Sports Ethics Scoreboard!

Sports scoreboard

This is All-Star week in baseball, and I’ll be boycotting the game (see below), but this is a good time to note several ethics developments in the Wide, Wide World of Sports:

In cycling: The idiot who caused a massive accident during the Tour de France was identified: she surrendered to authorities right before they were preparing to arrest her. A French prosecutor said that the woman will face trial in October on charges of reckless endangerment and involuntarily causing injuries, but there is still doubt that this will occur. She’s sorry. She’s ashamed. The police have been getting hate emails. All she wanted to do was send “an affectionate message to her grandparents.” Would the woman attracts such sympathy if a couple of the cyclists had been killed because of her stunt? Yet the fact that they were not is pure moral luck.

In pro football: The NFL fined the Washington Football Team, formerly the Redskins before the death of a black man in Minnesota somehow mandated a name change, $10 million last week following  an independent investigation that found the team’s work environment was “highly unprofessional” in its treatment of women. Fifteen former female employees and two journalists who covered the team accused team staffers of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. The attorney who led the investigation, said ownership and senior management “paid little or no attention” to the workplace culture, in some cases, acting inappropriately themselves.  The investigation concluded that franchise owner Dan Snyder was responsible for the club’s unprofessional and intimidating culture, and that he failed to establish a respectful work environment.Yes, the fish rots from the head down.

In the Olympics: African American hammer thrower Gwen Berry announced her intention of using the Tokyo Olympics to protest against the U.S.after turning her back on the flag during preliminaries. It appears the vast majority of Americans don’t sympathize. A I&I/TIPP poll finds that the public overwhelmingly rejects athletes showing disrespect for the American flag at international games, with 79% of the public saying it’s important “for professional athletes to publicly respect the American flag on the international level,” and 60% saying it is “very important.” 16% of the adults surveyed think it’s not important. (Who ARE these people?)

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Is This Fair?

Just kidding!

Of course it’s not fair.

In fact, it’s ridiculous. So the real question is, why does anyone, activist or otherwise, argue with a straight face that it is fair?

That photo is from Oct. 13, 2018, when  transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon of Canada won the  UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Carson, California. The other cyclist is Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands. The other competitors were similar in stature and build to Carolien. She was born female, and unlike McKinnon, grew up female.

It makes a difference.

In fact, as Martina Navratilova wrote in a February 17 op-ed for The Sunday Times of London, “It’s insane and it’s cheating.” Well, it’s not cheating if a sport says it isn’t. It is, however, insanely unfair, and unarguably unfair. Advocates, like McKinnon herself, an educated trans woman, actually try to deny these conclusions that are as plain as that photograph. In her debate with the legendary tennis star, she argued,

 “She imagines a nonexistent cisgender man who will pretend to be a trans woman, convince a psychologist and a physician to prescribe hormone therapy, undertake the process for legal changer recognition, then wait the minimum 12 months of testosterone suppression required by the current IOC rules, compete, and then change his mind and ‘go back to making babies’? No such thing will ever happen. This is an irrational fear of trans women.”

But, significantly, she does not argue against Navratilova’s central assertion (which she garbled badly by making the lame slippery slope argument), which is that it’s unfair to allow women who have matured as men to compete against women who haven’t. Obviously. Look at the picture.

I’ve discussed the ethics of allowing trans athletes to compete against non-trans competitors, and frankly, the only interesting part of the topic is that fear of trans activists and being accused of bigotry has succeeded in so many locales in bullying officials into allowing it. It is unfair. It is obviously unfair. It destroys the integrity of the competition; it makes women’s sports a joke. Why do they allow it? Well, this is a small but revealing example of how ideology can strangle common sense and reality when those committed to the ideology find facts and ethics hostile to the world as they would like it to be. The result is that people, with nothing but good intentions, convince themselves that wrong is right and that what doesn’t work, does. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/26/2018: ‘Bombs,’ Bicycles And Bullying

Good morning!

I need Jimmy today. (Bing’s on this one too…)

1. They’re NOT “bombs.” I urge everyone to call their friends on this. Until it is established that in fact the “suspicious packages” (the FBI’s current description) or the “potentially destructive devices” can blow up and that they were intended to blow up, referring to them (as the New York Times has done) as “pipe bombs” and the mysterious asshole who sent them as “the bomber” is misleading and, in many cases, deliberately inflammatory. Cut it out. Nor are the mailed whatevertheyares “attacks.” Nobody has been “attacked” until the intent to harm them has been established, and it hasn’t been.

This is driving me crazy, in case you can’t tell.

The news media obviously wants these to be bombs, wants the sender to be a deranged Trump fan, hell, they’d love it if the sender was Trump himself. So they can’t help themselves, apparently, in jumping the gun and dishonestly reporting what is still very much in doubt. Personally, I would love to have it determined that the perp is a “resistance” member pulling a false flag operation, just to teach the news media a lesson, not that they are capable of learning it.

2. Trump’s Tweets. CNN and MSNBC are melting down with faux fury over this morning’s Trump Tweet, which said,

Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!”

Notes: Continue reading

Monday Morning Ethics Warm-Up That Is Turning Up in the Afternoon Because I Looked Up At The Clock And Discovered I Had Missed Three Hours…

Good something.

(Damn job…)

1.  Police state, or stupid state? The Boston Globe reports :

Federal air marshals have begun following ordinary US citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program that is drawing criticism from within the agency.The previously undisclosed program, called “Quiet Skies,” specifically targets travelers who “are not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base,” according to a Transportation Security Administration bulletin in March.

The internal bulletin describes the program’s goal as thwarting threats to commercial aircraft “posed by unknown or partially known terrorists,” and gives the agency broad discretion over which air travelers to focus on and how closely they are tracked.

But some air marshals, in interviews and internal communications shared with the Globe, say the program has them tasked with shadowing travelers who appear to pose no real threat — a businesswoman who happened to have traveled through a Mideast hot spot, in one case; a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, in another; a fellow federal law enforcement officer, in a third.

Look at these guidelines regarding what kind of conduct and clues could justify investigating a traveler:

I am less concerned with the civil rights implications of such idiocy than I am with the fact that the policy makers responsible for airport security appear to be morons.

But we knew that, I guess. [Pointer: Amy Alkon]

2. And it isn’t just the TSA. Remember when the IRS hired the same firm that had botched the design of the website? Now a recent Treasury inspector general’s report tells us that the IRS rehired more than 200 employees fired for misconduct in a little over a year. An earlier IG report indicates that this is a pattern dating back to 2009. It occurs, apparently, because the IRS does not provide officials responsible for hiring decisions with the information about employment history, so the IRS has rehired, among others…

  • A fired worker with several misdemeanor theft convictions and one count of felony possession of a forgery device.
  • 11 employees previously disciplined for unauthorized access to taxpayer accounts.
  • An employee who was absent without leave for 270 hours—the equivalent of 33 work days.
  • An employee fired for physically threatening co-workers.
  • An employee fired for lying about previous criminal convictions on employment forms.
  • 17 employees previously caught falsifying official documents.

Two IRS employees fired for poor performance were rehired within six months. In its response letter to the Inspector General’s Office, the IRS wrote that the IRS “determined its current process is more than adequate to mitigate any risks to American taxpayers, federal agencies, and its employees.”

Oh. All righty then!

Rep. Kristi Noem, (R-S.D.) has presented a bill, the “Ensuring Integrity in the IRS Workforce Act,” to the House that would prohibit the IRS from rehiring employees fired for misconduct or poor performance.

Good. (Pointer: The Daily Signal) Continue reading

Closing The Book On An Ethics Villain

Lance Armstrong is the worst sports ethics villain of all time, I believe—cycling’s Barry Bonds, but in a sport far more vulnerable to betrayal than baseball. Like Bonds, he cheated, many times and over a long period, taking victories away from more deserving athletes while enriching himself. While Bonds never had his public “I did not have sex with that woman” moment of brazen denial, Armstrong had many, all the while insulting and condemning his accusers. Bonds also never was a revered hero of children—Barry appeared to care about no one but Barry—while Armstrong deliberately made them part of his scam. When Armstrong’s elaborate schemes, lies and cover-ups were revealed, he made lifetime cynics of hundreds of thousands of young fans, and maybe more.

Armstrong, like Bonds, left his sport in disgrace but took with him great wealth, and, like Bonds, has never shown a smidgen of sincere regret or contrition—sociopaths are like that. Yesterday it was announced that Armstrong will pay $5 million to the federal government in settlement of a fraud lawsuit. The U.S. said that he owed $100 million to taxpayers for accepting sponsorship funds for his cycling team from the U.S. Postal Service while he was doping. Armstrong also agreed to pay $1.65 million to cover the legal costs of Floyd Landis, a former Armstrong teammate and the whistleblower in the case.

Eh, whatever. Lance can afford it. Despite various fines and settlements, he managed to escape his exposure with most of his ill-gotten gains safely salted away, spent or invested. Continue reading

When The Incompetent Meet The Corrupt: The U.S. Postal Service vs Lance Armstrong

Left to right: Lance Armstrong's lawyers, the U.S. Postal Service, Lance.

Left to right: Lance Armstrong’s lawyers, the U.S. Postal Service, Lance.

The U.S. Postal Service, virtually insolvent and incapable of doing anything about it, wasted $31 million in 2000 on a four-year contract sponsoring Lance Armstrong and his cycling team. Why? Search me. Still, it was , the Service says, paying to endorse champions, not cheaters, which is what Armstrong and his team were. Now Postal Service is joining a false claims lawsuit, claiming that Armstrong and the team defrauded the government and violated their sponsorship contract by using performance-enhancing drugs. The Postal Service filed the suit shortly after Armstrong finally admitted that what had been alleged for over a decade, what he had denied and sued over and attacked and protested and postured indignantly in pained and defiant terms was, in fact true. He had used illegal and banned substances and methods on the way to his epic success, hero status and world fame.

Armstrong is also a crook, taking millions from the Post Office and other sponsors who believed he was a real champion rather than a phony one. It would be nice, inspiring even, if just one lying, cheating miscreant voluntarily returned the millions he acquired through dishonest means, rather than using those millions to hire super-lawyers to allow him to keep the ill-gotten gains. Lance, however, bottom of the ethics barrel-scum feeder that he is, would not be my most likely candidate for such a noble display. Indeed, he is living up to my low expectations. Continue reading

Danger! Shameless Opportunists At Work!

Lance Armstrong wouldn't understand this movie at all.

Lance Armstrong wouldn’t understand this movie at all.

Less than two weeks after Ethics Alarms wrote about the ethics-free deliberations in the Lance Armstrong camp about whether or not to finally tell the truth and “apologize,” Armstrong prostrated himself in a 90 minute confession to Oprah Winfrey, who has branded herself as America’s confessor, capable of washing away sin and shame with a hug, a tear, and a stern word.

It makes me want to vomit, frankly.

I saw this coming, of course, as did you. One thing we could count on with Lance (and Bill, and Pete, whose odious club Armstrong joins with the Oprah tactic) was that he would do whatever was necessary to benefit him. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with a genuine confession and a real apology in Armstrong’s 180 degree reversal with Oprah, or in the necessary preparations for it he engaged in, like apologizing to the cycling community and the Livestrong staff. When Armstrong thought he could continue to fool some of the people all the time by lying, posturing, and viciously attacking—sometimes with lawsuits—those who he knew were telling the truth about his cheating, he continued to lie. Now that the jig is up and he has no other options, he’s going to come clean and weep softly with the Big O. Sociopaths are usually very good actors. Some of them have won Academy Awards. Continue reading

Lance Armstrong and the Sociopath’s Dilemma: When Honesty Is No Longer Ethical

Welcome to the club, Lance.

Welcome to the club, Lance.


In 2004, 15 years after he had been banned from baseball after a finding by the Major League Baseball’s Commissioner’s Office that he had violated the games rules against betting on Major League Games, Pete Rose publicly admitted that his denials over that time were all lies. Yes, he had bet on baseball, and he was very, very sorry. Rose’s admission did little to change the verdict in and out of baseball that he was a rogue and a liar. His confession was obviously part of a cynical and calculated strategy to get reinstated in the game, after the strategy of denial and waiting proved ineffective. In addition, Rose needed money, and the confession was part of the hook for his new autobiographical book, which was released at the same time he withdrew his protestations of innocence.

For Pete Rose, honesty was not an ethical value that he respected or returned to in penance after years of straying. It was just another means to an end.


In 1998, President Bill Clinton was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, denying that he had ever “had sex with that woman.” He called up his old friend, advisor and pollster, Dick Morris, and asked what he should do. Together they decided that Morris ought to take a poll to see what the public’s reaction would be if Clinton retracted his denials and admitted the affair. Morris reported back, after taking such a poll, that while the public would forgive the sexual relationship, anger over the President’s untruthful denials might sink his administration. Clinton decided that honesty would not work to his advantage, and continued to lie.

To Bill Clinton and Morris, honesty was just one of several tactical options to solve a political crisis. If had nothing to do with ethics, or doing the right thing.


It is 2013, and the New York Times reports that Lance Armstrong, now stripped of all his cycling titles, banned from athletic competition worldwide and separated from his commercial sponsors and the cancer charity that bears his name,

“has told associates and antidoping officials that he is considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions during his cycling career, according to several people with direct knowledge of the situation. He would do this, the people said, because he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.”

Armstrong, it is clear, is traveling in the well-worn and slimy footsteps of Rose and Clinton, fellow sociopaths to whom conscience, shame, contrition and remorse are alien concepts and for whom atonement and redemption are just games to win, with honesty being an indispensable, if unpleasant, tactic. When one is considering whether or not to be honest and admit what one has long denied based on cold calculations of personal costs and benefits, truth-telling is no longer a matter of ethics, or doing the right thing regardless of consequences. It is merely another weapon, along with lies, manipulation, deceit and posturing, in the arsenal of one of the lifetime predators whose sole goal in life is to prevail and profit over the rest of the trusting suckers who share the Earth with them, and who will do anything, even to the extent of briefly embracing ethical principles, to get what they want.

Should he decide to finally admit what everyone knows and he has long denied, even to the extent of suing those who declared his guilty, Lance Armstrong should be seen as no more ethical or noble than the criminal who pleads guilty in court on the advice of his lawyer, because the evidence is overwhelming, conviction is certain, and confession is the only route to a lighter sentence.

Individuals like Pete Rose, Bill Clinton and Lance Armstrong defile ethical values by their brief embrace of them.

Lance Armstrong As The Status Quo: An Unethical Essay From An Ethics Expert

Don’t worry, Lance. Braden Allenby understands you. You were just ahead of your time, that’s all.

There are many things to learn from Prof. Braden Allenby’s Washington Post essay, “Lance Armstrong’s fall: A case for allowing performance enhancement,” none of which have anything to do with Lance Armstrong. Among the lessons:

  • “Everybody does it “really is the most seductive and sinister rationalization for unethical conduct.
  • Someone really shouldn’t write about sports ethics when they know nothing about sports.
  • If you only understand an author’s bias after reading the short biographical sketch at the end of the article, then he wasn’t responsibly correcting for his bias in his article.
  • When someone uses the worst of all rationalizations, the deplorable, “It’s not the worst thing,” neither their judgment nor their argument can be trusted.
  • Some ethics experts have appalling judgment in regarding ethics.

Allenby’s essay takes the position that all sports should allow athletes to take whatever performance enhancing drugs that become available, beginning with the tragedy of Lance Armstrong’s final disgrace as a cheater and corrupter of his sport. Seldom do you see an argument clothesline itself so quickly: here is Allenby’s opening sally:

“In the past month, cyclist Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. His commercial sponsors, including Nike, have fled. He has resigned as chairman of Livestrong, the anti-cancer charity he founded. Why? Because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the International Cycling Union say he artificially enhanced his performance in ways not approved by his sport and helped others on his team do the same. This may seem like justice, but that’s an illusion. Whether Armstrong cheated is not the core consideration. Rather, his case shows that enhancement is here to stay. If everyone’s enhancing, it’s a reality that we should embrace.” Continue reading

Forget Balancing: Lance Armstrong Is a Villain

A constant conundrum faced by every culture is how it should categorize significant individuals whose positive contributions to society and civilization are marred by other acts that range from the unethical to the despicable. How much bad can a great man do and still be called “great”? How much wrong can a good woman engage in and still fairly be remembered as “good”? Can one wonderful act erase a lifetime of bad conduct? Are some bad acts so terrible that nothing can compensate for them? Every real human being is going to yield to some temptations, make some bad choices, be selfish, be cruel, lie, or worse. If we insist that all our heroes have an unblemished record in every aspect of their lives, we simply forfeit our heroes.

One reaction to this persistent dilemma is that we tend to be reluctant to look under the rock of a heroes accomplishments for fear that we will be disillusioned, or once the rock is lifted, we will attempt to rationalize into invisibility the ugly things we find there, or insist that they don’t matter. Of course they matter. It matters that Thomas Jefferson, who gave this nation its beating heart, didn’t pay his debts, cheated his friends and refused to live up to his own ideals. It matters that Clarence Darrow, who saved over a hundred men from execution, was a terrible father and husband and an unethical lawyer. It matters that Arthur Miller, whose plays dramatized the plight of the aging worker and the dangers of political persecution, rejected his mentally-challenged son, leaving him institutionalized and without contact from his father, though he knew who his father was. Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Kennedy, Diane Fossey, Thomas Edison, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Ted Kennedy, Pete Rose, Lillian Hellman, Walter Cronkite, Hillary Clinton—the list of the great, near-great, lionized and admired who behaved less than admirably or worse in significant ways can circle the globe. In assessing their character, as well as whether their lives deserve to be regarded as positive or negative influences on their society, fellow citizens and civilization, all we can do is apply a complex balancing formula, with factors in their lives weighted according to ethical principles, experience and our own priorities.

The question of how this balance should be applied has been raised in recent weeks in the wake of the final verdict on Lance Armstrong’s cycling career, which was decisively removed from the categories of “alleged misconduct,” “controversies,”and definitely “witch hunts” for all time as mountains of documentation, lab tests, and testimony moved it squarely into the categories of “outrageous cheating’, “criminal activity”, “corruption” and “fraud.” Continue reading