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 here."

    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 cheaters.

  • 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.




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