After years of lying to reporters, officials and everyone else who has followed him during his many years of success, cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping last week, surprising few, solidifying disappointment in others. The image and legacy that Armstrong will leave behind now will forever be tainted, and he will never be looked at the same again.
Armstrong’s fall from grace reminds us of an important lesson: With popularity and fame comes responsibility.
Ethics. What are the ethics of sports? Of course, there is the fairly obvious one of sportsmanship, which is players, coaches, and fans just being courteous and respectful to other teams, fans, and the referees of the game. Everybody knows about this one, but it is surprising how many people choose to ignore it. At one of our Hesston College basketball games recently, a student was seen offering a pair of glasses to one of the refs, showing that he thought the ref was ‘blind’ and was making extremely bad calls. Now, that call may have been bad, but is ridiculing the ref going to change the call? I cannot remember a time in my experience when a fan caused a ref to change a call. In fact, I believe that actions like this can make refs angry at the fan’s team, which could actually hurt the team further later on in the game. Seemingly, after every whistle there is a complaint from one side of the gym. Coaches are badgering refs throughout the whole game and players are at times trash-talking with other players. Yeah, I know, a lot of people will say that it is just part of the game; it is just the way things are. I can see where they are coming from, but I believe that in many cases the criticizing and ridiculing goes a little bit too far.
But ethical behavior in athletics goes beyond sportsmanship. I believe that one of the big discussions of ethics in sports deals with athletes tending to be role models for younger children. These role models are usually high school, college, or professional athletes.
I know that when I was younger I idolized players such as Ken Griffey, Jr. and Shaun Alexander. I had posters of them on my walls and wore jerseys with their name and number on the back. I wanted to be just like them.
They gave me a reason to love the sports they played, and I continue to watch and play those sports today. I guess you could say that I was one of the lucky ones, because the players I idolized tended to keep their personal lives clean.
That is a whole different story for others, though. Players are being arrested left and right nowadays, and suspended or fined consistently. A Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle, Andre Smith, was arrested on January 17 for trying to carry a handgun on a plane. In 2012 alone, 20 players were suspended, many for multiple games, from the NFL for arrests, a bounty program, and violating the substance abuse policy. Go to ESPN.com and right away you see an article on a college basketball player from the University of Wyoming, who was undefeated until recently. The player, Luke Martinez, was one of their stars, and was just suspended indefinitely for being involved in a bar fight. What messages are these sending to the younger generation?
Another very disappointing example of this comes from recent national news. The Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) announced the results of their annual Hall of Fame vote on Jan. 9, but surprisingly no players made the cut. This means not a single player among the 37 on the list received votes from at least 75% of the selection committee. Specifically, there were three players who many people were surprised did not make the Hall: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa. These players each had spectacular careers, and judging only by performance, are in my opinion definitely worthy of this prestigious honor. However, there is something else that they all have in common: suspected steroid use. Whether that was a factor in the voting or not (I believe it was), I do not think that they should be allowed in, period. It would send the wrong message to people across the nation; that as long as you can cheat and get away with it by having a good lawyer or other means, it is perfectly fine. Is that what we want our young athletes to hear?
Athletes need to know that they are being watched for all of their actions, not just on the field. They can be great agents of change and excellent role models if they would just commit to it. I think quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks said it plain and simple: “You never know what little kid is watching you.”