From a story at UGA, to one that hits closer to home: high school sports. Let me reiterate why it is so important that rules are rules, but "doing the right thing" in sports and in life is far more important.
Yesterday, I was watching a high school regional tennis tournament. For those of you who know how high school tennis works, there are no umpires. Line judges are only called if the players cannot agree on line calls or other situations that may come up during a match (e.g., keeping score). Coaches and parents are not permitted to intervene on these things, which, while teachers the kids to problem-solve, does spur the moral hazard of cheating (or, as they like to say in professional tennis, "gamesmanship"). During the match, one of the players lost track of the score. For everyone in the stands, it was abundantly clear that a game was lost. If this player served the first game of a set, then how could they be serving in an "even"game based on what the score said? It was supposed to be 4-2 in this player's favor, but instead, the score read 3-2. Keep in mind that these players had played each other before, and the opposing player has a history of "cheating," slamming the racket against the net, etc. The player clearly knew it was wrong, because they had served out the previous set. Finally, coaches and parents spurred an intervention, which, while against the rules, was warranted. There was a very long stoppage where USTA officials, coaches and players discussed the situation. When the opposing player was asked about this, they denied that there was a game missing from the score! After a long discussion, it was decided that because the players did not agree to the change themselves, they could not go back and fix the score. So instead of this player winning the second set 6-4, they ended up losing the match in a second set tiebreaker!
The parents from the opposing team just stood there and defended their player. After the match, the USTA official goes over to the opposing player and pats them on the back saying "nice job." Nice job? So we're supporting cheating here? In all my years of playing Division I baseball, high school baseball, American Legion baseball, etc., I thought I had seen it all. Why couldn't coaches be permitted to intervene if EVERYONE knew that a game was missing? As a bystander watching this unfold, I was mortified. Yes, the player should have kept track of the score, but why was another player allowed to blatantly cheat? This happened at other times throughout the match - scores in a game getting messed up, not switching sides after 6 points in a tiebreaker, etc.
Bear in mind that this player attended a Christian school in the Metro Atlanta area. I do not want to stereotype by any means, but at Christian Schools, there should be even GREATER emphasis on values such as integrity, honesty and sportsmanship. In sports and in life, doing the right thing and as the Romans would say "show honor in battle," is the most important trait to have. Luckily, this player's team lost the match, even though that line won under controversy.
Some folks who read this blog may disagree with my perspective on what transpired herein. They'll say, "rules are rules." However, watching this unfold and thinking about my last post about teaching ethics in K-12 education, this incident was a harsh reminder that we need to teach our kids about honesty. A famous person once said that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking." Well, everyone was looking, and because of the archaic rules, no one was able to make this right. Instead, bystanders were left with a stinging feeling that it's ok to cheat, just because your opponent couldn't remember the score. And the player who was wronged had to learn a very harsh lesson. I'm sure they won't ever forget the score anytime soon!
We need to teach our kids that speaking up and being honest is more important than a ridiculous rule. Maybe this player, and this school, needs to re-read a classic children's book titled, "Tell The Truth: It's The Right Thing To Do."