Try as I might, I can’t find anything unethical about the U.S. basketball team throttling Nigeria by the humiliating score of 156-73, the worst wipe-out in Olympic history.
Was the U.S. running up the score, which would be poor sportsmanship? No. As USA coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed out, he held back his best players once the outcome was certain. Every player he put in was hitting the basket with frightening consistency. Should the team have let up, gone through the motions, or allowed the Nigerian players some easy hoops? No. That would be an insult, and a breach of the integrity of the game. The U.S. Olympians had a duty to play their best.
Is it wrong for the U.S. to stock its teams with NBA players, making a mockery out of fair competition with most of the world? No. The Olympics permits pros to compete now. It wants the best players in every sport to be competing on the world stage. If it’s not unethical for the U.S. to have the best players in the world, then it isn’t unethical to allow those players to dominate basketball in the Olympics. Is it wrong to make countries like Nigeria submit to certain annihilation by a vastly superior basketball power? No. If you don’t let underdogs play when they seem to be over-matched, then you will never get “Hoosiers,” “Rocky,” or “The Bad News Bears.” Every now and then a miracle happens, and a Nigeria beats a cocky bunch of sure winners like the U.S. basketball team. It doesn’t happen often, which is why it is so exciting and memorable when it does happen. Mismatches are part of what makes sports fascinating.
No, the sense that there was something unethical about the U.S.’s merciless squishing of the Nigerian basketball team for all the world to see was the “Ick factor” at work. It was so unusual, so unpleasant to watch and seemed so unfair and cruel on the surface that it just had to be wrong. It wasn’t wrong, though. It was just sport, and sometimes sport is necessarily cruel.
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