Intentional Fouls and Wrongdoing

business_ethics_highlights_2This blog entry considers the significance of intentional ‘fouls’ (broadly interpreted) in sports, asks whether intentional fouls are in some sense unethical, and then compares to business ethics. One point worth adding, in support of the author’s perspective: if certain fouls in sports were really considered evil, the penalties for them would be much higher. The fact that the penalty is so low might reasonably be interpreted as implying that they’re not so grave, ethically. Compare, for example, parking violations. If one parks in a no-parking zone & paying the fine, has one done something wrong, or merely paid a fee? >>>

LINK: Business Ethics and Strategic Behavior: Playing by the Rules (by [Author] in Source)

The easy solution is to lump all of this behavior together as a certain kind of “bad sportsmanship,” appealing to a principle such as: “A ‘good sportsman’ does not intentionally perform a penalized act during the game.” But this position seems unreasonable, especially to anyone who is an avid participant or fan of these kind of competitive games. Fouling in basketball, for example, is an accepted and expected strategy, and a team that doesn’t foul strategically at the end of the game is thought to be foolish….

What do you think?

p.s. Notice the false dichotomy here:
“Figuring out how to operate within the rules to give oneself a better chance of success is not being a poor sport. To the contrary, it is one characteristic of a successful player.”

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One comment

  1. On your point about mild penalties and the message they send about the acceptability of misconduct, my favorite study is Gneezy & Rustichini’s A Fine is a Price, which shows how deterrence via weak penalties is not only less effective than moral censure, it actually displaces ethical thinking by re-framing ethical issues as cost/benefit decisions.

    In the game context one is reminded of Deion Sanders’ famous description of the decision whether to tackle an oncoming running back as a “business decision.” There, the competing values weren’t rule-following vs. winning, they were doing your job vs. maximizing your long-term income by avoiding injury.

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