Paul J. Voss writes that baseball players linked to performance-enhancing drugs have been denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While politicians and celebrities who lack integrity often get a free pass with regard to ethics, sports are different Christians, too, are called to a higher standard. We cannot simply be Sunday-morning Catholics . . .
Each January, the Baseball Writers’ of America Association (BBWAA) announces the results of the annual Hall of Fame voting. The 2013 ballot included some rather impressive names, including Roger Clemens (a seven-time Cy Young award winner), Barry Bonds (the all-time home run king), and Sammy Sosa (the only person in MLB history to hit more than 60 home runs in three different seasons).
Despite their gaudy numbers and impressive career achievements, not a single member of this esteemed trio earned even 38% of the vote (a player needs to be named on 75% of the ballot for admission into the pantheon of all-time greats). The writers had tossed a shutout of historic proportions.
These players, of course, do not have spotless reputations. Strong evidence links each athlete to the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and a growing consensus among sports writers seems to be emerging: Players who admitted to using PEDs, and even those strongly suspected of using PEDs, will not be admitted into the Hall of Fame anytime soon. In previous years, the writers tipped their hand, so to speak, by refusing to enshrine other Hall-worthy candidates (like Mark McGuire and Rafeal Palmeiro) who had been linked to PEDs. By opting not to admit the users (either admitted or suspected), the writers had ample justification at their disposal.
The BBWAA Election Rules state that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played” (#5). This rule obviously leaves some room for interpretation and, as a result, differences certainly emerge. However, the most dominant issue of this election was the use of PEDs and the bearing that drug use had on the words sportsmanship and integrity.
Sportsmanship suggests fairness, respect for an opponent, and graciousness in winning. It also mandates the proper adherence to the rules of the game and prudent disposition of energy. This aspect of sport often caught the attention of Blessed John Paul II, himself an athlete. In marking the 25th World Day of Tourism in 2004, he said: “The correct practice of sport must be accompanied by practicing the virtues of temperance and sacrifice; frequently it also requires a good team spirit, respectful attitudes, the appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and humility to recognize one’s own limitations.”
Professional athletes obviously strive for every competitive advantage and this desire, often fueled by excessive pride, can weaken any sense of sportsmanship or fair play. Lance Armstrong admitted as much in his recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. The BBWAA obviously felt that using PEDs violated the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play — even if “everyone was doing it.”
The word “integrity” comes from the Latin integritat, meaning “whole” or “complete.” In action and behavior, integrity implies (and even requires) a conspicuous attention to ethics and the quest for human excellence and flourishing. But if we even casually scan the landscape of American politics, business, entertainment and civic life, lack of integrity does not necessarily disqualify a person from high status, adoration or success. We can see myriad examples of complete disregard for integrity — behavior that often leads to worldly success and acclaim. How might we account for this disjunction between the Hall of Fame and everyday life?
The credibility of sport requires integrity from athletes, coaches, equipment manufacturers, referees and the rule book. Without a soundness from all stakeholders, the entire constellation of sporting activities collapses into farce. We value a level playing field, competent officiating, sensible rules and legal equipment in order to preserve the integrity of the game. We may have a cynical attitude toward politics, but our feelings toward sports remains genuine and honest. Thus, cheaters cannot and will not be tolerated.
What does this mean on a practical level for Catholics who desire to live a life of integrity? A life of integrity would reject the balkanization of faith. We cannot simply be Sunday-morning Catholics. In order to achieve integrity, we must integrate our faith into all aspects of our life. We cannot be faithful spouses only 50% of the time. Our role as mother or father is not simply a fashion that changes from one season to the next. In business, we need to treat stakeholders with honesty in every transaction. In the final analysis, the quality of our life — the assessment of our career — will include the amount of integrity we brought to the playing field of life.
PAUL J. VOSS, Ph.D., is president of Ethikos, a professional organization offering ethics training, and an associate professor of literature at Georgia State University.