By Ken Reed
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred handed the Houston Astros severe penalties for cheating this week.
Manfred suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year each for their role in using electronic equipment to steal the signs of opponents. He also fined the organization $5 million and stripped the Astros of their first- and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and 2021.
Following the announcement of the penalties, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Luhnow and Hinch.
The penalties were stiff but necessary. As a society, we need to have ethics and integrity in sports or their value is severely diminished.
The actions taken by Manfred will send a positive message throughout the baseball world, from the professional level down to the little leagues.
I like it. It’s good for the game. And a great statement to young players.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi reportedly once said that “winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” That’s the mindset that those involved with the Astros cheating scandal apparently live by.
It’s a wretched approach to sports. A win-at-all-costs mentality is an ego-based approach and represents sport at its worst. On the other hand, a soul-based approach to sports is driven by the ethos of fair play and sportsmanship. That’s sport at its best.
Cheating is simply the antithesis of sport at its best.
Striving to win isn’t the problem. That’s part of the essence of sport. Striving to win at all costs is the problem.
As a teenager, I remember my parents telling me how important fair play and sportsmanship are when you take the field. I recall them paraphrasing the old Grantland Rice quote, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
I would nod, give a cursory “Yeah, it’s important” and quickly get back to the business of being a self-absorbed teenager. It’s not that I disagreed with them about the importance of fair play and sportsmanship, it’s just that I couldn’t really grasp how it could be the most important thing.
Today, I get it. I’m convinced that how you play the game is the most important thing in sports – above and beyond all team and individual accomplishments and awards.
I believe that no matter how long your sports career lasts, whether it ends after Little League or after winning the World Series, what you will most be remembered for is what kind of competitor you were, whether you respected the game and whether you competed with integrity.
Did you play hard, strive to win and do it by the rules? Did you exhibit good sportsmanship?
The Astros flunked those tests in this case.
Sadly, the legacy of Luhnow and Hinch will be that they were the leaders of a team that cheated in their quest to win a World Series. They will always be part of any story about cheating in baseball, right there alongside the Black Sox, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and other cheaters throughout the game’s history.
After all these years, perhaps nobody has described the spiritual aspect of sports as succinctly as Rice did in his famous poem:
“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”
Hopefully, the penalties Manfred gave Luhnow, Hinch and the Astros this week will strongly reinforce that message throughout the sports world.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered and got to know well, like Muhammad Ali, as well as his relationships with fellow sports journalists like Bob Costas and Howard Cosell.
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Episode #16 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Andrew Maraniss: Outstanding Author of Books That Focus On the Intersection of Sports, History and Social Justice.
Episode #15 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Psychology with Dr. Tim Rice. We discuss the growth of sports psychology at all levels, the positive impact that a number of high profile athletes have had by opening up, and the importance of everyone involved in sports caring for the whole athlete, mind and body.
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – Gary McCoy is a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations.
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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