In Sports, Discretion Is The Enemy Of Integrity

The Denver Bronchos last second win over the San Diego Chargers last weekend was one more game decided by a controversial pass interference call. That rule, with which the NFL has been tinkering and which is now complicated by a video review system, is becoming increasingly controversial this season. Wrote Times football columnist Ben Shpiegel,

[E]very week across the N.F.L.’s vast empire one player interferes with another before a pass arrives — and goes unpunished for it. In these moments, when yellow penalty flags remain lodged in officials’ pockets, aggrieved coaches weigh emotion against reason: Do they challenge the non-call, hoping that by sheer luck it will be overruled by the new video review mechanism? Or do they stew on the sideline, red flag pocketed, and resign themselves to the unlikelihood of a reversal?…After 12 weeks of wasted challenges and lost timeouts, of inconsistency and obfuscation, the league’s erratic application of the defined standard for overturning an on-field decision — “clear and obvious visual evidence” — has made the football masses yearn for simpler times, such as when no one knew what constituted a catch. Over all, through Week 12, 15 of 77 reviews of pass interference were overturned, though nearly half of those reversals — seven of 15 — were initiated by the officials in the replay booth, who are responsible for challenges in the last two minutes of the half… The questionable calls have dented confidence in a mechanism ostensibly intended to restore it after a mess of an N.F.C. championship game, in which Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, without consequence, walloped Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived.

The dilemma isn’t restricted to football. In any sport where an official’s judgment plays a big role in game results, the interjection of technology and the universal broadcast of games has created an integrity crisis. Before multiple camera angles and the  possibility of replays, umpires and referees could blow a crucial call and nobody would be the wiser, or at least would be able to prove that the game was decided by a non-player’s botch. Now, bad calls are there, on a big screen, then the internet, for all to see over and over. The Luddite argument that missed calls are the “human element” and “part of the game” made sense when there was nothing to be done about it. It is ridiculous now. Continue reading

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

The NBA’s Unethical, Unavoidable, “Bait And Switch”

For a second consecutive Saturday, ABC’s  Saturday prime time NBA game was a pre-rigged dud. The LA Clippers blew out the supposedly star-studded Cavaliers, 108-78, as chants of “We want LeBron” echoed through the arena. The three super-stars that make Cleveland an NBA powerhouse,  LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, were all kept out of the game, not because they were injured,  but because Cleveland coach Ty Lue had decided to rest his “Big 3” in the first of back-to-back games. Sure enough, all three played against the Lakers the next day.

It has become standard practice in the NBA for play-off bound teams to rest stars for “strategic purposes,” meaning that in a league where more than half the teams make the play-offs and the regular season is little more than an exhibition for most of them, it makes no sense to blow out the stars until a championship is on the line.  The NBA, in short, has no integrity. (Neither does the National Hockey League, for the same reason.) The previous Saturday, the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Warriors, 107-85,  as Golden State fielded a  JV team, with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson all on the bench. Yet NBA’s new nine-year, $24 billion media rights deal with ABC, Disney and Turner Broadcasting included Saturday Primetime along with  the TNT Thursday Night NBA game and ESPN’s Wednesday and Friday night broadcasts, to showcase the best of the NBA. (Most of the NBA teams never make it to the Saturday ABC game.)

Shouldn’t that kind of money guarantee that the teams put their best players out on the court? NBA fans also typically shell out three figures for tickets. Doesn’t the league pull what is in essence a bait and switch by allowing a game to be treated as a virtual forfeit? Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Awards Update: Let Us Not Forget “The Most Unethical University Of 2014,” and The Most Unethical Ethicist Who Helped Make It That Way

The unethical ethicist.

The unethical ethicist.

I finally completed the 6th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards for the Worst of Ethics yesterday, longer and more nauseating than its five predecessors, and also, as I realized when I awoke with a jolt at dawn this morning, more incomplete.

Somehow, I managed to omit two important and prominent awards that were in my notes but managed to elude me when I was preparing the final version. Here they are: I’ll be adding both to the official awards posts today:

Most Unethical University and Worst Academic Scandal of the Year:

The University of North Carolina and its incredible fake courses scheme that for 18 years between 1993 and 2011 allowed more than 3,100 students, 47.6 percent of them athletes, to enrolled in and receive credit for  classes that did not exist.

Least Ethical Ethicist

Prof. Jeanette M. Boxill, a philosophy professor and senior lecturer on ethics  who ran the University of North Carolina’s Parr Center for Ethics, and who somehow decided it was ethical to steer U.N.C.  into fake classes to help them maintain their eligibility with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and actively worked to cover up the scam. Among other aspect of her participation, Boxill  helped players write papers, which the official university report on the conspiracy characterized as stepping across the line of permissible conduct.

Ya think??

The Chronicle of Education article about Boxill’s participation suggests that she rationalized helping the athletes graduate as “the ethics of care,” and a colleague says that she may have “often let her heart guide her.” Her heart guided her to allow students to acquire a degree that misrepresented their academic work to the world, and to perpetuate and further corrupt the already corrupt system of college athletics? Wow. For an ethics professor, she had a remarkably ignorant and unethical heart. She has,blessedly, been fired, and is appealing the decision.

I wonder on what grounds? I don’t think even The Saint’s Excuse (Rationalization #13 on the Ethics Alarms List) applies to her conduct.

The U.N.C. Scandal Accountability: No Punishment, Just “It’s OK…Just Don’t Do It Again”

Oh…and don’t get caught next time.

"BAD University! BAD! OK, that's over---keep on doing your lazy, sloppy job for obscene tuition fees...."

“BAD University! BAD! OK, that’s over—keep on doing your lazy, sloppy job for obscene tuition fees….”

Has the NCAA taken serious action against the University of North Carolina for 18 years of outrageous academic fraud? No.The organization placed the school’s football program on three years’ probation and banned it from the 2012 postseason, but that punishment was for other infractions too. Indeed, it is likely that the revelations about the fake courses credited to athletes and others resulted in no athletic sanctions at all. The NCAA’s position is that this is an academic rather than an athletic scandal. Funny, I seem to recall Penn State getting walloped with massive sanctions from the NCAA because it allowed an ex-assistant football coach to continue molesting little boys. That was a sick organizational culture scandal, and had nothing to do with the players on the field at all.

What would be a proper punishment for 18 years of allowing student athletes to play basketball and football while taking fake courses? I would say the forfeiting of  every game played in by one of those fake students, and 18 years of being banned from inter-collegiate competition. Perhaps then what laughingly calls itself an institution of higher learning might begin to take steps to ensure that its diploma is worth the paper it’s printed on. Continue reading

Ten Questions Regarding The U.N.C. Fake Courses Scandal

fake classes

Have you read about this astounding scandal at the University of North Carolina?

From the Times story:

Wednesday’s report, prepared by Kenneth L. Wainstein, a former general counsel at the F.B.I. and now a partner at the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, found that between 1993 and 2011, two employees in the university’s African and Afro-American studies department presided over what was essentially a “shadow curriculum” designed to help struggling students — many of them Tar Heels athletes — stay afloat…More than 3,100 students, 47.6 percent of them athletes, were enrolled in and received credit for the phantom classes, most of which were created and graded solely by a single employee, Deborah Crowder. Ms. Crowder was a nonacademic who worked as the African studies department’s administrator and who told Mr. Wainstein that she had been motivated by a desire to help struggling athletes.Some of the classes took the form of independent study courses in which the students never met the professor; others took the form of lecture courses in which the classes were supposed to meet at specific times and places but never did. Over time, Ms. Crowder was joined in the scheme by the chairman of the department, Julius Nyang’oro, who became the professor of record for many of the fake classes. Mr. Nyang’oro retired in 2012, after news of the scheme came to light.

From CBS: Continue reading

NBA Owner Bruce Levenson Race-Baits Himself: What’s Going On Here?

Self-flaggelation, the new NBA craze...

Self-flaggelation, the new NBA craze…

You don’t see this every day.

In a cynical, bizarre, and almost certainly dishonest act that will degrade public understanding of racism while pushing the NBA closer to certified madness and the Unites States toward speech and thought censorship, the controlling owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Bruce Levenson, announced that he is selling in interest in the ABA club because—pay close attention now—he sent an internal memo two years ago that was “racially insensitive.”

Wow. I’m all in favor of self-reporting, but this is ridiculous.

If American journalism and punditry was not race-addled and competent at its job, headlines around the news media this morning would be  “NBA Owner Exploits Donald Sterling Controversy To Get Top Dollar For His Team” or something similar. Instead, we are reading headlines like NBA owner to sell team after racist email (USA Today), Atlanta Hawks Owner To Sell Team After Racist E-mail About How to Increase White Fans (New York Post), while the left-leaning websites are salivating all over  themselves with leads like Bruce Levenson will sell Atlanta Hawks after releasing racist e-mail (ThinkProgress) and Atlanta Hawks Owner To Sell Team After Discovery Of Racist Email (Slate).

Allow me to clarify this at the start: there is nothing “racist” about the e-mail Levenson “self-reported”to the NBA,  at least, nothing racist regarding African-Americans, and last I checked, racist comments about one’s own race when one is white is regarded as a badge of honor in Progressive World. This verdict isn’t debatable, in my opinion, at least not in good faith.

Here is what the relevant section said, in a long e-mail regarding the promotion, marketing and attendance development of his team focusing on everything from the demeanor of ushers to what the concession stands sell; I have marked the significant sections with letters in red. Continue reading

Donald Sterling’s Beard

So THAT'S what was going on!

So THAT’S what was going on!

If the law suit just filed by Donald Sterling’s traitorous bimbo V. Stiviano is based on fact, the world of sports, media and political correctness may be getting a much deserved comeuppance. I really, really hope this comes to pass. Maybe everyone will learn something about not stealing private words and thoughts, and using them to wreck lives and reputations.

But probably not.

It was V.who famously taped the then owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, in his own bedroom earlier this year, making his remarks about not wanting his mixed-race girlfriend to bring blacks to his team’s games. Those comments were leaked, and launched an orgy of political correctness, as the NBA, its players and every pundit who could get to a camera, microphone or keyboard into rants about how disgusting and vile Donald Sterling was. The NBA fined him two million dollars and took his team away, while he was branded as the face of Ugly American Racism 2014, at least until Darren Wilson became an “executioner.” Based on what Stiviano’s lawsuit states, however, in support of her claiming defamation at the hands of Sterling’s estranged wife, what Sterling said on the tape might not  mean what everyone assumed it did, and perhaps wasn’t racist at all. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: NBA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (And Yes, I Mean It)

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

The other shoe dropped, and however it may be intended, it’s an ethical shoe. Donald Sterling now says that he’ll refuse to pay the 2.5 million dollar fine levied on him by NBA Commissioner Silver and his fellow owners for what he said in his own bedroom.

Good. I was waiting for this, and hoping that would be his course of action. Ironically, a good, compliant, progressive billionaire, and one who was not, unlike Sterling, a repulsive asshole, who was nationally embarrassed as Sterling has been, would crawl quietly into a hole, periodically send out big checks and mea culpas to Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP, and in the process, take  big, bloody chunks out of our freedom to think and speak freely, and our personal privacy. Sterling is doing the right thing, although it is going to cause him to be even more vilified by the media and even more assailed as the personification of racism than he has been already—and that has already been disproportionate to his “crime.”

Fighting is also going to be expensive. Never mind. It is revolting to write it, or even think it, but he is fighting for all of us. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it. So, if we’re all going to be outraged…Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.”‘

—Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in an essay pointing out some of  hypocrisies and excesses in the reactions to the Donald Sterling saga.

"Gotcha! He's screwed now...but he's a racist scumbag, so it's perfectly OK."

“Gotcha! He’s screwed now…but he’s a racist scumbag, so it’s perfectly OK.”

Good for Kareem. I was just about to make this point myself, and preparing to be pilloried for making excuses for a racist. Kareem is a lot bigger than I am, and I’m happy to stand behind him.

I watched two African-American lawyers on CNN today erupt in over-the-top outrage that has become the norm in the “finger-wagging Olympics” that Abdul-Jabbar decries in the rest of his article. One of the lawyers called Sterling’s remarks defamatory—“defamatory?” Sterling didn’t say a word that was negative about blacks; he just said he didn’t want his girl friend taking photos with them. His comments constitute smoking gun proof of racial bias, sure, but they aren’t “defamatory.” The other lawyer called them “the most vile, disgusting...” on and on and on, comments that he had ever heard.  Really? I doubt that. You know, once you award the prize to Sterling’s racist comments, you have no more superlatives left  for really horrible racist remarks. The two sportswriters, Christine Brennan and Bill Rhoden, who preceded my commentary on NPR today, did the same thing. It was a contest over who could express the most outrage.

It is a small surprise, then, in this hyper-charged atmosphere, that the conduct of V. Stiviano is getting an ethics pass, as if betrayal doesn’t matter as long as the betrayed party is despicable, and what she did was justified because she exposed a racist to the world. It’s not justified. The ends don’t justify the means, when the means are betrayal and mean-spirited vengeance, and when the methods used threaten to become a social norm, turning American homes and bedrooms into Stalinesque trap where no secret is safe. We’ve seen this practice before and I’ve condemned it before: the Harvard Law student turned into a campus pariah by a jealous rival circulating a private e-mail to the people most likely to be offended by it; Alec Baldwin’s daughter releasing private communications with her intemperate father to harm his reputation; Mel Gibson’s girlfriend doing the same; e-mail jokes being intercepted and sent to political enemies as a tool of personal destruction; clumsy suitors having their fumbles turned into national ridicule by the objects of their affection. Continue reading