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The Ethics of “Doing What It Takes”

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Grayson Allen, perhaps one of the most high-profile college basketball players today, was thrust into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. This past December, he was caught intentionally tripping an Elon player during Duke’s game against Elon. This became his third tripping incident in two seasons, and Coach K, one of the most well-known coaches in college basketball history, chose to indefinitely suspend Allen.

       Pundits and the national media were quick to call out Allen’s actions; college basketball analyst and former Duke basketball star Jay Williams made headlines by condemning Allen’s actions.

       “The Atlantic Coast Conference must take immediate action, but I would hope that Coach K before the ACC would take action. [Allen is] a junior, no more gifts. That [tripping] is showing your character, and that is unfortunate,” said Williams

       This incident is just one of many well-published ethical incidents that have come up in recent years in sports. Whether it be the NBA instituting fines for flopping or FIFA handing out yellow cards for diving, “cheating” of all kinds in sports in 2017 has received widespread attention. From the days of George Brett’s “pine-tarred” bat in the MLB, to current football players faking injuries to slow down no-huddle offenses, there has always been an element of “doing whatever it takes” to win in any sport. To what extent the mentality is ethical or morally misguided continues to be a contentious debate in 2017. 

       Unlike that of powerhouse sports conferences, the glitz and glamor of the Centennial Conference doesn’t exactly come with instant replays or millions of Americans tweeting about your every move.  As a result, Division III athletes in general might be suspect to various forms of gaining unfair advantages. Many student-athletes at Swarthmore has almost certainly been forced to make the decision to cheat or not, often in only a split second.

       Max Katz-Balmes ’20, a member of Men’s Varsity Golf, spoke on the ethics and decisions that one has to make in the game of golf.

       “Golf is a very individual sport, and it is really susceptible to cheating,” Katz-Balmes said. “I can think back to as early as my freshman year in high school, where a senior on the team would deliberately take the same score on his scorecard every round … scorecards are probably the easiest way to cheat, recreationally and in high school. I’ve never felt the motivation to do this.”

       Katz-Balmes continued to talk about a former college athlete and current golfer on the Professional Golf Association Tour, Patrick Reed, who was forced to leave the University of Georgia because of a cheating scandal. Reed ended up transferring after teammates caught him fabricating his scorecard in practice rounds in order to get a higher seed in matches.

       Katz-Balmes agrees with the sentiment that cheating in golf can be a huge problem.

       He notes how it is, “easy to make unsportsmanlike decisions” when there is little supervision over a golf match. Golf at the collegiate level has more rules in place than high school or recreational play to deter cheating. Examples include having one team keep track of the opposing team’s scorecards and having an appeal process to challenge potentially inaccurate scorecards.

       However, not all Swarthmore student-athletes feel the same way about the immorality of cheating conduct in athletics. Matthew Stein ‘20, a center back on the Men’s Varsity Soccer team offered his perspective on the ways in which “diving,” more commonly referred to as flopping, is not a downside in soccer.

       “Diving is way more accepted in soccer, I would say the majority of players flop … I have definitely flopped in games, and I don’t believe that is something to be ashamed of.”

       Stein continued, “Diving in soccer isn’t fundamentally wrong. I compare it to video games. Hacking would be cheating in video games; diving in soccer is similar to finding a glitch in a video game. It’s not purposefully cheating, but it is a way to get an edge in the game.”

       As a center back, Stein is often involved in confrontations in the penalty area with opposing attackers and commented on his in-game experiences.

      “The truth is that both defenders and attackers do it. For example, whenever a defender has the ball and an attacker is pushing him, the defender will fall to the ground and almost always get the foul call.”

       John Larkin ’17, a co-captain on the Men’s Varsity Tennis team commented on the different implications of sportsmanship in tennis.

       “When [cheating] does happen, it will come in the form of hooking, or miscalling lines. We don’t have refs in collegiate tennis, so the sport is vastly about calling your own lines,” said Larkin.

       Larkin went on to speak about the importance of sportsmanship for Swarthmore tennis players.

       “Coach Mullan makes it a point to the team that we have a very good reputation in the Centennial Conference. He absolutely does not tolerate any of [hooking] on the team, and if he sees it, he will let you know, and there will be consequences.”

       Larkin makes it clear that from the top-down, hooking in tennis is not an acceptable behavior. Players who do such generally develop poor reputations, and this form of “cheating” is a major problem if exposed.

      Sport by sport, there are clearly different standards as to what is acceptable sportsmanship. Allen’s continued tripping incidents have highlighted a clear problem in collegiate and even professional sports: “Where do we draw the line?What values should athletes aspire to play by, and to what extent are these ideals implemented in competition. Sport by sport, Swarthmore student-athletes tend to have varying viewpoints on the ethics of diving, hooking, scorecards, tripping, and more. The diversity of opinion on the issue of sportsmanship at the college is just a microcosm of a larger debate about sportsmanship and ethics in athletics.

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