Ethics Dunce: Tony Kornheiser

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad “Ochocinco” is a talented professional football player whose specialty is self-promotion and media buzz. (His silly name change to reflect his uniform number is an example: his real name is the unspectacular “Chad Johnson.”) Several of his stunts have gotten him fined by the NFL, but he has received generally good reviews for his latest: a “Lambeau Leap” into the hometown Green Bay Packers crowd following a touchdown.

Ochocinco vowed to score a TD and then make a “Lambeau Leap” into the Green Bay crowd when the Bengals played the Packers. (The “Lambeau Leap” is a traditional celebratory maneuver reserved to Packer players, as Green Bay fans are not inclined to be hospitable to opposing team players invading their domain.) Johnson did make a touchdown, and did leap into the arms of fans in the end zone, some of whom appeared to be Bengal fans. It was an immediate sports show highlight. A few days later, the truth came out: Ochocinco had planted four fans for the purpose, buying them tickets and having them ready to catch him. The whole thing was a set up.

But Tony Kornheiser, the former Washington Post humor writer turned cuddly sports commentator on ESPN’s breezy show,“Pardon the Interruption,” pronounced the stunt “cool.”

No, it’s not cool. Athletes staging “moments” in games using paid confederates undermine the integrity of sports. There are people—my own father is one of them—who have reached the point of cynicism where he believes most, and maybe all, sports are like professional wrestling, staged for television and gullible fans. The fake “Lambeau Leap” reinforces his conviction, and makes even more trusting fans wonder, “What else is staged?” For his own publicity and fame (and the resulting increase in his value for endorsements), Chad Ochocinco took all of professional sports a little further down the road away from athletic integrity toward ersatz drama. And the reaction of Tony Kornheiser (not just Tony, to be fair; call this “selective ethics prosecution”) was that it was “cool.”

Fake masquerading as genuine and spontaneous is never “cool.” It is always unethical. In sports, fake threatens to permanently reduce the thrill and enjoyment of sports for everybody, by making fans wonder whether the amazing moment they saw was real.

People like Tony Kornheiser, who are paid to help us enjoy sports, should at least understand that.

2 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Tony Kornheiser

  1. Time for me to catch up on the new site. I’ll try to reply to all the commentaries to hopefully help get the traffic for the site.

    I have two thoughts on this article, but not about Tony Kornheiser.

    1) Chad “Johnson” Ochocinco knew that his stunts get him fined when things go “wrong”. He recognized that the Lambeau Leap was a leap into the arms of fans and if he duplicated it into the arms of opposition, he might possibly be fined. I suppose he thought $3,000 in tickets for some of his actual fans would be cheaper than a $15,000 fine. Perhaps he should have made their appearance at the game more well known prior to the game. At any rate, he was trying to avoid a mishap or confrontation while still doing what he does.

    2) Which end zone did he place his buddies? Was the touchdown his first touchdown or subsequent touchdown? Was this in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quarter? I ask these questions because if the team was driving the opposite direction of the fans and Chad didn’t want to make a touchdown without the Lambeau Leap, then he materially altered the game by not playing his best. I can’t say he’s an Ethics Dunce yet, but maybe some consideration is warranted.

    • Of course, Johnson didn’t have to do the stunt at all. I would have no problem with it if he was up front about it.

      Good question about the placement. I bet he had confederates in each end zone. That’s what I’d do.

      Thanks for the good wishes. You kept the Scoreboard Forum from being moribund for almost a year. I’m hoping you have a lot more company now. Yes, I launched the blog just for you…

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