Each of the four major team sports have a set of traditions and rituals known by the game’s participants as “The Code.” The Code is made up of “eye for an eye” retributions for perceived wrongs.
Adhering to the Code can result in serious injury. For example, in the National Hockey League (NHL), Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore was sucker-punched from behind in 2004 by Vancouver Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi, leaving Moore with a broken neck. The hit fell under the NHL’s “Code” because it was done in retaliation for a hit Moore put on Canucks’ captain Markus Nasland in a previous game. The NBA’s Code has long held that a strategically-timed-and-placed elbow was okay as payback for various offenses against the Code. NFL players have been known to set up chop blocks against opponents who acted against the Code. See The Code made me do it, Los Angeles Times.
However, of all the major team sports, baseball is perhaps best known for the power and supremacy of its Code among players. Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster and former major league outfielder Rick Monday said former Dodgers’ pitcher Don Drysdale was a loyal enforcer of the Code.
“Don Drysdale had a real simple line,” said Monday. “You hit one of mine, I’ll hit two of yours. Let me know when you’ve had enough.”
Two recent examples illustrate the barbaric nature of the Code. Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver felt he had been shown up by a couple Detroit Tigers who lingered in the batters box too long for Weaver’s liking after hitting home runs off Weaver. Per MLB’s Code, Weaver thought he was justified in firing a fast ball over the head of the next Tigers’ batter, Alex Avila. He was ejected from the game.
“When you do something a little too much there’s a line that needs to be drawn,” said Weaver. ‘If they want to play the game that way that’s the way it’s going to be.”
A few days later, San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Ramon Ramirez plunked the Philadelphia Phillies’ Shane Victorino in the back. Ramirez reportedly hit Victorino because he was upset that the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins stole second base with a six-run lead, a perceived violation of the Code. See Three ejected after tempers flare in Phillies’ victory, ESPN.
Some players don’t buy into the Code but they ignore it at their own peril. In 2006, Chicago White Sox rookie pitcher Sean Tracey was pulled from the game by manager Ozzie Guillen after failing to hit Texas power hitter Hank Blalock as revenge for White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski being hit by a pitch earlier. Guillen demoted Tracey to the minors the next day.
It’s important to think about the Code from a larger cultural perspective. In what other part of society do we tolerate such small-minded behavior in the name of retribution? Why do we tolerate it in sports?
Here’s a novel idea, just play the game! If a guy hits a home run off of you, focus on striking him out the next time. There’s your retribution.
The archaic Code has survived too long in sports. It’s time to bury it.
The only “Code” we need in sports is a Sportsmanship Code.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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