Does A Moral Code Still Exist Today?

Posted by on Mar 18, 2014

Pete Rose

Does A Moral Code Still Exist Today?

The cover story for last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated is called “The Dilemma” and is about Pete Rose. The author, Kostya Kennedy, wrote a book about the story and takes a look into the question of the slugger’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame. An entire book, a cover story on the number one sports magazine in the country, a divided fan base, and opposing positions from those in management of the sport…all over whether or not a gambler should be called one of the greats, not only in bars and hotel lobbies, but also in the Hall of Fame. This book asks if we should overlook his crimes against the sport in light of newer, more significant violations, namely the steroid-era cheating?

Lance Armstrong comes to mind in this scenario. Yes, he (finally) admitted to cheating (and cheating, and bullying, and lying) to win his record seven Tour De France titles. But then there is the emotional caveat: “Look at all the good he has done for cancer research.” Lesser contributions but similar cheating “stars” include Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, and the incredible list of baseball players, a few of whom are mentioned in the article and book.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I feel as though asking the question is an important place to start. I am in my late forty’s so born in the late 60’s. I grew up being punished for lying and cheating so that taught me it was wrong. Am I perfect, no, but I don’t cheat, have never cheated in any sport I have played, and I have a hard time with those that do cheat. To me, cheating is a sacrifice of self. When winning becomes more important than who you are to yourself, that is a problem. Dr. Jim Loehr wrote a great book called The Only Way To Win: How Building Character Drives Higher Achievement and Greater Fulfillment in Business and Life. This book spoke to me, not just because I work for Dr. Loehr, but because of the brilliant and simple commentary on how we might have gotten here…with here being a society and culture driven by achievement; leaving values and ethics behind. His “solution” to build character, value character, and teach character is so simple; it’s complicated. Anyone with a child should read this book. Heck, anyone with a heart should read this book.

The question I get stuck on is, “When did telling the truth and having ethics, a moral code, and character become gray area?” How can you have a little ethic? How can you violate a lesser rule? And how can you say Pete Rose should now be considered for the Hall of Fame because the steroid era is doing calculable and worse damage? I am not a baseball fan and do not have a strong emotional attachment to Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame status either way. What I find interesting is that his betting on games he was involved as a major league manager are now being considered incalculable. Since we don’t have any evidence that his action really impacted the games, let’s say that wasn’t such a bad thing anymore. Why not? Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the ballot for the Hall of Fame and even if you don’t know a thing about baseball, you know those names and their association with steroid use and cheating.

We are surrounded by opportunity to cheat and violate our moral code every day. It’s the perfect conundrum: Character is something we do when no one else is watching…however, so is cheating. It takes something to stay true to yourself, your code, and your values. Especially, because cheating is so easy and so accepted now. I think about the pressure a young, middle or lower range player has in a locker room where PED’s are easily accessible. I can completely understand the move towards cheating yet I can’t understand it at all. You know, not everyone can win and the real world is not T-ball. Sometimes we lose, but if that were included in the original conversation about games, it would not be considered such a bad thing. I was talking about this with a friend yesterday and when the subject of steroid use came up, her comment was, “Well, if everyone is doing it, is it that bad?” Sadly, this argument has some traction these days because we have become so accustomed to this behavior that it doesn’t seem such a violation. But what if we swapped the words “steroid use” with “murder”? No gray area there.

Unfortunately, the cheating issue does have some gray area. When I was swimming, a woman tested positive at the 1988 Olympic Trials where I was competing. We all knew it because she looked Herculean and swam faster than ever. She had recently married a shot-putter. So there, we all made the connection because power track and field sports were known for steroid use in the eighties. She was removed from the Olympic Team, suspended for two years, returned briefly after her suspension ended and then disappeared forever. So where is the gray? Is the fact that we have suspension first and not banishment a breeding ground for cheating? Would so many athletes risk being forever banished from their sport if they knew one violation and you are out? It’s not that I believe in harsher punishment, I believe in a stronger relationship to our moral code! If “doing the right thing” had meaning any more, we would not be having this conversation.

We glamorize the lack of morality and ethical behavior now. Justin Bieber makes more money the more he’s on the cover of magazines—whether it’s for helping a children’s center raise important money for research (okay, that wasn’t him) or getting arrested. It’s shameful how we have spiraled down to this. I don’t watch shows like Jersey Shore or housewives or whatever because they don’t do anything to contribute, even sitcoms have some interpersonal value at the end of the day. The “reality” shows make doing dumb, rude, unethical things entertainment, and because the guidance towards a moral code is missing, this becomes the norm.

I don’t think it would be that difficult to move back towards a culture steeped in morality and ethics. It starts with the individual, and that is you and that is me. I don’t endorse, support, or encourage behavior that violates a moral code. I don’t put my money there and I don’t put my energy there. I do my best to catch it as soon as possible and move towards the things I value. It is not easy, mind you, but I want to put my energy where value is, where character is more important than accomplishment, where doing the right thing always feels better than a mark in the win column. Most of us forget quickly who won what game in what year, but not too many forget someone who has done you wrong—or even more importantly, something you have done wrong. Changing the world starts with one person at a time and if you can impact 20%, a huge shift has occurred. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is no dilemma in that.