Lessons from Wakey-Leaks

My wife often tells people that there is nothing that I enjoy more than watching men argue with other men about sports. Therefore, I greatly enjoy ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” (PTI) with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. Both men are funny, passionate, and knowledgeable, though Kornheiser has the great misfortune of resembling me physically.

On their December 14, 2016 show, Kornheiser and Wilbon discussed, among other topics, the Wake Forest cheating scandal. It appears that over the past couple of years a radio announcer for the football team, Tommy Elrod, repeatedly gave or tried to give Wake Forest plays to opponents in advance of their games. Elrod was apparently motivated by anger at not being retained on the coaching staff by the current Wake Forest coach. Some of the opponents, Louisville and Virginia Tech, for example, have taken the plays. Others may have also taken the plays and no school informed Wake Forest that it had a mole.

In discussing the scandal that was just coming to light, Kornheiser clearly considered this a big deal that the teams’ conference commissioner should deal with harshly. Wilbon, on the other hand, was having none of it. He laughed at the story. He said there should be “no punishment whatsoever” for accepting the plays. He accused Kornheiser of massive overreaction. He asked: “Isn’t there a saying in sports that ‘If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying’?”

To Wilbon, a fellow I typically like very much, I say: “You blew this one.” This was a very big deal. Unfortunately, it is true that at times people in sport have said that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. This point of view gave us baseball’s and cycling’s performance-enhancing drug (PED) scandals that badly damaged both sports. Using this saying as a rationalization, any cheating could be (and probably has been) justified. This is a despicable notion and Wilbon should have joined Kornheiser in vigorous condemnation of Louisville, whose athletic director had minimized the wrongdoing of accepting the plays and whose coach had said the controversy was a “Wake Forest issue.”

Cheating completely undermines sports. Cambridge professor Steven Connor has argued that cheating is not so much an offense “in the game” as it is an “ontological affront to the game.” Cheating takes away the entire purpose of competition. In the sports world, nothing could be more fundamentally damaging.

How should Louisville and the other teams have handled this situation? Any fourth-grader should be able to figure it out. Take a cue from the cutthroat world of business where it is hard to think of two fiercer and more long-standing rivals than Coke and Pepsi. Yet when in 2006 Coca-Cola employee Joya Williams stole the secret Coca-Cola formula and through a confederate offered to sell it to Pepsi, the Pepsi employees involved didn’t even need to check with their superiors as to what to do. They went straight to Coke, which went straight to the FBI. Williams and associates went straight to jail. Wilbon needs to watch our Ethics Unwrapped videos on rationalizations. His saying is stupid and wrong. If you’re not training, you’re not trying. If you’re not practicing, you’re not trying. But if you are cheating, you are just looking for success without paying a fair price for it.

 

Resources:

Associated Press, “Pepsi Alerted Coca-Cola to Stolen-Coke-Secrets Offer,” July 6, 2016, accessible at http://www.foxnews.com/story/2006/07/06/pepsi-alerted-coca-cola-to-stolen-coke-secrets-offer.html.

Zach Braziller, “Wake Forest Players Were Crushed by Cheating Scandal,” New York Post, Dec. 16, 2016.

Christine Brennan, “Wake Forest Scandal a New Kind of College Football Fiasco,” USA Today, Dec. 14, 2016.

Steven Connor, A Philosophy of Sport (2011).

Pepsi CEO’s Emphasis on Ethics Pays Off,” (2014)

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