Olympics Ethics, Fair Competition and Ick

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.




Facts: Yahoo!

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

14 thoughts on “Olympics Ethics, Fair Competition and Ick

  1. Couldn’t you use examples of real ridiculous upsets? There are plenty to use. The Miracle on Ice? Superbowl III? The entire 1969 Mets and 1989 Orioles?

    We can even go for just the Olympics this year. Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor had not lost a match in the Olympics on the way to 2 gold medals. Hell, they hadn’t even lost a set. Should they have been given the gold this year? A bye into the medal round? They lost badly in the first set of their match Thursday and nearly got bounced in 3 sets. Spain’s men’s soccer team didn’t even make it out of the group stage, and they were the favorite to win gold.

    • Yes, I was counting on readers to supply the real life examples. I figure people are sick of me talking about the 1967 or 2004 Red Sox, and I’M sick of the “Miracle on Ice.” And thanks to being engulfed in 1930’s dance marathon’s my Olympics attention has been inadequate. Good examples. Thanks.

    • When it comes to major upsets in college sports, there’s none “majorer” than Chaminade’s 77-72 upending of Ralph Sampson’s undefeated, No. 1-ranked Virginia team in 1982.

      The Silverswords, from Honolulu, were an NAIA school with an enrollment of 800 (compared to Virginia’s 16,400), a rented gymnasium and a part-time coach who earned $2,000 a year and had a recruiting budget of $34. And yet Chaminade’s 6-foot-7 center, Tony Randolph, somehow outscored his 7-foot-4 opponent, 19 to 9.

      As I understand it, the final outcome was so unbelievable that a wire service reporter called Honolulu to clarify which satellite campus of the University of Virginia lost to Chaminade.

  2. The real issue to me is whether professionals should be allowed into the OLympics. Was it Jim Thorpe who had to give back his medals because he had played semi-pro baseball or something like that, and no longer qualified as an amateur? On the other hand, there is so much money to be made by being an Olympic champion that I wonder if there are any true amateurs anymore.

    • You’d be left with college students…who are only questionable amateur. Anyone who’s any good at most of the sports gets paid to play them. Maybe not much, but still paid. Hell, rock climbers have sponsors nowadays.

  3. The close of my high school football career was a 1-8 disaster; my sophomore campaign ended 7-0 on a thirteen-quarter shutout streak. Safe to say, I intimately know both sides of this coin. With my bona fides established, I’d like to posit that there is nothing worse than feelingsball.

    First off, games are for playing, for competing, for fighting. There’s only one thing worse than a night you wish would last forever cut short by vicariously oversensitive officials: it being officially recognized that you are inferior, your own will to give ’em hell to the whistle an afterthought to the lofty goal of protecting you from reality through what, ironically, exposes it most starkly.

    Moreover, games aren’t just about today. The guys up by four touchdowns may, and probably do, still have kinks and wrinkles and problems, and reps against the best available talent it’s how you work those out. If a team wanted to avoid being a high-powered scout team, they can try, I don’t know, scoring more; it’s a disservice to the team, the fans and the game when a team is arbitrarily deemed too good to get better.

    • One of my strongest memories from playing baseball when I was about 9, was losing a game due to the mercy rule: 10 runs. At that age, we were just as likely to score 10 runs the next inning as the team that just beat us. I can’t even remember another game that us players even cared that we lost, but that one, we were up in arms.

      • My third-class (sophomore) year at VMI, Virginia Tech beaut us 70-12 in order to secure a bowl bid. Revenge was ever so sweet the following year when we bet them 12-10. Thre is such a thing as institutional memory and karma.

  4. I wouldn’t call it the Ick Factor so much as a genuine desire by spectators to see a match which is a “close game” and no one knows who will win until the very end–a non-ethical consideration. Every sports fan knows that those games are the most exciting to watch, and so fans want every game (as much as possible) to be like that. The ones that turn into blow-outs are basically the antithesis of that, and no fun to watch.

    In other, somewhat-related news, I submit that the biggest blowout in Olympic history was the 1987 Australia / New Zealand hockey game that had a final score of 58-0.


  5. Ice hockey is a very minor sport in New Zealand with the five clubs forming the National League in 2005. Last August they lost to Australia 1-4.

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