The Fake

Cindy Boren’s sports column in Thursday’s Washington Postcaught my attention.  She begins by giving us a refresher from the now famous Seinfeld episode where Elaine makes an unexpected confession to Jerry. (Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait.)

Boren’s column concerned Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter who – judging by the photo – was hit by a pitch from a Tampa Baypitcher in Wednesday’s game. However, it turns out that Jeter was faking in order to advance to first base. Asked later whether he was hit or it was “vibrations” from his bat, Jeter said, “Vibrations and acting.”

Jeter’s rationalization, “That’s part of the game. My job is to get on base.”

What’s more interesting to me was the fact that according to an (unscientific) poll conducted by Boren, 23% of 219 individuals polled believe that you can do “Anything to win, baby.”

Sadly, stories like Jeter’s only contribute to the attitude held by America’s youth.

In a survey I conducted on cheating with 120 high school students last February, 80% believed that “successful people do what they have to do in order to win, even if others consider it cheating.”  59% admitted to having “cheated at least once during [the] past year,” and 93% “know someone who has cheated at least once during [the] past year.”

In the same survey, 96% of the students said that “being a person of character was important,” and 97% said that it’s “important that people trust me.”

Additionally, a few responses reflected a troubling level of cynicism.  In defining “integrity,” one student wrote:  “A socially defined ‘norm’ which many people use as a substitute for a ‘conscience.’ Load of B.S., what gets between you and success.”

During a discussion on trust, another student admitted that they would not be surprised to catch a family member or friend in a lie.

In the talks I’ve given to organizations, it’s not unusual to come across at least one adult cynic in the audience.  Nevertheless, cynicism in the young is not only heartbreaking, but calls out to all of us to work harder to change attitudes.

However, there were several instances where students demonstrated a grasp of ethics – likely due to strong parental influence.  Two students, in particular, would not be swayed when I kept ratcheting up the pressure on an ethical scenario.  At one point, one sophomore student said, “Look, we all know what the right thing is; some students just use a double-standard.”

Last October (2009) the Josephson Institute of Ethics released the results of their Study on High School Character and Adult Behavior.  Among the key findings:

“Young people are much more cynical than their elders – they are considerably more likely to believe that it is necessary to lie or cheat in order to succeed. Those who believe dishonesty is necessary are more likely to actually lie and cheat.

“Cheaters in high school are far more likely as adults to lie to their spouses, customers and employers and to cheat on expense reports and insurance claims.”

And… we can clearly add athletes like Derek Jeter to the list.

Although ethics is not a skill that’s worked on in spring training, the consequences of unethical actions not only reflect on the reputation of the individual but the team and management as well.

Greater effort needs to be given toward sound ethical decision-making, but if it doesn’t come from the top down, it just won’t happen.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus reminds us that “Character is destiny” – who we become is determined by what we do.

The good news: 63% of those polled by Boren felt that Jeter’s fake was “a chump move.”

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