Monday, June 28, 2010

Deception, drugs and sport

By Tom Grant
PhD student, University of Idaho Center for ETHICS*

Cyclist Floyd Landis spent four years and millions of dollars claiming he was innocent of using performance enhancing drugs as he fought to regain his title of 2006 Tour de France champion, which was stripped from him after he failed a drug test. Then in May he abruptly changed his story, saying that not only had he used steroids, a synthetic blood booster known as EPO and blood transfusions to boost performance, but also that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Armstrong’s longtime coach Johan Bruyneel had helped him learn the proper techniques of drug use.

Landis called his drug use “misjudgments” but said he felt no guilt about using performance enhancing drugs.

“I did what I did because that’s what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 or 12 years of hard work to get there,” he told ESPN.

Armstrong and others responded by questioning Landis’ credibility. "This is a man that's been under oath several times and had a very different version," Armstrong said. "This is a man that wrote a book for profit and had a completely different version. This is somebody that took, some would say, close to a million dollars from innocent people for his defense under a different premise, and now that it's all run out, the story changes."

Landis may have documents to support some of his claims. Federal investigators may also help the truth come out. Federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, who led the BALCO Investigation that ensnared Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, among others, is now reportedly interested in the allegations against Armstrong.

But controversies over performance enhancing drugs point out that some sports seem to have created cultures of lying. Landis isn’t the first one to admit to lying about performance enhancing drugs. Bonds, Jones, Mark McGuire, and Alex Rodriguez are a few of the superstars who were caught and finally admitted their drug use. From here on, they’ll be remembered as liars.
At one point in their life, winning became more important than their credibility and honesty.

They knew that use of steroids or blood doping was cheating. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have lied about it. During their years of deceit, they became heroes to many people. Landis was defended by many as having been falsely accused of doping.

Now that Landis is telling another story, the “truth” comes out that his former story was a lie. Why tell the truth now with his athletic career virtually over? It would appear that truth has a different value on the outside of sport than it has inside sport. McGuire admitted his drug use to gain a coaching job. Jones confessed only when facing criminal charges for lying to investigators.

“Truth,” in these cases, seems to be more about serving self-interests than following principles of good character.

In fact, some sports may create cultures in which deceit is acceptable when victory is in the balance. Deception has already been part of sport, as one athlete or team tries to fake out another. But how does public acceptance of deceptive strategy inside the sport lead to private acceptance of an illegal tool such as corked bat or a spitball, or an illegal substance such as steroids.

The Landis case is an opportunity to consider how lying affects athletes. According to Landis, the pinnacle of his career was based in deceit. He felt he had to use performance enhancing drugs to succeed because everyone else was using them, and then he had to lie to prevent others from discovering that he cheated. Now he says, “I want to clear my conscience….I don’t want to be part of the problem anymore.”

Our question is where do athletes begin to be part of the problem? With the first shot of EPO or use of blood doping? Or does it start long before that, with an athlete’s first lesson that it’s okay to lie about stepping on the out of bounds line or using an illegal move — as long as the referee didn’t catch them?

Here’s Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll’s take on deception, doping and why coaches have such a difficult time teaching athletes about the line between deception as part of the game and lying to get ahead.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How do we justify pay for football coaches?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Vandal football coach Rob Akey, with an overall record at the University of Idaho of 11-26, will be considered for a raise from $258,187 to $355,797 when the Idaho State Board of Education meets this week.

According to the Idaho Statesman, Akey’s new five-year contract comes in two parts, $165,796 in base pay and $190,000 in media compensation. He’s also promised various incentives, ranging from $5,000 if he earns WAC coach of the year to $100,000 if the Vandals make a BCS bowl appearance.

The new contract is precedent setting. Akey’s 2007 contract, giving him five years and $1.2 million, was already the largest contract in Vandals’ history.

The new contract was spurred by the Vandals victory in the Humanitarian Bowl, which capped an 8-5 season. The Vandals went 1-11 and 2-10 in Akey’s first two years as head coach.

The Vandals drew a total of 75,000 fans to six home games in 2009. Average home attendance in 2009 ranked 116th of 120 Division 1 teams.

Akey’s raise comes during the same year in which all teaching faculty at the University of Idaho are being forced to take furloughs — leaves without pay — because of the crisis in the state budget. About 2,600 staff members were instructed to take the cuts in time and pay, saving the university about $1.2 million.

Given that the mission of the University of Idaho speaks to educational goals, the question arises: Why is one football coach being rewarded financially while educators are being asked to sacrifice a portion of their salaries?

Those who want to weigh the relative merits of football and educational services to the University of Idaho may look to the Points of Pride listings. The university speaks of its place among the best universities in America, of being a great value in education, and of being one of the top national, doctoral-granting universities. It talks of attracting more National Merit Scholars than all other institutions in the state combined, as well as being one of Outside Magazine’s top 30 universities for hitting the books and the outdoors. Football isn’t mentioned.

University of Idaho President Duane Nellis makes $335,000 per year. What educational justification is there for paying an 11-26 football coach at a school with one of the smallest fan bases more than the president of the university?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on John Wooden's coaching style

By Tom Grant
PhD student, University of Idaho

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died this week at age 99, was a winner. We can count that in his 10 national championships and 620 victories, including 88 straight. That’s quantifiable.

But as Jake Simpson relates in The Atlantic, what Wooden’s players remember is the unquantifiable Wooden as their teacher, mentor, and role model.

“The man they called ‘The Wizard of Westwood’ taught his players more than basketball. He imparted to each young man (in case we've forgotten, that's what college athletes are when you strip away the nationally televised games and the booster money and the arrogance that comes with being larger than life before you've accomplished anything) life lessons far more enduring than any inbounds play or hook shot,” wrote Simpson.

ESPN published a list of some of Wooden’s favorite sayings, words that reflect the coach’s dedication to developing not just good players but good people. One reads: "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out." Have you ever seen that on a locker room wall?

Or how about these other Wooden sayings: "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."

"Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts."

"What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player."

Few coaches will win as many games as Wooden. But many, many coaches will have equal or greater opportunity to influence just as many young people.

History marks our wins and losses. But personal records are recorded in many other ways, too. The minds of young people record the unquantifiable – the life lessons of sport delivered to them by coaches.

Think of your coaches. What did they impress upon you that still matters today? One of Wooden’s sayings that has been published again and again upon his death reads, "What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player." How will those persons you coach remember you?

Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS* at the University of Idaho discussed Wooden’s servant leadership style of coaching.