Thursday, March 12, 2009

This Is Troubling

Craig Playstead wrote an interesting piece for MSN Lifestyle, wherein he advocated parents teaching their kids to bend/break certain rules.

When he said "sneak snacks into movie theaters," I was on-board. When he urged kids to question teachers, I was nodding vigorously. When he explained the value of a white lie, I wholeheartedly agreed.

But when he said, "Bend the rules when playing sports," he lost all of my support.

Sports are about competition. But they're just as much about honor and respect for your opponents. Or at least, that's what they should be about. The problems start to arise when people place too high a premium on winning and ignore little things like decency.

It's why we were taught to line up after a game and high-five the other team. It's why you tell your opponent "good shot" after he stuffs a five-iron six feet from the pin.

Sports are not about "flicking the elbow in hoops when the other guy's shooting" or "holding the other player's jersey." I'm not naive enough to think this stuff doesn't happen or that it will stop happening at some point. People are people, after all.

But the guys who did these sorts of things were not liked, or admired, or respected much. They're the ones who try not to follow the letter of the law whenever possible, and who don't even know a spirit of the law exists.


Phil Stiefel said...

I totally agree with you and I cannot fully post a response on this because it would be longer than your blog itself so maybe I just found a topic to start my first blog with. Cheating or as it is put "bending the rules" should not be alloud in sports at all... it takes away from the fun of game and hurts the integrity totaly

Brian O'Rourke said...

Phil -

Post your full response if you get a chance. I know you're a huge sports fan and played a lot in your youth, so I'd be interested to get your opinion.

I just think encouraging kids to "get away with stuff" in sports is going to encourage bad behavior later in life, especially when they (as most of them of will) have to work in an office environment.

seanag said...

These do seem like vastly different categories, though. I don't actually think parents should teach kids to sneak snacks into theaters, even if kids (and others) often do. I am not sure what kids would make of that flaunting of a rule, anymore than they would be able to see the gray area in sports.

White lies are not about personal gain, in general--they are usually aboout sparing another's feelings, which is what may make them ethically okay. I am not sure what people who have really studied the ethics of lying would make of them, though.

Challenging teachers is in a whole separate realm. There is nothing dishonest about it, it's just that you have to be prepared to take the consequences of your actions. Belligerence for its own sake may be a problem, but it is a different kind of problem.

I'm kind of surprised that Playstead classed all these various activities together.

Sports is my weakest link here, but I don't look at it quite the same as you guys do. I see a sports contest as run by an artificially constructed set of rules, and though I don't care so much about honor and sportsmanship as values in themeselves, it seems obvious that if you break the rules, you break the coherence of the game. You have actually rendered it meaningless.

And what's the fun in that?

Brian O'Rourke said...


Welcome to the blogosphere, pal.

I was thinking about this more last night, and it goes beyond cheating if you ask me. Some of it goes back to simple decency.

In the 2008 Olympic Men's Basketball Finals, the US was playing Spain. During one play, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol collided or came into contact with one another. Gasol went down. A whistle blew for something else. Kobe did not offer to help Gasol up after play was dead, didn't even deign to look at him to see if he was alright.

What makes this particular incident even more egregious is that Kobe and Gasol were teammates on the Lakers at the time. Still are.

The announcers, Doug Collins and somebody else, were going on and on about how tough a competitor Kobe was for not helping Gasol up.

All I thought was, "Yeah, that's what the Olympics are about. Not helping a fellow competitor up off the floor."

Brian O'Rourke said...


You raise some great points here.

I agree that when white lies aren't for pesonal gain, they can be ethical. I wish I had a link or two to some of the studies I've read on lying, but the majority of them are suggestive of the idea that white lies are not only good, but essential, in maintaining social relationships.

I took "questioning teachers" to mean more of opening up a dialogue in class--NOT just blindly refusing to come in from the playground when recess is over. Or, being disruptive in class to the point of keeping others from being able to learn. And you're right Seana, belligerence for the sake of belligerence is never a good thing.

I do think that learning to play fair, i.e. sportsmanship, as a youth instills values that are meaningful later in life. Playing to win is important, but I also learned growing up that there was a right way to win. Like you said, the game becomes meaningless otherwise.

Nathanael Green said...

For me, the big difference is that most of the categories mentioned are ones where the student or child is under the authority of someone else and learning to become and individual.

So questioning the authority of a teacher and asking "why" seems not only good advice, but essential to their betterment.

But in sports, the rules are there to provide an equal playing field where you can test certain abilities. Basketball wouldn't exercise kids' dedication, concentration and teamwork if one dad gave his kid a taser to use on the court.

I'm with you, Brian. Challenge the teacher. Pee outside. But always play fair.