With the Penn State scandal all over the news, the release of Albert Haynesworth from the Patriots, and the dismissal of Carolina LB Lawrence Wilson for a Marijuana related incident, the conduct of players, coaches, and administrators in sports is being brought to the forefront of our minds. While many people are divided on the handling of these issues, one thing is certain, you are better off keeping your nose clean than having cameras and microphones pointed at you demanding answers.
But how deep do the issues stemming from poor personal conduct run? Who is affected? In the long term, is it more important to be talented than behaved? There are plenty of examples to point to, and I will go in depth to see just how much effect conduct has on sports...
after the jump...
The effect on the guilty party
We'll start by looking into the person affected most by poor actions, and that is of course the person themselves.
The most obvious ramifications for the offender are financial. If an employer can't count on you to perform your assigned task at the assigned time, you become very worthless and very quickly. It doesn't really matter how well you do your job "when you show up" if you aren't out there at all. Even worse, if you show up, and serve as a constant distraction that is counter productive to an organizations goals, it would almost be better if you didn't come out at all. With current media saturation at an all time high, even the slightest slip ups can cause a frenzy. These actions distract the entire organization from the top down. How do you expect to field your best product when you are constantly being questioned about your thoughts on the actions of someone else on your team? The only way that organizations can counter the effects of personal misconduct is by making you less of a liability in case your screw up so badly that they are forced to cut ties with you or spend significant amounts of time and money in damage control mode.
Perhaps even more important is a person's legacy.
- Benjamin Disraeli
I'm going to throw some names out there, and remember what first comes to your mind.
O.J. Simpson, Pete Rose, Mike Tyson, Barry Bonds, John Daly, Ray Lewis, Tiger Woods
I'm going to go ahead and guess that your answers weren't:
- Legendary running back, Hall of Famer, first person to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a season
- Greatest hitter of all time, innumerable amount of MLB records, one of the best defenders of all time
- Legendary boxer, World Heavyweight Champion, possible greatest KO boxer of all time
- 7 time MVP, 8 time Golden Glove, greatest slugger of all time
- Greatest power hitter of all time, 1991 ROTY and PGA Champion
- 12 time Pro Bowler, 2 time DPOY, Super Bowl Champion and MVP
- 14 time major winner, 10 time POTY, 9 time leading money winner, 9 time Byron Nelson award winner
It is far more likely that you answered murderer, compulsive gambler, rapist, cheater, drunkard, murderer, and adulterer. This really says all that needs to be said about how important it is to stay clean in sports. No matter your accomplishments or talent, you will be remembered for who you were and what you did rather than who you could have been.
The effect on the organization and the fans
The effects of poor conduct are not just limited to the person in question, but rather to everyone connected to them.
Sports organizations put a lot of trust into the hands of their administrators, players, and coaches to do the right thing. When they don't, there are far reaching consequences. The actions of the few have resulted in severe repercussions such as vacated wins and championships, stunting the growth of a franchise, affecting perception and team morale, and alienating a fan base. Some recent examples:
- USC and Reggie Bush - After it was determined that Bush received improper benefits while at USC, USC was forced to vacate the last two wins of the 2004 season (including the Orange Bowl win) and all victories in 2005. Additionally, the university loses 30 scholarships over 3 years, and is banned from postseason play in 2010 and 2011.
- Washington Redskins and Albert Haynesworth- Haynesworth came into Washington with plenty of character issues stemming from his head stomping incident in Tennessee, but the Redskins deemed him worth the risk and signed him to a 7 year, $100m contract. Haynesworth proceeded to play very poorly, serve as a constant distraction, and in general cause locker room problems. Safe to say that Haynesworths large contract during his time affected Washington's ability to field a good team, and they have yet to recover.
- UNC, Marvin Austin and co. - After finding numberous benefit and academic violations in the football program, 13 players are suspended costing UNC it's best chance at a national title in it's history. Additionally, the academic reputation of the university is forever tarnished.
- New England Patriots and Bill Belichick - The infamous "spygate" scandal which found that a Patriots equipment manager had been illegally taping opposing teams defensive signals and practices. While two examples were proven, it is unknown exactly how long this activity had been taking place. Belichick was fined $500,000 dollars, and the Patriots may never escape their "Cheatriots" moniker because of it.
- Major League baseball and "The Steroid Era" - Baseball was truly in it's prime in the 1990s. Attendance was at an all time high, and fans were more raucous and passionate than ever. Records were falling left and right as the games greats were seemingly playing at another level. Later, the Mitchell report brought all that glory down into the cellar, with a list of names featuring prominent players who had used PEDs. The game and its image still has yet to recover, and has had a far reaching effect on all sports at all levels.
- The developing scandal at Penn State involving former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky, that has already caused the arrest of two administrators, the retirement of legendary coach Joe Paterno as of the end of the season, and most importantly their negligence has led to the harm of an unknown amount of young boys due to Sandusky's sexual crimes. The effects on the University and program are currently unknown, but are sure to be far reaching.
I could go on with many many more bullet points about all the things that have happened due to the selfish actions of the few, and that is what is sad about all of this. There are so many examples of players, coaches, teams, entire schools, or even entire sports falling victim to scandals of all levels. No team wants to be the focus of it, no player wants to be wrapped up in it, and no fan wants to cheer for a team known for it. Yet despite all of this, individuals will continue to misbehave, organizations will continue to cover for them, and fans will continue to accept players with obvious character issues in the name of "giving them a better chance to win."
In the end...
Who really has the best chance to win? The team that runs a tight ship, keeps their roster full of good natured players, and immediately takes action on those who break from that mold... or the team that values talent over character, fills their roster with troubled individuals, and plays russian roulette with their future? Let the tales told above be a constant lesson and warning to fans and organizations who want to trade their teams souls for some short term success. For every story of redemption where a troubled player finds new life and a new attitude, there are three stories where it's the same old crap on a different day. The whole point of this article was to find just how important personal conduct is to sports, but now it is probably more prudent to ask "What could possibly be more important?"