Category Archives: Sports

You Asked For It: There are Indeed Ethics Issues Raised By Inexplicable Choking In The NBA Play-Offs

Prolific commenter slickwilly wrote in one of the Comey threads,

Jack, we need a post on how the Spurs were aided in their win by either a) James Harden point shaving, or b) someone slipped him date rape drugs How ethical are the accusations?

I had been vaguely aware of the surprise rout the short-handed San Antonio Spurs inflicted on the Houston Rockets to win their NBA play-off series, but as the NBA is far-off my ethics radar due to the fact that I consider it a fake sport played by too many ethically-challenged athletes who achieved fame and wealth thanks to the corrupt college basketball system,  a direct query like this was required to get my attention. Here is what happened, courtesy of the Sporting News, as the Houston Rockets superstar delivered an epic choke when his team needed it most:

With Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker out for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, James Harden was expected to dominate the Spurs.

Instead, Jonathon Simmons and LaMarcus Aldridge led a perfectly executed game plan by Gregg Popovich to hold Harden and the Rockets to just 75 points in a 39-point win. Harden made just two field goals, had six turnovers and registered a minus-28 as Houston shot just over 30 percent in the loss.

The Washington Post later elaborated on the shocking details:

In the wake of the Spurs’ playoff series-clinching, 114-75 rout of the Rockets on Thursday, it was hard to know which was more shocking: that San Antonio could play so well without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, or that James Harden could play so poorly. The Houston star scored just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting in more than 36 minutes of play, looking nothing like a leading contender for NBA MVP honors…Harden not only failed to take advantage of the absence of the league’s best perimeter defender, he was stunningly ineffective in the final four minutes of regulation and through the five-minute overtime period. In that span, Harden scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting, turned the ball over four times, and committed two costly fouls, including an offensive foul on what could have been a game-winning possession with seconds left in regulation.

This is not just an example of a star player having a bad game, like “Casey at the Bat.” Harden is regarded as a strong contender for the 2017 NBA MVP award. Nobody could remember a similar example of a healthy NBA super-star playing so poorly for so long in a crucial play-off game, and there is no sport where a single great player’s performance can make the difference between victory and defeat more surely than basketball. Harden has not explained his flop, so people are making excuses for him. The popular  theory seems to be that he was suffering from a concussion following an elbow to the head suffered in the previous game two days earlier. This is pure speculation, however, and as the Post notes, Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The Boston Red Sox And “Hate Speech”

SHHHHHHHH!

I don’t know why it is that the Boston Red Sox are leading all of baseball in ethics controversies, but here’s the story:

The Red Sox have been playing the Orioles the last four days, in a series marked by rancor arising from an incident last week that has metastasized into an exchange of words, accusations and attempted beanballs.  After the first game in this series,  Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones claimed that he had heard racial epithets from the stands, and a bag of peanuts had been thrown at him.  Boston  and the Red Sox in particular have a dubious racial history (the team was the last in baseball ito have a black player), so this immediately became a big story, with the Sox, MLB, the city, and even the governor expressing horror, regret, and outrage. No fan or Orioles player has stepped  forward to substantiate Jones’ accusations. I don’t doubt him, but that is relevant, because in the entire episode as it unfolded, conclusive evidence has been deemed unnecessary. Accusations alone confer guilt. In the next game, Fenway gave Jones a long standing ovation on his first trip to the plate, saying, in essence, “We’re sorry you were treated this way, and we reject that disgusting conduct.” Good. That is the Fenway Park I know.

Then it was reported that another fan who was in the crowd at Fenway  the next night has been banned for life by the Red Sox. Team president Sam Kennedy said that the fan received the lifetime ban for using a racial slur to to describe a Kenyan woman who sang the National Anthem before the game, in a conversation with another fan.

Calvin Hennick, a Boston resident bringing his son to his first Red Sox game as a present for his sixth birthday, wrote on Facebook and confirmed to the Associated Press  that a  fan sitting near him used “nigger” when referring to the National  Anthem singer that night. Hennick asked the man to repeat what he had said, and when he did,Hennick summoned security. The Fenway security ejected the offending fan, who denied using a racial slur….you know, like Giles Corey denied being a witch.

Kennedy thanked Hennick, who is white, for coming forward. Says NBC baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, who once was a lawyer and presumably understood basic principles of justice, process, and fairness, “Kudos to the Red Sox for acting so swiftly.”

The Red Sox acted swiftly, all right.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this...

Is it fair, proportionate, reasonable and just to ban a baseball spectator for life under these circumstances?

Continue reading

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Ethics Heroes: 18,000 Canadians

 Canadian country music star Brett Kissel was supposed to sing the U.S. and Canadian national anthems before Game 3  of the NHL play-offs between the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers over the weekend, but his microphone malfunctioned. He couldn’t be heard.

The estimated crowd of 18000 took over, and sang both national anthems. They really belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” too. Now that’s being a good neighbor.

Would a US crowd so enthusiastically croon “O Canada”?

I wonder.

I hope so.

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Baseball’s Childish Ethics: An Embarrassing Case Study

It is often said that baseball is a child’s game, but that doesn’t excuse professional baseball players holding on to childish traditions regarding the “right way to play the game” that are not right, frequently dangerous, and mind-numbingly stupid to boot.

Last week, beginning a weekend series in Baltimore, the Boston Red Sox were enmeshed in a close game., losing 2-0, with time running out. With the Orioles batting and Manny Machado (Non-baseball fans: he is the very young, very large, very talented O’s third-baseman, a joy to watch and already a super-star) on first, Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts fielded a slowly bouncing ground ball and flipped a weak throw to Dustin Pedroia (Non-baseball fans: he is the small, cocky, excellent Sox second baseman, the best fielder at his position in 2016, a former MVP, and the acknowledged leader of the team now that David Ortiz has retired). Pedroia caught the ball in a first baseman’s stretch, awkwardly, just in time to force out Machado: a double play was out of the question. Machado, however, came into the base hard, sliding late, and barreling right over the bag with his spikes raised. (It looks on the tape as if one foot was elevated  when it hit the base.) Machado’s momentum took him into Pedroia, knocking him down and spiking him, as well as injuring his knee and ankle. Machado appeared to try to catch the Sox player after he passed over the base.

There was no question that Machado was out, but the Red Sox manager argued that the slide was illegal: since last year, runners are not allowed to try to break up double plays by intentionally sliding at opposing fielders. Late slides, slides not intended to allow the runner to get to second base, and sliding past teh base to upend the second baseman or shortstop will be called as obstruction, and the batter is then called out to complete the double play. The umpires disagreed with Farrell, and that is still being debated; it’s not relevant here. Pedroia, meanwhile, was led off the field, obviously injured.

After the game, Red Sox TV analysts and former players Jim Rice (Sox Hall of Fame Sox slugger) and Steve Lyons (an opinionated jackass) chuckled about what was coming. Ancient baseball tradition required, they explained, that the Red Sox “protect their player” who was injured by a careless, inept, or intentionally illegal slide. This meant, they explained, that a Red Sox pitcher in the next game was obligated to hit Machado with a pitch in retaliation. “He knows it!” said Rice. “He’ll be expecting it.” Lyons nodded and laughed. (Full disclosure: I hated Steve Lyons as a player, and I loathe him as an analyst.)

This is indeed an “unwritten law” of baseball, and one of the most unethical. I have seen it countless times, and the result is often fights and injuries, as well as suspensions for the pitcher’s involved and outright beanball wars. The theory is that you can’t let a team “intimidate” you, so a message must be sent. The message is “tit for tat” or “Mob Ethics”: you hurt one of ours, we hurt one of yours. Sometimes the situation requires a pitch directed at other team’s star player, when that team’s scrub injures the pitcher’s team’s star. In this case, the target was an easy call, for Machado was both the miscreant and is also the Orioles best player. Continue reading

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The Umpire’s Botched Call, Moral Luck, And When Using Technology Becomes Ethically Mandatory

The Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, but if they hadn’t, we might be seeing the beginning of tidal wave of public opinion demanding that available technology be employed to avoid catastrophic umpire incompetence.

Washington had a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the ninth. The Braves mounted a rally,scoring one run and then loading the bases with only one out. At that point Nationals manager Dusty Baker  removed struggling closer Blake Treinen  for Shawn Kelley

Kelley got his first batter to foul out, and then appeared to strike out Chase d’Arnaud, swinging. The game was over: the Nationals came out to congratulate each other, and the ground crew moved onto the field. d’Arnaud, however, argued to home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor that he had foul-tipped the ball into the dirt before the Nat’s catcher caught it. Bucknor agreed, and everyone was called back onto the field.

Kelley struck out d’Arnaud again, so no harm was done. But  videos of the “foul tip”  showed that the batter hadn’t come close to hitting the ball on the pitch Bucknor ruled a foul tip. He missed it by a foot.

If d’Arnaud, given an unearned second chance, had cleared the bases with a ringing double, the baseball world would be going nuts right now; that he didn’t was just moral luck. It went kind of nuts anyway. Bucknor is a terrible umpire, as his awful calls showed throughout the game, which was a typical performance for him. If the botched foul tip call had occurred later in the season during a crucial game, or during the post-season,  it might finally prompt Major League Baseball to use available technology and have balls and strikes called electronically, or at least have a fail-safe review system where an umpire viewing pitched on a TV monitor could instantly overrule a terrible, obvious, game changing call by the home plate umpire.

At this point, it is irresponsible for MLB not to use the Bucknor botch as impetus to make these changes now, before a disaster, realizing that a lucky near-miss shouldn’t be treated any differently. It won’t, however. It will wait until the horse has not only escaped the barn, but escaped the barn and trampled some children, before putting a lock on the door.

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Seattle Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett

“Of course I think he’s been blackballed, obviously. Maybe the players agree that there’s a place for politics in sports, but I don’t think the teams, or the organization, or even the fans believe there’s a place for politics in sports. I think people want you to do your job and shut up — score a touchdown, dunk a basketball, hit a home run and call it a day. We’ll buy your jersey, and that’s it.”

—-Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, speaking about the current fate of ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned after spending much of last season refusing to stand for the National Anthem because the United States “oppresses black people and people of color.”  Bennett’s comments came during an event at the artsy social justice warrior hang-out Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C.

It’s an admittedly perverse selection for the ethics quote designation, since Bennett meant the statement as criticism. He went on to say that he endorses professional athletes taking pubic stands on social issues to “inspire others” to engage in  mass action and demonstration. The 31-year-old defensive end, who makes about 10 million dollars a year, drew attention to himself in February when he opted out of an Israeli-government-sponsored trip to register his pro-Palestinian views, as if he actually knows enough the 80-year-old conflict to intelligently protest anything. This is about par for the course in the field of professional athlete off-the-field grandstanding.

Bennett was correct in his rueful description of the state of the culture, however. There is no place for politics in sport. Sport is entertainment, and fans follow sports to escape real world problems, not to be lectured on them by pseudo-educated celebrities with neither the training, skills or expertise to justify the giant megaphone celebrity affords them. Kaepernick’s stunt created a media circus around his struggling team, the San Francisco 49’ers, distracted its management fans and players, and cost the NFL viewers and advertising revenues. Since he was unable to articulate an intelligent rationale for his protest, it was also useless. Naturally, Kaepernick was cheered by the Left, and defended by many journalists as well as athletes who think their physical gifts should entitle them to social influence they don’t deserve. Continue reading

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Thank The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team For Illuminating The Muddled Ethics Of Wage Gap Arguments In Women’s Professional Sports

News item (April 5, 2017):

The U.S. women’s soccer players’ union and the sport’s governing body have agreed to a five-year collective bargaining agreement, improving standards for the national team and pro league and ensuring labor harmony through the next World Cup and Olympics.

In a joint statement, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association and U.S. Soccer Federation said they have “ratified a new collective bargaining agreement which will continue to build the women’s program in the U.S., grow the game of soccer worldwide and improve the professional lives of players on and off the field. We are proud of the hard work and commitment to thoughtful dialogue reflected through this process, and look forward to strengthening our partnership moving forward.”

The sides had been operating under the terms of the previous deal, which expired Dec. 31. In recent years, the players have raised issues about compensation and working conditions compared to their male counterparts, casting a shadow over the efforts of the most successful women’s team in soccer history and pitting the federation against wildly popular athletes, such as Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.

In March 2016, the players  filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging the USSF with wage discrimination. The case remains active.

Now this, from a day before:

In preparation for two upcoming friendlies against Russia, the U.S. women’s national team played the FC Dallas U-15 boys academy team on Sunday and fell 5-2, according to FC Dallas’ official website. This friendly came as the U.S. looked to tune up before taking on Russia on Thursday night in a friendly.

Ethics musings:

1.  CBS immediately provides cover, writing,

“Of course, this match against the academy team was very informal and should not be a major cause for alarm. The U.S. surely wasn’t going all out, with the main goal being to get some minutes on the pitch, build chemistry when it comes to moving the ball around, improve defensive shape and get ready for Russia.”

No, there’s no cause for alarm, because maybe the Russian women’s team would lose to amateur teenage boys too. But the women have loudly and indignantly insisted that they should be compensated at the same rate as the men’s soccer team. On what basis? If it is that the women’s team makes as much money as the men’s team (it doesn’t), OK, that’s a valid point. If it is that their skill, performance and level of play require equal pay, I think it is clear that facts and reality are not on their side. Continue reading

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