This is the first in a series of five posts on the topic of integrity of game play. Today’s post will be about player misconduct, such as penalty embellishment, individual cheating and misconduct, and time offenses. Next week’s post, on February 28, will be about the ethics of tanking. The third post, on March 7, will be about referee bias. The fourth post, on March 14, will be about institutional cheating. The fifth and final post, on March 21, will be about the unethical leadership of coaches.
Player misconduct is any instance of an act committed by a player which is unfair, contrary to the laws of the game, or interferes with other players or the active play of the game. These acts can occur in a variety of circumstances, including during active game play, when the play is paused, during intermissions, or before and after the game. Some types of misconduct – such as those that are eligible for disciplinary sanction, including cautioning or dismissal from the game – are subject to significant referee discretion or technical construction. Other types of misconduct – such as those fraudulent acts by players that are the result of sustained conspiracies or pre-meditated efforts to cheat – can be more subtle, harder to detect, and challenging to prevent or punish effectively.
Players may be motivated into misconduct out of emotion, competitive ambition, game dynamics toward some outcome or interaction with another player, or, like many other fraudulent acts that threaten game integrity, desire for financial gain and future success. No matter the varied reasons for why players engage in malfeasance, it remains true that these misconduct events happen across all sports, all national cultures, and all types of events. Furthermore, manipulation of plays and games by player misconduct negatively impacts the integrity of sporting events and interferes in the unadulterated experience of sporting with real stakes that other participants and fans expect and deserve.
- Penalty embellishment – Penalty embellishment generally describes anytime that a player seeks to gain unfair competitive advantage by exaggerating contact with another player in order to imply that a foul has been committed against him or her. Assessments of whether players are embellishing penalties are highly subjective and can become notorious personality evaluations of various players who are accused of chronic or shameless embellishment. These pretended injuries or simulated contacts with other players are a fundamental exercise in dishonesty and player misconduct which impugns the quality and veracity of game play. In various sports penalty embellishment takes different typical forms, as described below.
- Diving (football) – In football (referred to as soccer within the United States), penalty embellishment is also referred to as diving. Players do it in pursuit of chances to score via free or penalty kicks or in order to cause the opposing player to be sanctioned by the referee and therefore unduly disadvantaging the other team. Diving is actively studied as a powerful example of “non-verbal deception.” Leagues have begun to give out punishments and fines more frequently for diving, as the practice of exaggerating contact and injury has the potential to endanger or slow response to other players who are in actual danger. Footballers who become known for chronically diving further face the reputational damage of being labelled as perpetrators of this deceptive behavior. Check out these examples of diving from 2017:
Diving is also practiced by players in hockey, where perpetrators are subject to 2-minute penalties for embellishment and can receive fines as supplemental discipline for repeat offenses. Check out this compilation of diving in the NHL:
- Flop – Similarly, in basketball, flopping is when players fall on purpose after minimal or no contact from another player in order to provoke referees into calling a personal foul. This way the player who flops wishes to be awarded free throws and possession of the ball or possibly to cause the opposing player to be fouled out and dismissed from the game. Flopping has been regulated against in the NBA since 2012 with the potential of fines and, like diving, subjects inveterate practitioners of it to public scorn. Nevertheless, many players in the NBA do it and even see it as a form of strategy which they practice and perfect over the course of their careers, much to the derision of some of their peers but possibly to their own competitive benefit. This archived Grantland post gives an interesting perspective on the long history of flopping: Flopping in the NBA: A History of (Non)violence. Check out this collection of floppers from the NBA:
- Time offenses – Time offenses generally refer to the actions of a player or players on one team which use up the remaining time on the clock but don’t serve any other tactical or strategic purpose. This is possible in any sport which is timed and therefore is a prevalent practice employed to prevent the other team from getting adequate opportunity to score before the period of the game or the game itself ends. Players will often do this when their team is winning by a small margin, or tied, in sports where overtime play is possible and/or regulation ties or non-regulation losses are still awarded points.
- Time-wasting – The term time-wasting typically applies to football. Late in the game, such as during the extra minutes from injuries or other stoppage, substitute players are brought on and time can be wasted both by exiting and entering players who do so deliberately slowly. These and other less obvious forms of time-wasting, such as putting the ball out of play from the corner or returning to the ball to play slowly, can subject players to punishment. Check out these ridiculous and overt examples of time wasting by footballers:
- Running out the clock – Running out the clock is a form of clock (mis)-management which is employed by American football players in the NFL. Teams on the offense which are also leading on the scoreboard will plan their play strategy with minimal risk in order to run the time from the clock and avoid the potential of losing possession or having the ball go out of bounds. Basic rushing plays down the middle of the field or multiple quarterback knees are often used as teams trade the chance of additional scoring for relative security as the remaining time in the game drains away. Here’s an example from 2016 of players deliberately holding the other team’s defenders in bear-hugs in order to run out the clock (notice all the flags on the play):
- Equipment cheating – Equipment cheating is a ubiquitous risk across many different sports, in any situation where the condition of accessories used by the players can be doctored or falsified. In baseball or cricket, bats can be “corked” – filled with an artificial material to make them lighter and easier to hit a ball farther with them. In tennis, rackets can be strung illegally. In golf, players can use clubs which violate weight and size regulation. In cycling, bikes can be altered so that they perform and operate unnaturally in comparison with normal equipment. This can be referred to as “technological doping” – a threat to the integrity of the sport which comes not from illegal performance enhancing-drugs, but in fact from performance enhancing-equipment that has been fraudulently adjusted. Check out this article on “technology doping” in cycling from 2016: What’s Next for Sport After Cycling’s Technology Doping Shame?
Check back next week, Wednesday February 28, for the second post in this series of five, which will discuss the ethics of tanking, such as the Philadelphia 76ers and “trust the process” and the Astros tanking strategy for World Series contention.