Early last week, Major League Baseball suspended players for using performance-enhancing drugs. Later, NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledged the hypocrisy of offering player memorabilia for sale on the NCAA website while investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel got paid for autographing memorabilia.
With those headline-grabbers dominating the news, it was easy to miss the most startling example of athletic malfeasance. The NCAA punished the women's rowing program at the University of California San Diego for rules violations. The women's rowing team.
The coaches knowingly allowed ineligible athletes to participate in competition by using the names of eligible athletes, the NCAA said.
Which brings us to Clark Haptonstall, who teaches a class in sports ethics at Rice. Sports ethics. That sounds like an oxymoron.
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"I hear that all the time when I tell people I teach sports ethics," Haptonstall said in a telephone conversation.
Here is an edited version of the conversation and follow-up exchange of email messages.
Question: Is it "cheating" or simply "getting an edge" in competition? How possible is it to prevent highly competitive people from, shall we say, bending the rules?
Answer: "There is a difference between cheating and gamesmanship. Cheating is breaking the rules while gamesmanship is bending the rules. I believe that most highly competitive athletes simply want a level playing field. Often these athletes will cheat because they feel that 'everyone else is cheating, therefore I have to cheat just so that things are fair.' That is the way they justify breaking the rules. This includes doping, recruiting, voluntary practices, and many more areas."
Q: What do you think of the rationale that escaping poverty is an ethical reason for cheating?
A: "It is easier to understand why a person who is trying to escape poverty would engage in doping because they are able to justify it to themselves by saying that they are trying to build a better life for their family and community. However, this is not a victimless issue because someone with more talent or work ethic will still lose their roster spot to this athlete who is doping. What is hardest for me to relate to is why Alex Rodriguez, who signed the two largest contracts in MLB history, would feel the need to dope."
Q: What does it say that the NCAA penalized the UC San Diego women's rowing team for rules violations? If the women's rowing team is cheating, who isn't?
A: "The rowing case shows how much power coaches have over their athletes. In my opinion, there is nothing that most college athletes care about more than playing time. Because the coach controls playing time, many athletes will do whatever the coach says in order to make them happy. That is an ethical dilemma that athletes face. They have to choose what is more valuable to them: playing time or playing by the rules. From a distance it looks like the rowers were put in a very difficult position because, in a perfect world, you would hope that the coach would lead by example and serve as a positive role model."
Q. Generally speaking, how much do college coaches care about fair play versus winning?
A: "I think most college coaches would welcome the idea of universal fair play, but the general sense is that this concept doesn't exist at the college level. While all coaches would prefer to win fair-and-square, I think many would accept winning by bending the rules versus losing ethically."
To former UK football player Brian Siddens, who underwent successful spinal surgery on Tuesday. Later in the week, he said he may need two more surgeries.
Siddens, who played his last two college seasons for Murray State, attributed his spinal problems to playing football. He also said he sustained more than one concussion in the sport.
Despite the pain and surgeries, Siddens insisted the experiences of playing football were worth it. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," he said.
Being on the same UK team as Tim Couch, Siddens recalled the two engaging in a friendly bet about throwing accuracy. Couch won by throwing a football into a trash can from 60 yards away.
On two other subjects, Siddens:
■ Expressed concern that the buzz surrounding the arrival of Mark Stoops as UK's new football coach might cause fan disgruntlement should inflated expectations not be met. "Like the movie The Lone Ranger, which was built up to be a blockbuster for over a year yet failed miserably in the box office," he wrote in an email message.
■ Endorsed the idea of Lexington selling so-called "True Blue Memberships" as a way to raise funds for a renovation of Rupp Arena. He has voiced concerns that luxury suites, a private lounge and the sale of naming rights for the arena might stratify the UK fan base.
Lexington leaders have floated the idea of selling "True Blue Memberships" to fans. The fans would get a certificate and be eligible for such prizes as premium parking and access to a private lounge.
The Green Bay Packers partially financed a renovation of Lambeau Field by selling shares of the team to fans.
"If every UK fan donated $10, and there are some who can donate a lot more, then nobody has to worry about ticket prices (increasing) or changing the name," Siddens said. "Then there's no sellout."
Before a possible re-naming of Rupp Arena, a decision is expected on the naming rights for the Lexington Convention Center.
At its Sept. 19 meeting, the Lexington Center Corporation Board of Directors is expected to decide whether to accept one of the two bids for re-naming the convention center or re-open the naming rights process. Alltech founder and president Pearse Lyons acknowledged his company made one of the bids.
A renovated Lexington Convention Center would be part of Mayor Jim Gray's idea to revitalize the city's downtown with an arts and entertainment district.
On a separate track is the idea of selling naming rights for a renovated Rupp Arena. Gray considers changing the name of Rupp Arena as a "last resort" to maximize funding for the project, spokeswoman Brenna Angel said. A plan to pay for such a renovation, which may or may not include the selling of naming rights, is not expected until mid- to late fall, Angel said.
Now and then
In his weekly commentary for National Public Radio, Frank Deford paid tribute to 1951 Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier. who died Aug. 1.
"You may never have heard of Dick Kazmaier," Deford said. "After all, he played in the Ivy League, never went to the NFL and filled a position, tailback, in a formation, the single-wing, that has long since disappeared.
"But as the years have passed, that is what makes Kazmaier so special: that he best represented another time, when there was more whimsy and capriciousness to college athletics.
"He was only 5 feet 11 inches tall, 155 pounds. He came from nowhere — which was Maumee, Ohio — and was unknown to the football staff when he arrived at Princeton University in 1948. On the freshman football team, he was fifth-string. Only three years later, he was the famous Kaz, on the cover of Time magazine, winner of the Heisman Trophy, voted Male Athlete of the Year. Then, instead of the Chicago Bears, he went to Harvard Business School. Athletes still came out of nowhere back then and sometimes moved right on to somewhere else."
Fast forward to now: Speculation that the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, sold his autographs, and thus jeopardized his eligibility. Manziel has a personal assistant, Nate Fitch, and now an attorney to represent him as the NCAA investigates.
For a second straight year, UK fan Ed Kwak plans to travel more than 2,000 miles to attend the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience next month. A television show producer, Kwak (pronounced "Kwock" and rhymes with "clock") will come from Los Angeles to Lexington to participate in what he called "the greatest experience on the planet."
Kwak is a native Kentuckian. He grew up in Richmond and attended Eastern Kentucky University and UK. He hopes to win the Fantasy Camp's "Long Distance Camper Award," meaning he traveled the farthest to get here.
There's another reason he should get an award. He has a fear of flying, but the Fantasy Camp provides a good enough reason to fly the unfriendly skies. And then some. "If I had to, I'd go work in Korea so I could win the (Long Distance Camper) award," he said.
Kwak, whose next TV project will be a show titled Marshal Law: Texas for TNT, embraces the camp's Walter Mitty ethos. The thrill of pretending to be a UK player includes seeing his name on a locker in the Craft Center, from interacting with former players, from getting a head start on checking out the incoming freshmen.
That raises a question: Can he re-live these magic moments in a second camp experience?
Kwak likened the encore to seeing a favorite band in concert more than once or a "Star Wars geek" re-watching one of the movies. "You want to see it again and again," he said.
There are still openings for this year's Fantasy Experience. The entry fee is $6,995. Interested fans can contact Matt Chacksfield at 513-745-5850 or email@example.com.
More information is at the website www.johncalipariexperience.com.
Class of 2031
Congratulations to lobbyist and UK fan Stephen Huffman. He and his wife, Kimberly, became first-time parents with the birth of William Stephen Huffman on Wednesday. Pertinent statistics were 9 pounds, 10 ounces and 21 inches.
The proud father agreed that his son (class of 2031?) can be a recruiting target for John Calipari or Mark Stoops. Or both.
"Expecting (scholarship offers) before we leave Central Baptist," Huffman wrote in an email message.
To DeMarcus Cousins. He turns 23 on Tuesday. ... To Auburn Coach Tony Barbee. He turned 42 on Saturday. ... To Randy Embry. He turned 70 on Friday. ... To Jason Parker. He turned 33 on Saturday. ... To Gerald Fitch. He turns 31 on Monday. ... To Wimp Sanderson. The former Alabama coach turned 76 on Thursday. ... To Mark Coury. He turned 27 on Thursday. ... To Antoine Walker. He turns 37 on Monday. ... To James Blackmon. He turned 49 on Wednesday.