Sacrificing Integrity on the Altar of Success

I really enjoy the game of baseball. A good day for me is to be able to relax and watch a baseball game. An even better day for me is to watch my son play baseball. The nuances and intricacies of the game are what make it appealing to me. It is truly a thinking man’s game. While entirely a team sport, the individual element cannot be ignored. Some positions demand and receive more attention than others. At the crack of the bat, nine players must individually react correctly so that he team achieves its purpose. A manager may position a player or call for certain sequence of pitches based on how an individual players tends to hit. One player can make a difference, good or bad.

There is one season of baseball that I find simply fascinating. What is that season? The Little League World Series. There is something so intriguing, something so refreshing, something so innocent about 11-13 year olds demonstrating a love for the game of baseball that that gone virtually unchanged since its beginning. There are so many positives to be found in the Little League World Series. The principle of teamwork is put on display. Sportsmanship takes center stage. Communities are brought together and strengthened through the play of these kids. There is also a cross-cultural element to the games. The Little League World is made up of teams from both the United States and countries around the world. These games give each team an opportunity to learn about the culture and language of the others by eating, playing, and spending down time together while in Williamsport. For some, this may be the only time they ever meet someone from a different country. Perhaps the greatest positive of the Little League World Series can be easily overlooked. If you look closely on the left sleeve of the player’s uniform, there is a small yellow uniform patch that reads, simply, “I Won’t Cheat”. The genesis of this patch is the I Won’t Cheat Foundation formed by former Atlanta Brave Dale Murphy. The foundation exists to rid the sports world of illegal drugs, while challenging kids to resist the temptation to cheat in sports, school, and in life. This emphasis was embraced by Little League World in the summer of 2008.

Why is this so important? It seems that every day some professional athlete is accused of or confesses to the use of what are known as PED (Performance Enhancing Drugs), most simply known as steroids. Steroids chemically altar the body and produces muscle mass, which, in return, makes the individual stronger. This “artificial strength” gives the athlete a physical edge over their fellow athletes who choose not to cheat. Steroids are currently a prime-time scandal in big league baseball. Who could forget the summer of 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire battled for the single-season homerun record held by Roger Maris? Who could forget that twelve years later Mark McGuire would admit to cheating? Who could forget Barry Bonds, who in 2007, broke Hank Aaron’s record and become Major League Baseball’s all-time homerun leader? Who could forget that his career, as well as the record, is clouded by allegations of cheating? Who could forget the thirteen Major League Baseball players who were suspended earlier this month for being involved with steroids, including Alex Rodriguez?

Why cheat? I am in no position to say for sure why these players chose to cheat (if it turns out they did). If I had to guess, I would say it has something to do with the desire to be successful. Aren’t they already successful? What good is success if you have to sacrifice your integrity along the way? What good is putting up big numbers that lead to big contracts if you have to constantly answer rumors of cheating? Cooperstown rewards players on their character, integrity, and sportsmanship as much as it does on batting averages, homeruns, and games played in succession. I wonder how many Major League Baseball players could wear the “I Won’t Cheat” uniform patch and truly mean it?

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