Friday, September 3, 2010

How old did you say you were?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

When a 21-year-old man posed as a 14-year-old boy and signed up for a youth football league in Florida, a few people were suspicious. But “Chad Jordan” had turned in all the appropriate paperwork, including a birth certificate. Now, however, the document appears to have been a fake.

Because the coach had some vague suspicions, he launched an investigation to find out if Jordan was who he said he was — a young man whose parents had died and who was now being raised by an older brother. Only after contacting people from Jordan’s neighborhood did the coach discover that Jordan was actually Julius Threatts, age 21, a young man on probation for burglary charges.

A similar case came to light earlier this year, when a 21-year-old in Texas posed as a 15-year-old Haitian orphan and enrolled in high school. In that case, he was adopted by the basketball coach, named Newcomer of the Year in district basketball competition and helped lead the high school to the state playoffs. Later, the athlete was charged with sexual assault when for having sex with a minor — a 15-year-old girl who thought the boy was also 15.

Then there was the 22-year-old in Arizona last year who posed as a high school student in hopes of winning a basketball scholarship. He was later charged with three counts of forgery and 11 counts of sexual conduct with a minor.

There are ethical reasons why 21-year-olds should not compete with 14-year-olds. It’s not fair when someone with seven more years of growth and experience takes the field against younger players. The added physical development of bone, muscle, and coordination may also increase the physical dangers for younger opponents, even if the athletes are roughly the same size. Joining a league of younger players also requires deceiving coaches, teammates and competitors.
What great temptation drives some older athletes to try to recreate themselves as someone half their age? The idea of older people who still look young returning to high school has been glamorized in such movies as “Never Been Kissed” and “Hiding Out.” In general, lying about one’s age is not uncommon.

One could argue that in a sport where outcomes are more important than process, and where deception is commonly accepted as part of the process, athletes may get the idea that it’s wrong only if they get caught. Coaches may not be highly motivated to track down the truth about their best players, particularly when false documentation exists. Many teammates may be happy to have a stronger, more experienced player on their side.

Then whose duty is it to enforce these off the field rules? What responsibility do teammates, coaches and the athlete themselves have to ensure that truth is told?

Here's what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says:

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