There has been lots of talk about ethics on this website over the last couple months. Whether it be in journalism or the coaching profession or the Turkish Federation of basketball, the word “ethics” are thrown around quite often, and it has been my experience that anything is ethical if it helps your team win, and unethical if it helps your opponent win.
Well, if you missed the Outside the Lines piece from a few days ago, you missed a very difficult ethical question involving a high school coach in Connecticut. Basic situation is this: Somehow this coach came in possession of the opposing team’s wristband with their plays. Likely it fell off another players arm and one his players gives it to him. He proceeds to attempt to use it against the opponent for one drive, a drive which he claims ended in the opposing team scoring a touchdown.
He reported it after the game to his principal, and has since been suspended for 1 game.
Now, the question is: Was it ethical and in good sportsmanship for the coach to attempt to use the armband?
Personally, I say absolutely not. I would not expect a high school player to return the armband to his opponent, but I would expect the coach, who is not only attempting to win games but also be some kind of role model, to recognize the problem with using the armband and to give it back. I find it doubtful this coach only used it for one possession, but we’ll never know for sure. But what we did find out is this coach taught his team a lesson on that night that whatever it takes to win, you can do it.
Some would argue because he did not try to steal the armband, but rather was given to him through happenstance, that he was not in the wrong to use it. That it was the opposing player’s responsibility to keep track of the armband. I have heard that argument made by MANY people. I have also heard the argument that by high school, it is no longer a lesson-teaching level of play, but rather the goal is to win the game. I disagree, but everyone has a right to their opinion about what level of sports becomes a win-first situation. I say college, some say high school, some argue no matter what level, you should always do what it takes to win.
But here is where this becomes sticky for me: If this coach intentionally uses the armband to try and win this game, then why are things such as stealing signs and the Patriots videotaping the opponent considered any different? In all three cases, players and coaches are attempting to decipher an opponents signals. Is there a difference between accidentally getting the armband and intentionally filming an opponent’s signals? Absolutely.
But once you choose to use those things to try and win a game, you step over the same ethical line. It’s literally like saying if you find a wallet on the ground, you should be able to keep it because you didn’t intentionally steal it from somebody. It was just an accident. But once you open the wallet and use what’s in it, that is no better than the pick-pocket who steals the wallet.
Should an opponent be allowed to attempt to steal an opponents signals/plays and if so, at what level should this be acceptable? That is the question, and I am interested what you think.
Ethical Question #2: This comes from 2006. Little league coach for 9 and 10 year olds. Championship game. Last inning and the coach chooses to intentionally walk a team’s best hitter to face a team’s worst hitter. Of course, the worst hitter is battling cancer and has a stint in his brain. Anyway, the kid strikes out, and the other team wins the title.
In this case, the coach broke no rules, and did what major league managers do all the time with pitchers in the on-deck circle. But, at the little league level, is this ethical?