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SBJ/July 22 - 28, 2002/Opinion
It's not unethical, it's just clever strategy
Published July 22, 2002
Unethical behavior is a pervasive problem in sports, but strategic thinking and tactics should not be misconstrued as immoral or unsportsmanlike. Richard Lapchick's recent column ["The coach fouls out of sportsmanship game," July 1] tells of a girls' softball coach who, in the eyes of Lapchick, acted unethically. I suggest, instead, that the coach was an innovator and a good strategist.
With a 2-0 lead and a game time limit approaching, the coach instructed his players to strike out on purpose to get the game in before time expired. Lapchick's daughter was on the short end of this strategy, and it is easy to understand why his column reads like the lament of a disgruntled parent.
A time limit is not typical in softball and baseball, so the coach's strategy appears, at first glance, to be unsportsmanlike. In other sports where time limits are the norm, coaches implement very similar strategies. The pioneer of these strategies perhaps appeared unsportsmanlike at first, but the strategies soon became part of the game.
In football a team with the lead in the closing seconds will "take a knee" and run out the clock. A losing team will try to save precious seconds by wasting a down and spiking the ball. In hockey and basketball, a team with the lead in the closing seconds will play the "four corners" offense and slow the pace of the game. A team losing in the final seconds in a hockey game will pull its goalie to gain an offensive edge. A team losing in the final seconds in a basketball game will foul on purpose to try to regain possession.
All of these strategies are in the same spirit of the tactic employed by the girls' softball coach. The team plays poorly (on purpose!) in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage.
The excitement of sport is rooted in both the physical and the mental. Athleticism and strategy are both necessary to be successful. A good strategy should be applauded and not discounted on the basis of unsportsmanlike play. There are many better ethics issues to be tackled in the business of sport.