 22, 2010

Would you cheat for $385,000

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS


Professional golfer Brian Davis wanted to win more than almost anything. “You’re not playing for second,” he said. “You’re playing to win.”

He was playing the 18th hole in a playoff of the Verizon Heritage golf tournament. The winner’s check was worth more than $1 million. His ball had a crummy lie in the marsh but Davis lifted it with his wedge to within 30 feet of the pin, well within reach of keeping the playoff going. But something bothered him.

“I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye,” Davis said later. “I didn’t feel anything but I thought I might have seen something.”

What Davis saw – but which no one else observed – was that his club brushed a reed on his backswing. Try to see it for yourself on this video.

But it is against the rules of golf to move a loose impediment in a hazard. Brian Davis called a two-stroke penalty on himself and that cost him the tournament. The difference between winning and finishing in second place was $385,000.

“I play by the rules and no victory would be worthwhile if it had a cloud hanging over it,” Davis said.


Would you call a penalty on yourself if it made the difference between winning and losing?
As one newspaper wrote, the world has never seen a football player call himself out of bounds on a touchdown run in the Super Bowl or a baseball player say he missed third base when scoring the winning run in a World Series.

The newspaper says Davis won the respect of the world even though he lost the tournament. The Times of London called it “the supreme act of sportsmanship.”

“One of those things they never quite get around to tell you in school is that doing the right thing quit often entails hurting yourself, or at least your own perceived self interest. Brian Davis proved Sunday that in the end, it’s worth it.”

If you were in Davis’ place, would you call the penalty on yourself? Now imagine Davis playing another sport. Would he earn respect as a football player by calling a holding penalty on himself or in basketball if he called himself for a foul?

Why not? What makes golf different?

Here's what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll has to say:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Football concussions: Who should pay?

By Tom Grant

PhD student, Center for ETHICS*


When old professional football players complain of dementia, the place they turn for assistance is the State of California, as The New York Times reports.

California law says that if you played one professional game in the state, you can file for workers compensation payments for injuries suffered decades before. If the state accepts the argument that repeated brain injuries suffered more than 30 years ago caused dementia in now-aging football players, the total value of those compensation claims could reach $100 million or more. Teams and insurance companies may pay, but if the teams and insurance companies are out of business, a state fund pays the settlement.

Are pros the only ones who deserve compensation? What about college athletes who may be at risk of long-term problems because of injuries suffered during their playing days? A 1999 study of college football players showed reduced neuropsychological performance associated with repeated concussions. A growing body of research indicates that repetitive head injury in sport can lead to premature dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Worries are not restricted to football players. Young soccer players who are injured heading the ball are shown to have deficits of attention, concentration and memory. That’s why some experts say no child under age 14 should head the ball.

The difference between college athletes and professional football players is that students are not paid for their play. For that reason, worker’s compensation laws will never help old college football players if they suffer dementia decades later. Yet the NCAA knows that concussions account for 6 percent of injuries in football. When the NCAA examined fall sports, which include women’s soccer, men’s soccer, field hockey, women’s volleyball, it found that more than 7 percent of injuries were concussions.

That’s compounded by risks in high school athletics, where researchers found that 40 percent of athletes with a head injury returned to action too soon.(To see the story of an Idaho football player who suffered a life-changing football head injury, watch this video.) Most schools do their best to react to head injuries in the short term. In the long term, however, the athlete may be the one carrying the risk. Is that fair?


If former college players get dementia or Parkinson’s disease 30 years from now, should universities step up to help pay their bills?

College football, much like the NFL, takes in huge sums of money from the efforts of the athletes. It does so knowing the risk of injury, not only in the immediate sense but in the long-term sense. Yet amateur athletes are expected to leave their game carrying the long-term risks of sports injury on their own backs. Some would say they assumed the risk by stepping on the field. However, they were insured only for short-term risks, and not the long-term ones.

Is that fair to athletes and good for sports? Should college athletes have as much right to long term “workers compensation” as professional athletes?

Put yourself in the position of a spouse whose husband suffers dementia in his 50’s, 30 years after a college football career in which he had one or two concussions he knew about, and perhaps others he “shrugged off” as part of the game. What would she say?

If the dementia were linked not to head injuries but to exposure to chemicals in a college science lab, would that make any difference is whether the university should be responsible?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Red Bull Controversies

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Your opponent drinks Red Bull before the race. How should you respond?


At the Western Athletic Conference swimming championships, rumors began swirling on the first night of the meet that Boise State swimmers had been seen drinking Red Bull. Boise State was favored in the meet and doing very well. But some other teams claimed that coaches and trainers of Boise State were advising their athletes to drink Red Bull and even providing it before the races, according to one newspaper report.

The Boise State coaches denied that, saying athletes were drinking Red Bull on their own. But claims on a blog following the meet suggested that some coaches, and not only at Boise State, were either handing out the drink or looking the other way when athletes used it. One person noted that athletes were hiding the drinks under their parkas and drinking them. said WAC officials issued a reminder to teams and media that caffeine, one of the substances in Red Bull, was a banned substance in the NCAA.

NCAA rules say is caffeine is a banned stimulant and if drug testing shows that athletes have more than a certain amount in their urine, they can be suspended and lose their eligibility. The rules are designed to allow ordinary consumption of coffee, tea or cola, but to control excessive use designed to give an athlete a competitive advantage.

Red Bull also contains taurine, which the NCAA says is an “impermissible” substance. Teams are forbidden from providing impermissible substances to athletes, even in vitamin water drinks.

Neither Boise State nor any other teams were penalized for the use of Red Bull. Some athletes from other teams were extremely upset about what they saw as flagrant abuse of the rules. According to swimmers, when Boise State was announced as the winner, one team chanted “Red Bull” as the Boise State fight song played. Someone else left a case of Red Bull cans with the word “cheater” on it on a Boise State van, a swimmer said.


How would you respond if you think your opponent used a banned or impermissible substance to gain a competitive advantage? Imagine someone from another team approaches you and asks you to take part in a demonstration against the competitor who used the substance. Would you join in the “Red Bull” chant during the awards ceremony or hold up a sign saying “cheater”? Why, or why not?

At the WAC swimming championships, the athletes drinking Red Bull must have known that their actions were perceived as cheating, even if they didn’t fail an NCAA drug test. If some other teams were also drinking Red Bull, perhaps that was their way of trying to even the playing field. If one team breaks the rules, the other feels justified in doing the same.

When coaches received a letter from the WAC during the meet reminding them that caffeine was banned, they had several options for action. They could have told their players not to use Red Bull, or even penalized players who used the drink. One observer claimed that meet officials also ignored the use of Red Bull.

When one team chanted “Red Bull” during Boise State’s award ceremony, some athletes on other teams saw that as rude and poor sportsmanship. However, traditional avenues of addressing the impermissible substance had not been fruitful.

The Boise State team, after being called cheaters by opponents, may wonder whether the Red Bull controversy cheapened their victory. They were favorites going into the meet but now all some people will remember is the Red Bull controversy.

Imagine yourself in the various roles of people at the meet. What’s the best response for a coach? For a meet official? For an athlete who sees their competitor drinking Red Bull? Would you complain if the Red Bull drinker won? Would you complain if they lost? If your teammate offered you Red Bull, would you drink it?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS says: