This is an excerpt from International Sport Management.
By Clayton Bolton, EdD, and Samantha Roberts, PhD
Maybe it is the flawed thinking and concept of peer accountability. Members of an organization (in our case professional sport, amateur athletics, intercollegiate athletics, and even youth sport) are intended to operate on the understanding that everyone is playing fairly and that each member, team, and individual is abiding by the same rules. We can learn from the lessons of countries failing to realize that their neighbors may not always act properly or tell the truth. For example, in 1938 British prime minister Neville Chamberlain once shouted, “Peace in our time,” under the impression that an elected leader in Germany would somehow operate ethically and keep his word that Germany would not go to war with Great Britain. Soon after, the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, bombed London and the rest of Great Britain on a routine basis. Additionally, months earlier, Hitler had told the world that Jews were not being mistreated and his administration, and indeed an entire country, hid the fact that the Holocaust had begun to ensure that the 1936 Olympic Games, held in the German capital, Berlin, would go ahead with a full international presence.
Scandal and questions regarding ethical decision-making processes in sport are not new. For many years, athletes have been using PEDs (or being fed them without their knowledge), coaches have been rewarding athletes for cheating, and those in positions of power in sporting organizations have been subject to allegations and investigations regarding decisions made and, in some cases, payments taken. Examples range from the awarding of the World Cup to the fall of the likes of Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, and from the worldwide disgrace of Lance Armstrong to the banning of an entire Russian Olympic team from competition.
It has been said that former Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace was the first to utter the phrase “If you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough” (Rankin, 2012, para. 1). Said another way, “If you're not first, you're last!” once uttered by fictional character Reese Bobby in a comedy movie about NASCAR, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby(Miller & McKay, 2006). Do we live in an era of “you do what must be done” to be a champion, to finish first, win a gold medal, be famous, be rich? Has the quest for greatness become an all-out assault on cutting corners, taking risks, operating outside the rules, and then lying to cover all tracks of your deception? The idea that fans of the Chicago White Sox baseball team would believe that an illiterate baseball giant from South Carolina would not dare to take money to throw the World Series in 1919, a scandal that ushered in the phrase “Say it ain't so, Joe” (referring to player Shoeless Joe Jackson) seems somewhat normal now. Did eight players on that team actually fix games, and did a rumored gambler from New York, Arnold Rothstein, get away with stealing the World Series in 1919? Yes . . . but does it matter?
“There is no honor among thieves” is an often-used phrase and the title of several novels, movies, and even songs. This concept is acted out in the opening scenes of the movie The Dark Knight(Thomas & Nolan, 2008), when many of the men working for the main villain (The Joker), one by one assassinate the others to gain more of the money, or loot, being stolen from a bank. The idea is that all are interested in simply gaining more for themselves, regardless of the costs or the way in which they get recognition, fame, or the possibility of the financial reward that these days always seems to come with being crowned champion. In contrast, the song “The Champ” (Haynes, Thielk, & Montilla, 2011) by Nelly talks about being a champion of the world based on blood, sweat, and grind as opposed to an unknown or at least unseen competitive advantage—or in so many cases today, an illegal or inappropriate advantage.
Some may ask whether we have reached a point in the world of sport where there is a standard lack of honor among thieves. The authors of this chapter truly hope not, because if we accept that concept, then we must believe that everyone cheats and that no honor remains in sport. Therefore, we must expect that everyone is cheating and the only hope is that we do not get caught.