Playing by the Rules: Ethics and Values Come First

There is extreme pressure in team sports to win – at all costs. At the collegiate level, winning impacts endowments, student enrollment, scholarships, ticket sales, national rankings and recognition. At the professional level, winning has a direct correlation with ticket sales, sponsorships, free agent signings and team adoption.

In recent news, we have seen the ramifications of leadership’s decision to cut corners to get ahead and be (or remain) competitive and relevant:

University of North Carolina survives seven years of an NCAA investigation into alleged academic fraud (10/13) – UNC has been investigated for creating fictitious courses to help women’s and men’s basketball players improve their academic standing. In spite of this ruling, its negative impact on the academic institution will be long-lasting.

 Braves General Manager John Coppolella resigns (10/2) due to signing breaches – Major League Baseball has undergone an extensive investigation into the actions of Atlanta Braves GM John Coppolella. He has been cited for repeated violations of rules related to signing of international players. Its final ruling against the Braves is due to be released any day.

Numerous NCAA college basketball coaches and others indicted by FBI for corruption and bribery (9/26) – Rick Pitino, former Louisville Men’s College Basketball coach, headlines a list of individuals who received bribes and direct payments from Adidas in return for signings and promises of future endorsements by the players.


Is there corruption in all sports that goes on without punishment? Sure. Are there collegiate and professional organizations that do things the right way, regardless of the advantages realized by cutting corners? Definitely.

There are several clichés that speak volumes regarding why it’s important to do things ethically within your organization:

You can’t take an elevator from the lobby to the penthouse. You must take the stairs. This saying is so true. There are no shortcuts to success. Build your team’s foundation the right way and make sure everyone is bought in to what you are trying to accomplish.

If it seems too easy, it probably is. In team sports, working harder than the competition both in the offseason and during the season are key to winning on the field. Conditioning, film review, planning and collaboration among staff and players is critical. The same goes for the business workplace. Set your vision and communicate it to ensure buy-in; assess, develop and manage your talent; make a personal connection with each member of your team; set stretch goals for each team member based on their shared goals.

Walk the walk and talk the talk. True role models lead by example through their words and actions. As a leader in your organization, it’s important to set realistic expectations for your team and support them however is needed to ensure success, whether it be time, money or resources.

Play by the rules. Make sure your team understands the standards and rules that govern their work, whether they are imposed by laws, industry mandates or your organization. Provide oversight and constant reminders to the team of what must be done to follow the rules that are in place.

What are you doing to make sure you “win” the right way? Set the bar high, but make sure ethics, values and morals are not sacrificed in the process.

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