Saturday, October 8, 2011


Like life, the injury faking controversy has seemingly taken on an energy and persona all its own. Our reaction to the issue is the real story. The continuing empty denials by the participants and their willingness to patently lie coupled with their teammate’s willingness to back them up despite the evidence goes well beyond having someone’s back. It is simply an issue of honesty and integrity.

The bottom line is that it’s cheating and at the very least not in the spirit of the game. Seems that many players and some fans think that anything goes, hook or by crook, to gain a victory. I’m still old enough to remember when honor and a high level code of ethics was the inspiration for life whatever the venue or activity. In an earlier post we reminded readers of that Williams College receiver who credited with a pass reception versus Amherst notified the referee that he had not caught the ball.

Ultimately for most of us who participated in organized team athletics whether it’s football, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, et al the game is surely about recreation/exercise but with an ultimate much higher purpose. Sports in all its myriad forms was for us the great metaphor for Life. The greater lesson is learning to function cooperatively as a team and within the rules of the game to honestly gain the ultimate prize – Victory. We were taught that in defeat that prize can also be ours. The Greeks gave us that lesson which has been forwarded via the modern Olympic movement.

One blogger who echoes the sentiments of this writer recently stated, “I truly believe that the sport actually DESERVES to be played competitively by men with integrity.” Then you see and hear football fans who seemingly don't mind if members of their own team cheat successfully, only objecting when their opponent cheats. That hypocrisy stinks with many of the opinion that this “victory at any cost” mantra could ultimately ruin the game.

Now having said all this we certainly understand tactical fouling when one player deliberately breaks a rule for an advantage. That would include, among many other examples, a defensive safety obviously beaten, interfering with an offensive receiver so as to prevent a touchdown. That’s part of the game where that player trades a penalty for the surety of six points. That’s part of the reward-penalty aspect of the game where the rules anticipate and account those infractions. We doubt that the blue collar workers or the Ivy League blue bloods who played the early version of the game would have feigned injury for an advantage.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi (photo above) did say, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” but he was parroting (knowingly or not) another football coach, Red Sanders of Vanderbilt and UCLA fame. For those revisionists this writer heard him say it and there is archival video as proof positive. We guess that his intent at using this was to basically motivate and inspire his players in the heat of the moment and to set the stage for his heavy handed, disciplinarian coaching style – all in a different time and place in history. Lombardi in the latter stages of his life, understanding the detrimental effect of that admonition on younger athletes bemoaned, “I sure as hell didn’t mean for people to crush human values and morality”. Lombardi died regretting that he ever said it with Friends, sportscasters and even historians trying unsuccessfully to disassociate him from that phrase.

For many that now famous quote highlights what is wrong with competitive sports in America. As Steve Overman of Jackson State University so keenly observed, sports have become our, “cultural currency.” Randy Roberts and James Olson, in Winning is the Only Thing: Sports in America Since 1945 remind us that, “Football became a lens through which Americans interpreted their country, their communities and themselves.” And that’s both the good and bad of it.

Within the context of this issue I was reminded most recently by a European footballer about the Italian coined term, furbizia, which is literally translated as the art of guile. With much of the rest of the world embracing a fair play approach to the game, they perceive Italian footballers as cheaters and the, “dirtiest footballers on the planet.” The Italians, however, see themselves as doing nothing more than tactically exploiting the soft underbelly of their opponents – winning by hook or by crook. And, yes, those strategies include “diving” and no doubt where some of our NFL players took their inspiration.

Diving is considered “classic furbizia” and according to one blogger is yet another manifestation of the, “use of guile and gamesmanship of the Italians with the referee serving as the object of total distrust and disrespect.” So for the Italians it would appear that this win at all cost attitude has trumped any sense of fair play and ethical values and therein lies the lesson for us. It would appear that we are certainly trying to catch up with the Italians.

A recent blogger challenged us all by asking, how should we participate in competitive sports and then offered we should look to, “Our higher sense of self.” Indeed, we create our own destinies and depending on our choices take either the high or low road. Those choices are: 1) Embrace those high level tenets of sportsmanship and ethics or 2) succumb to victory at any cost – even to cheating and the extent of changing the nature of the game. Copping to the lesser option then cheapens victory and those who gained it.

A great football coach summed the issue up for all of us, “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good.” The Italians notwithstanding, apparently a lot of players in the NFL have lost their sense of taste…


Ned Buxton

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