The recent drug scandals in major league baseball calls into question the concept of integrity. How does the concept of fair play–so often a judgment call made by each individual, regardless of rules and regulations–hold up in a world that champions winning above all else?
How do professional athletes, arguably the most competitive personalities on earth, accept their physical limitations when an easy, accessible option is available to help them exceed those limitations? How do they watch their opponents use these drugs and win? How do they muster grace in defeat when the victors have cheated in order to win?
Sitting in the ivory tower of hindsight, judgment is easy. In the heat of the moment, the fire of competition, a clear perspective of what is right and wrong can be rare and fleeting, penalties be damned. It’s that way in professional sports. It’s that way on Wall Street. It’s that way at a beauty pageant for 10-year-old girls in small towns all across the country.
So what do we do about it? To move forward, we may need to take a few steps back. We may need to step back and ask ourselves the point of competition. The point of competition is to bring out the best in ourselves and in others. It is not to win at all costs, which does just the opposite.
Competition also teaches us to win and lose with the same grace. We bond with our teammates or colleagues and learn to respect and find common ground with our adversaries. These lessons are useful to us as we make our way in life and function in society.
How do we promote the concept of integrity? The mechanisms are many, but none are effortless. We start with ourselves. We draw a line in our personal behavior. We don’t rationalize unethical or illegal choices. We don’t turn a blind eye to corruption.
We continue with our children. We teach them early on about fair play. They instinctively know what it is, but they need to hear it from us. We need to be articulate as we convey its importance. Above all, we need to be consistent as they watch us live the concept, day in and day out, in the totality of our affairs.
We need to be stringent in our response to those who break the rules. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but once someone has been found guilty of breaking the rules, whether it’s drug use or insider trading, the penalties should be severe and permanent.
Not because we need to be vindictive, but because professional athletes who use drugs to over-perform hurt themselves, the game they play, and the trusting young children who idolize them. The Wall Street traders who use insider information or market manipulation to make an unfair profit gamble not only with their money, but the security and prosperity of everyone who counts on a pension or a fair rate of return on their investments.
And finally, we should celebrate the winners, those who have played by the rules and won. For in doing so, they are awarded not one, but two victories.