Friday, January 28, 2011

Golfers like the rules. Why don’t other athletes?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Last week, professional golfer Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi Championship after a television viewer noticed that he illegally moved the ball and emailed officials. Harrington was one stroke off the lead.

But Harrington accepted the disqualification with incredible grace. “The rules are good, we abide very well, the players love the fact that we apply them,” he said. “We love the standard that we play by. When we have to stick to that, that’s the best thing about the game.”

Often, athletes in sports such as football have the opposite attitude. Last year, former running back Marshall Faulk said, “It’s a well-documented thing that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying in sports. Some of the best things that are done in sports are illegal. You work around the rules to get things done.”

Angela Lumpkin, who wrote “Cheating and Gamesmanship among Amateur and Professional Golfers” as part of the book Golf and Philosophy: Lessons from the Links, writes, “Amateur and professional baseball, basketball and football players are often coached to act in unethical ways to gain competitive advantages, and many teammates expect each other to do whatever it takes to win. Professional golfers, unlike amateur golfers, play a game without on-course coaches and teammates who encourage cheating and gamesmanship and in which playing by the letter and spirit of the rules is revered.”

Harrington epitomizes Lumpkin’s words. The culture of golf at the top level is a culture of principled behaviors. Research by Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll and others shows that that college level golfers score much higher on tests of moral reasoning that other athletes.

A professional sports culture that honors fair play can foster the development of high moral standards at other levels of the game. Reports about Harrington’s handling of the situation should be at the top of the news. Other sports should be asking how they can build a more golf-like sense of integrity into their culture.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Donor wants control of football program

by Tom Grant
Phd Student, Center for ETHICS*

Another PhD student and I were arguing today about multi-million dollar salaries for college football coaches. I complained that if most college athletic programs are lose money, as the NCAA president says, then it didn't make sense to pay such huge salaries to coaches. He said a lot of the money to pay the coaches was coming from outside sources, including athletic boosters.

A few hours later, ESPN posted this article on a donor from Connecticut who wanted a $3 million dollar contribution returned because he wasn't allowed to have any influence when the university hired its new football coach. The donor was Robert Burton, chief executive officer of Greenwich, Conn.-based Burton Capital Management.

The ESPN story read:

"Burton called the situation 'a slap in the face and embarrassment to my family,' and said he planned 'to let the correct people know that you did not listen to your number one football donor.' He called the search process flawed.'We want our money and respect back,' Burton wrote to [UConn Athletic Director Jeff] Hathaway."

Burton isn't the only booster who is said to want a big hand in major sports operations. Phil Knight of Nike has given millions to the University of Oregon, and is said to have a hand in many sport decisions at the school. Some worry that T. Boone Pickens, who gave $165 million to the athletic department of Oklahoma State University, has too much control there.

Yet with rising costs and state budget cuts, athletic departments are becoming increasingly dependent upon outside donations. Institutions have commonly sold the naming rights to stadiums and buildings as one way of attracting major contributions. Perhaps the era is already upon us when hiring rights to coaches are also being sold to donors. My friend believes he once lost a coaching job because a donor made the call.

It would make things so much easier if they'd just let donors hang their shingle on the coach, like they do on bowl games and buildings.

I can hear the commentators now: "The Burton Capital Management UConn Football Coach has just asked the referee for a time out...."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Where does all the money go?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

NCAA President Mark Emmert says only 14 of the more than 1,100 NCAA schools made money on athletics last year, according to ESPN. So despite the NCAA's new $10.6 billion deal with CBS for the men's basketball tournament, the NCAA can't afford to sucn such things as an "Ultimate Frisbee" championship.

So where does all the money go? Emmert says the NCAA will make $700 million from its new contract and 96 percent of that will go to member athletic departments in support of athletes.

Or perhaps in support of giant salaries for coaches. Only 14 schools make money on athletics, but 70 are willing to pay more than $1 million in salary and bonuses to their football coaches, according to USA Today.

If you look at the 110 football programs in the USA Today report, the total salary and bonuses for coaches adds up to almost $200 million. And don't forget the 25 NCAA basketball coaches who make more than $1 million annually.

If you wonder why colleges aren't making money on athletics, it isn't because they've thrown it away on Ultimate Frisbee.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rex Ryan: Motivating with Hate

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Jets coach Rex Ryan is being celebrated for motivating with hate. According to a quote in ESPN, an unnamed NFL executive says of Ryan, “His No. 1 ability is to get his players to identify hate in the week.”

And that pro exec apparently thinks motivating with hate is a good thing.

The story by Gene Wojceichowski reports that Ryan has been using hate as a motivational tool since his days with NAIA New Mexico Highlands in 1989.”He creates a specific reason to play that game and to despise that opponent.”

Without question, hate has been used as a motivational tool throughout history, from the Nazis to the Khmer Rouge. As a group phenomenon, hate divides people — often into groups that may only exist in the imagination of the hater. Yale history professor Ben Kiernan says the promotion of hate is generally delusional. “Hate speech extends hate to a fantastical target group and leads to violence against entire groups which only exist coherently in the mind of hate-speech utterers,” he said.

Keirnan's term "fantastical" can easily be applied to major professional sports teams. They have no coherent form other than through their city affiliation. Coaches, players, fans and even owners change frequently. A Patriot today could be a Jet tomorrow. According to Wojceichowski, Ryan’s technique follows the pattern of creating a group to hate when that group has no identity other than the uniform of the day and no relationship with actions worth of hate: “He invents belief. By the time kickoff arrives, Ryan has his players convinced that the other team not only needs to be crushed but that it deserves to be crushed.”

Why should Jets hate Patriots? The Toronto Sun lists the reasons, starting with a crushing hit on Patriots’ QB Drew Bledsoe in 2001. But that led to Tom Brady’s emergence to lead the Pats to the championship. Then there are some job switches between the teams involving coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Is there something wrong about a professional athlete or coach taking a new job? Or could it be that the game itself is the source of hatred?

Such a thought is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1945 essay “The Sporting Spirit” in which he condemns sport for creating bad feeling between nations: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words, it is war minus the shooting.”

Orwell, just as he warned against government oppression in 1984, warned against the “lunatic modern habit” of seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige. “If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators.”

Why are we celebrating Ryan’s addition to the ill will in the world? Have we forgotten the $50,000 fine given Ryan for giving the middle finger to Dolphins fans? Now when outsiders view the Jets, they see the middle finger everywhere. The Boston Herald reported that Jets players were seen giving the finger to Patriots fans following Sunday’s playoff game. The Jets denied it, but taint remains. Patriots receiver Deion Branch called the Jets “classless” and it made headlines.

Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS* at the University of Idaho says hate may do more damage to the hater than the hated. Hate is a poison. It tears people apart. Educators would not use hatred in the classroom to try to motivate people to peak performances in, say, math and English. But when high school or college coaches see professional football success expressed as a function of channeling hate, they can’t help but be tempted to take a lesson from Rex Ryan.

For coach/educators, that seems profoundly wrong-headed. Coaches at the high school and college level are role models for their athletes. As we’ve seen in the Jets, athletes are believed to be modeling in their leader — right down to the middle finger to the fans. Perhaps high school and college coaches could get a better idea of where such tactics lead them and their athletes if they pictured themselves not as Ryan the championship coach, but as Ryan the guy in the picture with finger raised.