I was disheartened this week after a conversation with a friend who says he’s had it with sports in our culture – at all levels, not just the pros. A former pro athlete and parent of three high school athletes, he’s upset with the “end justifies the means” mentality in sports today and how it affects our society. The reports and allegations of athletes and coaches ignoring, bypassing, and breaking rules are nothing new. They’re only reported on daily by a hyper-competitive media. Our moral compasses are besieged by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and now, the Oklahoma State football program as outlined in Sports Illustrated. Even more disturbing, though, are the responses like “Every program in the country is doing it” or “As long as you win . . .” and “Some people are just above the rules.” We see the big headlines, but don’t we often ignore and overlook the small indiscretions that pave the way for the big ones? Let me share some of my experiences in college recruiting and take a look at the seemingly harmless act of flopping on the basketball court. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
BASKETBALL – The trouble with flopping
In our sensationalized society today, it’s easy to think that everyone is breaking or bending rules. We see talented athletes, with God-given strength, speed, and agility, do almost anything to get an extra edge. I was reviewing clinic notes and found a page that referenced a thirty minute discussion from a well-known college coach about teaching players to flop when attempting to draw a charge – how to scream, how to flail, and how to hold. That was twenty years ago, (I’ll withhold the name of the coach to protect the guilty), but here’s the issue. I left that clinic thinking I needed to get better at teaching players how to flop. I left there thinking that everyone else was teaching it and that my teams would be at a disadvantage if I didn’t teach it, too. Now, for any coach who has been on the other side of a gullible official’s call at a critical point in a game, I hope you can relate. This one bothered my compass. It’s just not right and as a coach, I don’t want to coach that way. I’d rather spend my time focused on proper positioning, beating a player to the spot, and selflessly giving up your body. THAT, I can feel good about.
Now, for the lighter side. Take a look at these flops!
So, what does the ethics of flopping have to do with major NCAA violations and PED scandals? Those things just don’t happen suddenly – just like a kid smoking his first joint doesn’t set out to become a heroin addict, coaches and athletes don’t just decide on a whim to commit major infractions. It’s the pattern of “flopping” that leads to the big stuff. Some may say it’s a slippery slope, but I hate that term because it seems to rationalize bad decisions that are preventable. Here are just a couple of incidents where I got sucked in thinking if others are doing it, it must be acceptable and that in the struggle to compete, I needed to do them too:
- High school coaches with highly successful resumes ignoring association rules for allowable contacts and practices with their players. There are those who will entice their community to hop on board with these actions, because that’s the way you run a winning program and if you want your kid to be a part of it . . . well?
- In my early D-I recruiting days, the seating areas at summer events were often limited and not restricted as they are today. College coaches were routinely surrounded by players and coaches, but not allowed to have any verbal contact. After witnessing a Hall of Fame coach embroiled in a recruiting battle for one of the top five players in the country carry on a conversation with that player through a variety of means like playing the telephone game with a younger sibling of the player, talking to the player by appearing to talk to her assistant, and writing notes on a program, I was convinced that I had to do the same to get one of the top 250 players – and so did all the other young coaches sitting in those stands. After all, the coach was a legend.
- And at all levels of recruiting, I find myself in the same predicament as every other coach – dealing with negative recruiting. That one never seems to end as you can read about in Chris Johnson’s post about Negative Recruiting. I don’t have space to write about all the situations I’ve been in where the temptation seemed so justified!
FAITH – Dishonoring weights.
The Book of Proverbs is not a list of rules or commands from God, it’s a clear guide to wise living in a difficult world. The proverbs provide advice for living a life that brings you closer in step with your Creator. Breaking man-made rules like traffic laws, NCAA rules, high school association rules, or even the rules of basketball, has consequences, but also reflects our character. Solomon gives great advice for competition, work, and careers in today’s world by reminding us:
The Lord detests differing weights,
and dishonest scales do not please him. Proverbs 20:23
It may not seem like it connects, but a merchant cheating a customer with creative weighing techniques is similar to coaches and players ignoring and bending rules to their advantage. And justifying your actions for the sake of competing has implications in the rest of your life!
LIFE – Quit flopping!
Take a look at your own life – not just basketball. Are you bending rules on the job? Taking advantage of other people? Justifying your own indiscretions? Studies show that cheating on high school and college campuses is becoming an epidemic – how ’bout you? Do you give in to the pressure to compete? Are you flopping?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!