January 2008 Ethics Dunces
Astros Catcher Brad Ausmus
The Scoreboard wants to thank Ausmus, whose comments to Boston Globe
reporter Nick Cafarto about the Mitchell Report (detailing findings of
steroid use among specific major league players) are a virtual primer
on the common use of invalid rationalizations to excuse unethical conduct.
- I certainly am not going to demonize a player who was on the Mitchell
Report. I feel badly for all of those guys. At the very worst, if all
the allegations in that report are true, we're not talking about murder
A great start, Brad---minimizing illegal and unethical conduct
by comparing it to something much worse. Of course, this tactic "works"
for any offense: "Sure, he killed someone, but we're not talking about
a serial killer here"---"Sure, he's a serial killer, but at least he
isn't engaged in genocide!" It is completely misleading and wrong. We
examine conduct by focusing on its own effects, not the effects of other
hypothetical outrageous conduct chosen for the purpose of making the
real conduct seem tolerable in comparison. No, the allegations in the
Mitchell Report aren't about murder---they are about illegal substance
purchases, distribution and use; cheating, fraud, lying, and profiting
from these things at the expense of players who followed the rules and
laws. They are about millions of dollars in salaries and endorsements
being won through dishonesty, the integrity of an industry, a sport
and a cultural mainstay being damaged, and trusting fans and kids being
disillusioned, and in some cases, persuaded to put their own health
at risk. And you feel badly for the players who are responsible for
this, because "they didn't kill anyone." Perfect.
- "They aren't bad people."
We'll take your word for it, Brad, although, you know, ultimately
people must be judged "good" or "bad" based on what they actually do
in life. A "bad person" and a "good person" who perform the same unethical
act do exactly the same damage, and earn exactly the same consequences.
If I'm the victim of an intentional unethical act, it doesn't make me
feel any better knowing that the person who hurt me is really "good."
An athlete who cheats at his game, is discovered, lies about it and
is unapologetic may be a "good person," but at that point I don't know
what the term "good person" means. And, frankly, I don't much care.
- Throughout time, and in different sports, you've always had people
trying to beat the system."
Whew! Almost thought you would miss this chestnut, Brad: it's not so
bad because people have always cheated! "Everybody does it,"
so it's not really that wrong. This is, needless to say, ethics-free
logic, applying marketplace principles to matters of right and wrong.
Do you really believe that the majority is always right, and the minority
is always wrong? Even if you do, you know, your statement is nonsense
in the context of sports and steroid use, because "everybody" didn't
and doesn't cheat. "People" is not as inclusive as your statement
suggests. The people who cheat are not everybody---they are just the
- They didn't do it to hurt anybody else, they did it because they
wanted to get stronger and better."
No, they didn't do it to hurt anybody else, they just didn't
care if they hurt others as long as they got the jobs, the records,
the reputations, the adulation and the big bucks. That's the essence
of unethical conduct, Brad---putting your needs and wants above the
welfare of everyone else. You don't have to actively seek to hurt others
to be guilty of a grossly unethical act; all that's necessary is adopting
the attitude that the benefit to yourself is more important than any
harm you may cause to others in the course of achieving it.
Once again, Brad, thanks for providing such a revealing glimpse into
the thinking of an ethically-confused professional athlete. And as a token
of our appreciation, here is your Ethics Dunce cap. You earned it.