Sports should improve our moral compass, not the other way around
America is bitterly divided. Our institutions are sagging. Our values/ethics are murky/complicated. Our economy is rigged. We are so cynical that spin control is now an acceptable profession, where we applaud others on how well they skirt trouble and obfuscate the truth. Our team chemistry is terrible.
In times like these, we need sport to shine. We need more than escapism and entertainment.
We need sports to set examples and illuminate the path. To stand above the lying and the cheating and whatever it takes to win.
Jerry Colangelo: “In many ways, we’ve lost our moral compass in society. It’s become second-nature to take shortcuts and find cheats in life. There’s a real lack of integrity in the business world and it has taken its toll. Sports is not immune. You’ve seen some of the things that have happened in sports, and they’re not acceptable.”
This is certainly true in Major League Baseball, where the filthy Astros have torn at the integrity of the game, testing the early tenure of Commissioner Rob Manfred. And if you don’t see Manfred during Cactus League exhibitions, it’s because his head is in the sand, waiting for baseball’s latest crisis to clear.
The Astros cheated in 2017, at the very least. But it’s the 2019 season that needs vetting.
We’ve all seen the Jose Altuve video. It’s filthy, the intent clear to anyone with a brain and without bias. And when a player can’t celebrate a pennant-winning home run off one of the game’s best relief pitchers because he’s potentially worried about the cheating devices strapped to his body … well, that’s when the game is no longer fair competition.
“They whole industry knows they’ve been cheating their (backsides) off for 3-4 years,” a MLB executive told the New York Post.
Yet Manfred let the Astros off easy, granting immunity to all the guilty players. It’s obviously better than the alternative, which is transparency, real contrition and officially stamping the past three seasons as completely fraudulent. Including vacating the 2017 championship and forcing the Astros to return the World Series trophy.
Larry Fitzgerald: “There is a fine line between finding a competitive edge and cheating. And cheating will be an issue until the end of time. Always has been. Nothing will change.”
In the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell is doing his own delicate dance, taking a ponderous approach in penalizing repeat offenders in New England.
The Patriots have been busted for Spy-Gate and Deflate-Gate in previous violations. Now, they have to account for team videographers who broke the code once again, shooting eight minutes of footage focused solely on the Bengals sideline.
The implications are horrifying: If Bill Belichick’s Patriots cheated to win their first Super Bowl together in 2002, and if they are still cheating to get a leg up on the worst team in the NFL in 2019, what does that say about their standards and morals?
What does it say about their six championships?
Kurt Warner: “The beautiful thing about sports for most people is that they are governed by a specific set of rules, allowing us all to know good from bad and right from wrong. There is a sense of value/character that lies within those rules, and what is allowed and what is not.
“So when we skew those lines in sports, like we have in other areas, we change the standard, the values and the expectations for everyone. When those things are changed, it leads to chaos and confusion as to what our goal as athletes and human beings should be. Is it the spirit of true competition and fair play? Or is it just about winning on the scoreboard?”
Once, Warner felt deeply wronged by the Patriots, until his faith and good nature instructed him to move on. But his former teammate, Marshall Faulk, continually wondered how the Patriots recognized alignments and formations the Rams had never used before the Super Bowl in 2002.
It’s easy to sound Pollyanna in 2020. It’s easy to lose sight of high-minded principles when so much money is involved, when there is so much to gain from cheating. But the corruption of sports comes with a terrible price. These days, you can see it everywhere.
The end can’t always justify the means. And it’s time for leagues and athletes to rediscover their purpose and their moral compass.
For the rest of us. Especially now.
Warner: “At a time when sports are the most-watched shows around the world, we have an important role in society … if we allow ourselves to lower that bar or set a different type of standard, it will continually influence the mindset of those watching and wanting to follow in our footsteps.”
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.