Saturday, March 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on Sports, Fraud and Life

Jabaal Sheard
Brandon Davies

From my limited perspective sitting in my office in Provo, Utah, there have been two main events that have captured the national sporting news this week: 1) Brandon Davies and BYU basketball and 2) the Sports Illustrated / CBS News investigation of top 25 football programs.  Given all the blogging I've done on fraud in sports (especially pro and amateur cycling) over the past year, I thought I'd offer a few comments about this news.

As a BYU faculty member, I have been able to see, firsthand, what happened on campus this week. For starters, everyone was shocked and disappointed when we heard the news about Davies being expelled from the team on Tuesday and then getting thrashed on our home court on Wednesday. The basketball team was on such a high on Saturday (after beating San Diego State at SDSU and being ranked 3rd on Monday) that this fall was like slipping off the ledge in the grand canyon and finding yourself in the middle of the Colorado River's icy cold rapids.

You might wonder what people think of Davies. Are they angry that he let the team and university down? Actually, instead of anger, I've heard prayers offered on his behalf. I've also heard faculty express concern that this is being publicized from the rooftops. For those who wonder if he is despised because he let us down, it's not that way at all. I've seen a lot of concern for his well being. We're all hoping that he can navigate the rapids he found himself in after he admitted to this tragic fall and get back on dry ground. Not because we would love him to play basketball again for BYU (which we all would) but because this is life. People make mistakes. When they do, and when they take the consequences, we hope they can learn to avoid that pitfall in the future and move on with life.

I particularly like what former BYU and NFL football player, Vai Sikahema said in a Time Magazine article this week:
"This could be a seminal moment in this young man's life," says Sikahema. "Better that it happens at 20, rather than 50, with four kids. He'll probably be a better man, and that's ultimately what BYU is about, building leaders, building men. If that means missing out (at) a chance at the Final Four, well, that's what happens."
As much as I'd like to have seen BYU make a final four run (and I'm still hoping they do), I'm grateful to work at a place that cares more about people and making men than about winning basketball games.

I've also reflected on Wednesday night's thrashing to New Mexico. I know Davies was a key player but we played like we lost Davies and Jimmer both and that the rest of the team was in a daze. The team looked horrible. They shot 20% from the three-point line and Jimmer was around 10%. What happened? Here is my take.

Imagine that you are in high school and you live in a close-knit family with four other siblings who all have a lot of love and unity with each other. It's your Senior year and you are acing all your AP exams and on your way to a scholarship at a great university. Then, the day before you take your biggest exam, your younger brother that you're close to, takes his motorcycle out for a joy ride and ends up killing himself. He was flying around a mountain and lost control and went over the side. He was instantly dead! How would you perform the next day on the exam? The shock and disarray in your family would occupy all your concentration. If you even showed up for the exam, you'd probably flunk it even if you knew the material inside and out.

That's what happened to the BYU basketball team this week. They lost a family member that they loved and cared for. On Wednesday, they were in shock and disarray. Hopefully they will be able to move on soon but, if not, that's part of life.

As for a final four run, on Monday I would have been disappointed if they didn't make it to the elite 8; now, I'll be thrilled if they make it to the sweet 16. But, that isn't a big deal. It's college basketball--not life. Life is what Davies is going through. Hopefully, he'll use it to be a better man like former BYU football player Reno Mahe. Mahe had a similar experience and was kicked off the football team before returning and then playing in the NFL for several seasons. He says that his experience when BYU expelled him was pivotal in changing his life for good.

So what about the other sports news this week. The Sports Illustrated / CBS investigation looked at the rosters of last season's top 25 football teams and found an average of about 8 players on each team have a criminal record. Many of the cases they uncovered were not your innocent j-walking conviction either. Here is a description of a crime that one of Pitt's players committed:
(S)enior defensive end Jabaal Sheard (in the picture above) was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly throwing a man through the glass door of an art gallery. Authorities told SI that even after an officer arrived on the scene, Sheard continued to punch the victim in the face as he lay on his back, bleeding. Sheard was suspended from the team. But after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct on Aug. 4, 2010, he was reinstated for the 2010 season.
Reinstated after almost killing someone? What's up with that?! It's outrageous and appalling. SI found 22 players on Pitt's roster had criminal convictions. Only one team in the top 25 did not have anyone with a criminal conviction: TCU. Over 200 players with serious criminal convictions on college football's top 25 teams! What a contrast!

I admit that I'm biased since I work at BYU, but I believe that sports are out of control in our society. Doping in cycling appears to be rampant and the entire institution of pro cycling appears to have been corrupted by it. Evidence of a doping mafia, team managers who are involved in the doping and the winners in most every race being found to have doped. But this is just cycling.

The story goes on and on. Football, basketball, baseball, track, swimming, soccer, basket weaving you name it. People everywhere who think sports is more important than life--even when that life includes crime and cheating in the worst ways.

Unfortunately, sports isn't the only industry that is out of control. Business in general is out of control in much the same way. As is politics, law, education, organized religion, medicine, etc. It all boils down to too many people thinking that the end justifies the means.

When I grew up, I was taught that you play games by the rules of the game. You don't cheat. If the rules say you can't put a testosterone patch on to recover during a stage race, you don't do it! Floyd Landis lost his vision of real life and thought winning the Tour de France was life. What he didn't remember is that if you cheat and win, the title you gained is totally meaningless. What value is there in beating someone else when you didn't follow the rules?! You might rationalize that your competitor wasn't following the rules either. Then let him win! Don't let someone else's lack of integrity be an excuse for your lack of integrity. Unfortunately, in many sporting arenas today, the rules are part of the game that athletes and institutions are trying to beat. The same is true in business, politics, and pretty much everywhere in the world.

I'm proud to work at a place where following rules is more important than a chance at a prestigious title. Interestingly, many who don't agree with BYU's rules and our honor code are saying that BYU's stand is refreshing and they support it. Why is it refreshing? Because the message is that life is greater than winning a game or a title or a business deal or a war. Life is about having enough integrity to do what you promised to do and to follow the rules we've been given.

I hope more people can see that sports and business isn't life and that honor and integrity are much more important than any game or business deal or winning the whole world for that matter! Honor and integrity are definitely worth more than being a seven-time Tour de France winner too. Someday Lance Armstrong may realize that too.

Brandon and BYU, thanks for reminding us of what life is all about: honor and integrity come first and forgiveness and compassion should be offered when someone forgets that basic lesson.


  1. Thanks for this wonderful article.

  2. Thanks for sharing this perspective. As I watched the media reaction I was surprised at how little confidence the media (general population) have in our young adults ability to master self control in a number of levels. And then we are surprised and upset when they have affairs, become alcoholics, addicted to drugs or arrested for violent crimes. But maybe that's another subject.

  3. BYU is a one-of-a-kind school. But it's not the only school with principles or honor codes. And wouldn't it be a good thing if such principles and standards were so well and routinely enthroned that when they were applied in cases of honor code violations, they didn't generate coast to coast publicity.
    --The Washington Post

  4. Dr. Zimbelman:

    I really enjoyed your post. Great insight. BYU is a very special place.

    Go Cougars!