Fraud in sports: Thru-hiking fakers

This is the second in a series of five posts on the topic of fraud in sports. The first post, from December 5, was about marathon cheaters and how they are publicly investigated and exposed. Today’s post will be about imposters and scammers in the world of thru-hiking, a hard-core and tight-knit community of athletes who long-distance hike with the objective of completing a major trail end-to-end at once. Next Tuesday’s post, on December 19, will discuss fraud in sports gambling schemes, including those committed by players and to induce people into fraudulent investment vehicles. On December 26, the next to last post will be about game fixing, describing conspiracies by players to throw games or systemic spying and cheating operations by teams and coaches. The final post in the series, on January 2, will discuss fraud in sports via doping scandals, such as in the Olympics and the Tour de France.

Thru-hiking is the endeavor of hiking a long-distance trail in full within one hiking season. In the United States, there are three main trails where these attempts are made: the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. Thru-hiking these trails can take months, passing through all kinds of remote trail and difficult weather conditions, and requiring immense planning and preparation to do so safely and with proper equipment, provisions, and support. Adjacent to thru-hiking is section-hiking, in which hikers complete parts of the same trails methodically over a longer period of time. Because of the intense nature of this activity, and the survivalist needs of the participants who camp rough along the trail and crowd-source information about conditions and news from both the outside world and further down the trail, tightly bonded communities of hikers form.

In this insular community comes a lot of trust and reliance on people’s credibility and honesty. People share materials, hike sections relying on each other’s planning and information about conditions, help each other when they are out of money or food, and generally work together to stay safe and make progress in their individual and collective efforts in the thru-hiking process. In such an intimate social group, reliance on honesty creates unfortunate opportunities for people to commit fraud and carry out scams. Sometimes these acts of dishonesty take advantage of other hikers, whereas others falsify accomplishments or misrepresent setting records.

  • In summer 2017, the story of an inspiring thru-hiker began making the rounds on social media, even receiving publicity in the press and coverage on television news. Stacey Kozel was portrayed as a hero for completing both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail as a paraplegic with lupus. Unable to use her legs unassisted, Kozel relied on specially-designed braces that allowed her to not only walk, but miraculously walk long distances. However, much like the case of marathon cheaters, the online community of thru-hikers and those who support and follow them soon became skeptical to her claims about her achievements. Thru-hikers operate on a quasi-honor system, without a self-regulatory organization to administer verification and investigation efforts when individuals proclaim that they have completed hikes or set records. However, a robust independent community exists on forums online and that community relies upon much of the same data used by marathon runner authenticators – GPS data, photographs, witnesses, and other real-time physical evidence. No one could remember seeing Kozel on most of the trail, and encounters she should have had with other hikers in rest and communal areas were totally lacking. The photographs of Kozel were mostly only taken at trailheads or other area relatlvely easy to access by driving and then walking a short distance. Kozel reiterated her claims that she did the thru-hikes, but did not stand up to continued scrutiny, and she subsequently removed most of the coverage of her purported hike from the internet. One of Kozel’s possible motivations for pretending to do the hike could have been to get publicity for her leg braces, as she stated that she wanted to be an inspirational user of them and to encourage insurance companies to cover them: How Did No One Notice This Inspirational Hiker On The Pacific Crest Trail?
  • Taking the endurance sport of thru-hiking to an all-new level, there are some individuals who take an ultra-marathon approach to completing the trial. These people aim not only to complete the trial in one go, already an audacious task, but to do so as quickly as possible, in pursuit of a record known as Fastest Known Time (FKT). In 2016, Kaiha Bertollini claimed to have set a huge FKT on the Appalachian Trail. Her announcement of her achievement was shortly followed by major doubts and dissension. Bertollini did not have a support crew, was seen drinking and smoking on the trail or even taking “zero days” where she did not hike at all despite her claim of a lightening-fast finish time, and did not produce the proof and documentation demanded by the community, claiming that her phone that held the evidence was broken. Claiming an achievement like a FKT without the requisite evidence in the 21st century, with the community’s obsessive demand for proof and data easily satisfied by all the recording capabilities technology affords, is sure to arouse criticism and mistrust: The Problem with Claiming a Fastest Known Time in the 21st Century
  • Further in the challenges of the concept of validating FKTs, the popular doubts about claims of setting records suggests that there may be some need for a more robust and reliable authentication system. As the sport grows in popularity and recognition, the unofficial arbiters of the records may need to become at least somewhat more official. In their early days, ultramarathons were plagued by the same questions about reliability of their results, as informality and athlete-driven timekeeping reigned. However, most ultramarathons now are governed by some administrative entity or a race organization, and they typically have reliable, consistent rules about the type of data that is accepted to substantiate authenticate and prevent concerns about alteration or falsification. The time could be near for thru-hiking and FKT attempters to follow suit: We Need to Re-Evaluate the Fixation with Fastest Known Times
  • On a different note, one of the reasons why most people know anything all about thru-hiking or about the trails on which it happens is because there have been several very popular books and film adaptations about the attempts of amateurs to join the sport. Two of the most famous of these books (with movies based on both) are Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” and Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild.” These books, depicting thru-hiking attempts on the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail respectively, are both bestsellers and have fascinated readers with their depictions of the authors’ amusing and emotional attempts to immerse into the lifestyle of the thru-hiker. However, a careful contemplation by a real thru-hiker would lead anyone to likely conclude that neither of these authors truly thru-hiked or accurately depicted the experience of having done so. In all cases, the authors wrote interesting, engaging books, mostly appealing emotionally to the readers by retelling the tales of their lack of preparation and overwhelmed reactions to the hike. In the end, they often had to reduce their efforts and could not meet their ambitions. Their books are more about this than they are about actually thru-hiking, and therefore they may reproduce conversations or thoughtful revelations truthfully, but the descriptions of the trails themselves, which induce many other amateur hikers to embark on journeys of their own, are perhaps not so faithful: Why the Most Popular Hiking Memoirs Don’t Go the Distance
  • Finally, a tale of an imposter scammer who chose the trusting and supportive community of thru-hiking to execute his cons: Jeff Caldwell is a serial scammer who operated for many years in the outdoor community, posing as a thru-hiker and taking advantage of fellow thru-hikers and people to whom he appealed because of this identification. He used his false accomplishments as a thru-hiker to pull off romance scams. He claimed he had completed what is known in the thru-hiking world as the Triple Crown – thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. These assumed bona fides gave him credibility in the community and made his victims easier to befriend and defraud: Inside the Mind of Thru-Hiking’s Most Devious Con Man

Check back next week, Tuesday December 19, for the third post in this series of five, which will be about fraud in sports as illustrated in sports gambling.

Fraud in sports: Marathon cheaters

This is the first of a five-part series discussing fraud in sports. This starts with today’s post which will discuss runners who have been publicly exposed as cheaters in marathons. Next Tuesday’s post will be about imposters and scammers in the world of thru-hiking, a popular endurance sport where people long-distance trail hike in areas like the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern United States or the Pacific Crest Trail which stretches from California to Washington. On Tuesday December 19, the third post will be about sports fraud via gambling, including betting by players and illicit investment schemes. The fourth post on December 26 will be about game fixing, such as the Black Sox Scandal in which several players on the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series. The fifth and final post, on January 2, will be about major doping scandals, including Lance Armstrong and allegations of systematic doping by the Russian Olympics delegation.

Marathon cheating is a phenomenon that has both fascinated and infuriated running commentators. In a community which is fixated on qualifying times, personal bests, and self-identifications as hobbyist or elite runners which can be separated by mere seconds of pace time, honesty about runner times and speeds is sacred.   In this context, runners who cut courses short, falsify results, or claim publicity for false achievements, undermine the most fundamental measures of success in the marathon running world.

  • In the 1980 Boston Marathon, Rosie Ruiz, a 26-year old New Yorker, finished first among the female runners with an impressive time of just over two hours and thirty minutes. In the face of her amazing accomplishment, Rosie was nonplussed and composed – probably because she cut the course and did not run the 26.2 miles. Ruiz had her medal revoked when other runners stated that they witnessed her running onto the course at mile 25. It turned out that she exited the marathon course near the beginning and took the subway there, where she re-entered and claimed a false victory. Upon investigation, it was discovered that Ruiz’s Boston qualification time, run in the 1979 New York Marathon (her only other marathon before), was fake also, achieved because Ruiz again cut most of the course by riding the subway to re-enter near the end. Ruiz’s fraud rocked the marathon running community, in which road racers had a strong honor code that they felt was pure and safe from cheating that had afflicted sports with equipment or environments that could be altered or adjusted for cheating: Backtalk; 20 Years Later, the Legend of Rosie Ruiz Endures
  • Kip Litton intended to be well-known far outside of his social circles in Clarkston, Michigan as a champion marathoner. However, he has gained notoriety for a different accomplishment in marathon running entirely: prolific misrepresentation of his results and of races run. As Litton shot to the head of the pack in a number of small marathons, his fellow runners became confused by and curious about his quick rise to the top. By investigating race photographs and triangulating his likely performance based upon verifiable race times and per mile paces from previous chip-timed runs, other runners discovered that Litton was falsifying his performance. He was able to pull off this fraud by strategically picking races where he could cut courses or claim to have run qualifying times without even participating at all. The evidence of Litton’s misconduct assembled by the amateur investigators is fascinating and pathological in its devotion to his fraud, even amid Litton’s disqualifications from various races after inconsistencies were pointed out to directors: Marathon Man 
  • Social media has provided a fertile environment for inventive marathon cheating. Legitimate runners who share photos showing their bibs, the identifying numbers that runners wear pinned to their chests or backs during the race, have had those photos stolen and used for bib replication. Runners then use the fake bibs to “bandit,” or run incognito and illicitly, at races. This could be to avoid paying registration fees, to falsify qualifying records, for a prank, or for a creative type of identity theft. As discussed above, the runner community is vigilantly self-policing, and the fascination with these bandits leads to far-reaching vigilante investigations and reporting to race administrators to “out” cheaters:  Inside the Weird World of Social Media Marathon Cheating 
  • The 2017 Mexico City Marathon was mired in scandal when almost 6,000 runners, nearly 20% of the field of 29,000 runner, were disqualified for cheating. Investigation showed that many runners missed timing mats. Others, however, blatantly cut the course, either by riding the subway (harkening back to Rosie Ruiz in New York in 1979 and Boston in 1980) or “bib mules,” runners who wear bibs intended for other runners who do not compete at all, in order to falsify their results (typically to post a qualifying time for Boston or another exclusive race). What exactly happened in Mexico City remains unclear, but it seems to have been a combination of opportunistic runners who took advantage of technological difficulties or shortcomings at the race, and runners cutting the course short by missing timing mats. Such a dramatic disqualification rate should lead the Mexico City organizers and indeed anyone who is behind setting up and administrating a major race event to take a deep look at their internal controls and ensure that future races are set up to diminish the possibilities for going off-course or bandit running:  What the Hell Happened at the Mexico City Marathon?
  • For runners who achieve their results legitimately, race day represents many months or even years of hard efforts brought to fruition. Therefore, for serious runners, cheating and falsifying results is a real insult to all of their work and cheapens the prestige they seek of a credible accomplishment. Therefore many marathon runners who are active in the online communities such as the LetsRun forums take their annoyance or offense at this perceived dishonesty to the next level, launching widespread investigations into uncovering and calling out impropriety. Many runners who do not cheat see those who have cut courses or faked times bragging online, promoting themselves via social media, and their outrage at these actions speaks to the philosophical morality of running. At its most elemental level, and despite the many data-driven external successes one can achieve in the sport, running is a pursuit of internal success, a battle within the self for endurance and accomplishment. Cheating hinders and harms this. People who investigate and call out cheaters hope that they are working as deterrents to runner dishonesty as well as acting as a sort of informal self-regulatory organization for the running community: How to Catch a Marathon Cheat  

For a lot more fascinating examples of and insight into marathon cheating, check out the site Marathon Investigation. Run by Derek Murphy, a business analyst, marathoner, and running fan, the site is a comprehensive survey of impropriety and cheating at marathons all over the world. It offers a really compelling look into the analytical and research aspects of investigating and tracking potential cheaters by using historical data, GPS records, published running times, maps, race photos, and much more publicly available data. For more about Murphy and his motivations and methods, read this profile.

Check back next week, Tuesday December 12, for the second post in this series of five, which will be about fraud in sports as illustrated by thru-hiking fakers and scammers.

Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Gregg Popovich

This is the fifth and final post in a month-long series profiling acclaimed sports coaches for their ethical leadership abilities. John Wooden, famed UCLA basketball coach, and his Pyramid of Success were the subject of the first post. The second post was about Johan Cruyff, world-famous Dutch footballer and international club manager, and the ethical leadership lessons of his 14 Rules. The third profile discussed Jim Valvano and his views about leadership and success as expressed in lines from his famous 1993 ESPY Awards speech. Last week’s post focused on Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, and values for ethical leaders from his famous motivational speeches.

Finally, today’s post will be about Gregg Popovich, an NBA coach who heads up the San Antonio Spurs and is well-known for his progressive and pro-active values, which often manifest in very public and political statements.

Before becoming an NBA coach, Gregg Popovich attended the United States Air Force Academy where he played basketball and majored in Soviet Studies. He served in the Air Force for five years before returning to the Academy to coach basketball there, followed by a stint as head coach at Division III Pomona-Pitzer and then assistant coach jobs in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, before returning to take a general manager job with the Spurs in 1994.

Popovich is widely considered one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history. He has been the coach of the San Antonio Spurs since 1996, making him the longest tenured active coach in not only the NBA but in all US major sports leagues. The competitive successes of the San Antonio Spurs under his stewardship are many – 20 consecutive winning seasons, five NBA championships, and more than 1,000 games won.

However, Popovich’s legacy as a winning basketball coach may be matched by his legacy as an outspoken and consistent leader on social justice issues – both in society as a whole and on the direct scale among his players. Popovich consistently uses his very visible platform to speak about inclusion, engagement, and accountability.

  • This 2007 profile of Popovich from Canada’s National Post hints at the values Popovich brings to his overall coaching vision. The profile notes that Popovich’s media profile was, at that time, lower than some other great coaches because he was not interested in self-promotion, nor did he have a singular “vision” for the team that was well-suited for branding and publicity purposes. Instead, he focused on building “strong, complicated” relationships with his players and emphasizing worldly knowledge and overall excellence alongside basketball fundamentals. This profile is especially interesting for the quote at its end, which at that time was posted in the hallway by the Spurs locker room, translated into the various languages the players on the team spoke: “When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-andfirst blow it will split in two and I know it was not that blow that did it but all that had gone before.” This view of success can only be espoused by a leader who sees the values and efforts of the organization as inseparable from those of the individual. This is a powerful and indeed empowering perspective on management as an activity and skill which serves the collective of the organization as well as each individual within it:  Popovich is a man of mystery
  • This 2013 round-up on Popovich centers on his interesting and complex personality and background, intended to fascinate basketball and sports fans. In most cases, these traits and experiences translate directly to his ethical leadership qualities as well, and the root is in Popovich’s personalized and compassionate approach to coaching individuals rather than just constructing offenses, defences, and plays in a vacuum. When he was general manager of the Spurs and the head coach wasn’t getting the job done, Popovich stepped up and put himself on the line, eventually hiring himself as head coach. He took tough decisions and made himself responsible for them, a behavior that embodies ethical leadership: An Ode to Gregg Popovich, the Most Interesting Man in the NBA
  • In 2014, Fortune included Popovich in its “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” feature. In this view, Popovich, portrayed as curmudgeonly and stoic, distinguishes his leadership by enabling his whole team, from the bench players to the superstars, to excel and achieve. His no-nonsense style focuses on character ethic, not personality ethic, which is the central value for promoting and sustaining individual integrity to then scale across the organization. Popovich’s leadership is special in this view because it is so relationship-focused, giving his players incentive to seek individual inner success, not just to please a coach or beat an opponent in a one-off, unsustainable fashion: Another victory for ‘Pop.’ Another show of leadership
  • Business Insider ran a 2016 piece on Popovich which again centered on his relationship-focused, individual-valuing coaching philosophy. His perspectives on rebounding from failure, organizational governance, and player development all fit within the broad strokes of ethical leadership. In particular, Popovich emphasizes that motivating players and resolving conflict is best accomplished through honesty and personal accountability. These is fundamental perspective for encouraging organizational and individual (employee, player, or otherwise) integrity. Again, character ethic is the most important, and this enables open communication and feed-forward development and problem-solving:  Gregg Popovich has a brilliant philosophy on handling players, and it exemplifies the Spurs’ unprecedented run of success
  • From 2017, this ESPN piece focuses on Popovich’s political engagement and public opposition to what he sees as immoral political behavior. However, the rationale for why Popovich feels so strongly about this and indeed why he feels that he has an ethical imperative to speak out loudly about it is very illustrative of his leadership views. The article shares an anecdote about a time that Popovich began a high-stakes film session by sharing his knowledge on a historical topic of personal importance to one of his players. Popovich creates an environment of inclusion on his team by making what is different between them, important and meaningful to all of them, by translating these lessons into leadership messages for all. This empathetic approach to leadership is an ultimate expression of integrity and engagement, two imperative ethical qualities in management. For the Spurs, recruiting based on diversity and then using that diversity as motivation leads to both market competition as well as organizational cohesion:  Why President Trump ignites Gregg Popovich

Hopefully this series of posts about sports coaches as ethical leaders has been entertaining and informative, lending a new perspective to management values in a different venue than the traditional corporate compliance environment. The concepts of inner success, character ethic, personal accountability, and purpose-driven life and work are all commonly endorsed by these ethical leaders as they guide their teams, which are major organizations in and of themselves, to competitive achievements with meaningful, sustainable motivations behind them.

Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Vince Lombardi

This is the fourth post in a month-long series of five that profile well-known sports coaches as examples of ethical leadership. The first post was about John Wooden and the Pyramid of Success he created while coaching basketball at UCLA. Johan Cruyff, legendary Dutch football player and manager, and the 14 Rules that are displayed at the fields that bear his name worldwide was the subject of the second post. Last Wednesday’s profile was of Jim Valvano, featuring an analysis on his views about leadership and success as featured in lines from his famous 1993 ESPY Awards speech. Today’s post focuses on Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, and his views on ethical leadership as expressed by his motivational speeches to his players and the public.

Vince Lombardi was a football player and coach who achieved great success over his 15 years working in the NFL before his death from cancer in 1970. Many critics consider Lombardi to have been one of the greatest coaches in the history of football, and this opinion was borne out in the records of the teams he coached and the accolades he received during his career. His tenure at the Green Bay Packers produced five NFL championships in the seven years from 1961-1967. He was elevated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the NFL Super Bowl trophy was named in his honor. He has been admired and revered by many professional coaches, including the subject of last week’s ethical leadership profile, Jim Valvano. Therefore the effect of his powerful leadership style which will be explored below has been a legacy which has far outlived his own career.

Lombardi is known to have been a powerful, inspiring, and complex individual as a coach. He was known for his fiery, loud temper and authoritarian ways as much as he was for his insistence upon fairness and unconditional respect for the members of his football organizations. He demanded much from his players and in return was passionately devoted to them both as teams and as individuals. He would punish or call out players who did not meet his standards for effort or commitment, but also sought to actively recognize dedication and perseverance, which he upheld as critical values for success and achievement. He was devoutly religious yet open-eyed to prejudice and discrimination, which he strove to oppose with zero tolerance, and he was notable for his largely liberal beliefs.

Following the premature end of his life in 1970, Lombardi has been revered by football’s institutions, fans of the teams he coached, and people in the communities he impacted, especially in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and New York. Plays, movies, and books have been written about his influence as a coach and leader. Lombardi’s enduring legacy has been inspiring statements from speeches he made to players and other motivational comments attributed to him. Collections of these have been published and studied both by people working in sports and by others in all walks of life.

Of course, many of these statements are relevant not just to a football team preparing for a game or a coach seeking to motivate his players, but to life in general, and to a compliance professional interested with inspiring leadership ethics in specific. In this theme, here are five famous quotes by Lombardi, annotated with tips for how to apply these sentiments in defining compliance values for individuals and organizations:

  1. “Morally, the life of the organization must be of exemplary nature. This is one phase where the organization must not have criticism.”– Moral compromise cannot be a consequence of desire for success. Core values of an organization should be sacrosanct and not up for debate or critique which is focused toward diminishing or subjugating them to commercial or external pressures.
  2. “Success demands singleness of purpose.” – As discussed in last week’s profile of Valvano, individuals who drive toward goals with a defined and committed purpose, rather than a base desire for external recognition, are best prepared for true internal achievement that is sustainable and meaningful. Ethical decision-making requires this purpose-driven approach; commitment to values is certainly deserving of that singleness.
  3. “To be successful, a man must exert an effective influence upon his brothers and upon his associates, and the degree in which he accomplished this depends on the personality of the man.” – It is not just coaches who can inspire and elevate others with their examples. All individuals must have personal accountability for their moral codes and must strive to make ethical and compliant decisions. People must recognize the huge impact that their behavior has on those around them and commit to using this influence for the collective good. No person is an island in a culture of compliance. All levels must be engaged – tone at the top, mood in the middle, buzz at the bottom – and individuals must view their own reputations and relationships with others as important extensions of the values of the organization’s compliance program.
  4. “Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.” – In a context where the organizational heuristics lean toward values-based and purpose-driven, individual ethics have a huge impact toward defining broad frameworks for making choices and defining strategy. Unethical decisions and misconduct often originate from environments where employees are isolated from the impact of their actions or where personal consequences are remote and not relatable.
  5. “A leader must identify himself within the group, must back up the group, even at the risk of displeasing superiors. He must believe that the group wants from him a sense of approval. If this feeling prevails, production, discipline, morale will be high, and in return, you can demand the cooperation to promote the goals of the community.” – Awareness and acceptance of personal accountability and consistent articulation of values and rules are critical for imbedding a culture of compliance. For that culture to succeed, leadership must speak up and out, and encourage others to safely and productively do the same. If individuals feel that their leaders espouse values, expect them to embrace those values, and provide a prevailing environment where both really matter, then the culture of compliance will be authentic and enduring.

For more powerful quotes from Lombardi on leadership and inner success, many of which are inspiring from an ethical perspective, check out the official website maintained in his name.

Also, don’t miss the final post in this series, next Wednesday, which will profile Gregg Popovich, who is the current coach of the San Antonio Spurs and is widely admired for his views on inclusion, political engagement, and personal accountability.

Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Jim Valvano

This is the third in a month-long series of five posts that analyze the ethical leadership of famous sports coaches. The first post was about John Wooden, the beloved UCLA basketball coach and creator of the Pyramid of Success. Last Wednesday’s post focused on Johan Cruyff, the acclaimed Dutch footballer and manager of Ajax, Barcelona, and Catalonia football clubs, and his 14 Rules. Today’s profile will be about Jim Valvano’s perspective on leadership and success as expressed in the famous speech he gave at the ESPY Awards in 1993.

Jim Valvano was a NCAA basketball coach for 19 years, ten of those seasons at North Carolina State. He coached his teams at NC State to many winning seasons, including two tournament championships and two regular season championships, and for several years also served as athletic director there. He was also no stranger to controversy during this time, due to accusations of rules violations involving his players’ academic qualifications and financial activities, which led to substantial administrative pressure, scrutiny, and a variety of investigations. Though these numerous investigations revealed no outright major violations in recruiting or financial practices, Valvano ultimately resigned as athletic director in 1989 and in 1990, negotiated a settlement and resigned as basketball coach as well.

Following this somewhat ignoble end to his coaching career, Valvano worked as a broadcaster and became a motivational speaker. His speeches sometimes covered his version of the controversy at NC State or offered commentary to his audiences on how to handle and get over these unfortunate events and the character and reputational damage they present. This is not an unusual path for high-profile people to take after finding themselves in crises of confidence. Practical ethics are complex and transgressions in these professional dilemmas can lead a person to a moral reckoning and awakening of the true values that matter in life and how to embrace them authentically.

Valvano’s enduring legacy is a speech he made in this exact spirit at the first ESPY Awards in 1993. He was accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award and at this time was in the throes of the glandular cancer which would take his life less than two months later. After announcing his intention to create an charitable foundation dedicated to finding the cure for cancer, he went on to speak emotionally and eloquently about individual success and his views on what made life worthwhile. This powerful perspective on purpose-driven living relied heavily on a definition of true success as inner and personal, not dictated by accolades from others or black-and-white “wins,” but rather a personal sense of accomplishment and completion that required no external justification.

This concept of internal success is important in an understanding of applied ethics and translates powerfully to a vision for individual accountability in a culture of compliance. In this theme, here are five significant statements from Valvano’s legendary speech, with suggestions for how to interpret these powerful insights for individual and organizational values to promote ethics and compliance:

  1. “To me there are three things we should all do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh… Number two is think… And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” – A balanced life is a sustainable one. This way, the pleasure of the highs will be memorable, the pain of the lows will fade, and the middle will be where the lessons from both come together for a lasting effect. As Johan Cruyff’s “Total Football” showed in last week’s profile, the only practical approach to life or business is a holistic one, with all factors and outcomes taken into fair contemplation. An even keel is a long-lasting perspective.
  2. “I always have to think about what’s important in life to me… Where you started; where you are; and where you’re going to be. Those are the three things that I try and do every day.” – This expresses a perspective on success that is grounded, measured, and reasonable. Success may be a line, or an arc, or a constellation of peaks and valleys, but the present must always maintain an attachment to the origin as well as to the ambition. This perspective can both humble and motivate individuals and organizations to consider, and be true to, their values.
  3. “It’s so important to know where you are. And I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? … I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. And you have to be willing to work for it.” – Success is equal parts planning and effort. In life as well as in business, if you don’t work for it, it’s not worth having and might not be possible to keep. Professionals should be passionate about and engaged the work that they do and the reasons for which they do it – not a paycheck or external recognition, but as Valvano says, enthusiasm, vision, and commitment. Ethical decision-making is only possible if individuals are purpose-driven and accordingly, so long as they hold themselves accountable to that purpose.
  4. “I urge all of you… to be enthusiastic every day… to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.” – Adversity is always a great challenge to character ethic. Be it accusations of wrongdoing, confrontation with personal moral failures, opposition and criticism, doubt and uncertainty, or even physical illness and disease, resilience and perseverance are the only remedy. Continuing commitment to core values, even when feeding forward input or external changes and making adjustments is necessary, as is appreciation of the work and effort required to reach goals. With this in mind, genuine inner success is achievable.
  5. “Cancer can take away all my physical ability. It cannot touch my mind; it cannot touch my heart; and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.” – The closing and perhaps most famous and poignant lines of Valvano’s speech, the lesson from Valvano’s conviction to endure despite his illness and physical diminishment is universal to all human endeavors. Dignity, legacy, and respect are not circumstantial and cannot be taken from a person unless freely compromised. This goes to the heart of personal ethics and morality – a person’s own register of right and wrong, internal governor and code should be untouchable and can be relied upon in even the darkest and most uncertain times.

For Valvano’s powerful 1993 ESPY speech, watch it here:

Don’t forget to check back for next Wednesday’s post, which will be about Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach (and the role model of Jim Valvano, as it happens), and clues about how he saw ethical leadership based on famous statements from his statements to players and motivational speeches. The final post in this series, on November 29, will profile Gregg Popovich, the current coach of the San Antonio Spurs with a progressive view toward people management of his players and political engagement as an expression of leadership.

Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: Johan Cruyff

This is the second in a month-long series of five posts that discuss successful sports coaches in terms of their ethical leadership qualities. Last Wednesday’s post was about John Wooden, the visionary UCLA basketball coach. Today’s post will focus on Johan Cruyff, the acclaimed Dutch footballer and manager of Ajax, Barcelona, and Catalonia football clubs. Next week, the profile will be about Jim Valvano’s leadership ethic as expressed in the famous speech he gave at the ESPY Awards in 1993, two mere months before he died of cancer. On November 22, the post will be about Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, and clues about how he saw ethical leadership based on some of his most famous public statements. The fifth post in this series, on November 29, will study Gregg Popovich, a current NBA coach with a progressive view toward developing his team as both players and people.

Johan Cruyff is widely thought of as one of the greatest football players of all time, having won the Ballon d’Or three times and playing many extremely successful seasons for Ajax (1964-1973) and Barcelona (1973-1978) in club play and the Netherlands (1966-1977) in international play. Cruyff is equally regarded for his impressive achievements as a club manager. His innovations while at the helm of Ajax and Barcelona football clubs laid the generational foundations of coaching philosophy that continue to shape the directions of those teams and their youth academies, as well as those of many others.

To learn more about Cruyff’s life and accomplishments as a player, read this profile from The Guardian published after his death in March 2016.

Cruyff, regarded by many as a technically perfect football player, was able to devote his energy to creative organizational strategies to make the game more cooperative and dynamic. From his perspective, technique went far beyond fundamentals of football that could be learned from rote practice of drills. Rather, real playing ability came from having a fluency and versatility with the game that allowed players to connect to one another and work in an instinctive and flexible system together on the pitch.

Cruyff also receives special mention for his approach to the game that emphasized morality via simplicity of play. While regarding football as a beautiful game, this was not merely based on entertainment value or competitive stakes that might be exciting, but also on efficiency and mental strategy, where the mind’s plan facilitates the body’s actions. This is a powerful consciousness that elevates a deeper existential, internal success over the fleeting external recognition of a win-lose result that was not achieved by a personal commitment to greatness via integrity and discipline.

Cruyff’s strong values toward the game and life are most poignantly embodied in his “14 rules,” which are displayed in each of 200 Cruyff Courts set up in countries all over the world for children to use freely to play football together.   These 14 basic rules are fundamental for all players in football match to follow, but they also provide a guiding philosophy for a values-based approach to life. Applying these as both personal and business management principles allows an individual to seek inner satisfaction and success via connections to and cooperation with others, personal accountability, authenticity, and informed ambition.

Cruyff’s 14 rules, annotated with suggestions for their application to corporate cultural principles in interests of promoting organizational and employee integrity, are as follows:

  1. Team player – To accomplish things, you have to do them together. – True success is achieved by focusing on collaboration and cooperation, not making isolated decisions in disconnected processes.
  2. Responsibility Take care of things as if they were your own. – Individual ownership of risks and recognition of each person’s role in their management is fundamental to any defense strategy as well as necessary for a genuine culture of compliance at all organizational levels.
  3. Respect – Respect one another. – Businesses must have zero tolerance for non-inclusive or abusive behavior; incidences of it must be addressed seriously and mitigated or prevented from reoccurring when possible.
  4. Integration – Involve others when possible. – Work together to share responsibility – invoking praise when duly earned, and liability when risks are not managed.
  5. Initiative Dare to try something new. – Foster and contribute to a culture of speaking up and out. Challenge heuristics and routines which can drive unethical decision making and narrow cognitive frameworks.
  6. Coaching Always help each other within a team. – Regard the organization as an interdependent unit to support an integrated style of decision-making and working.
  7. Personality Be yourself. – People should maintain their personal code of ethics and sense of right and wrong that they have in life, at work. Good people should not be afraid or unable to do good things.
  8. Social involvement – Interaction is crucial, both in sport and in life. – Be active champions for ethical processes and work together to promote them. Isolation is toxic to collective integrity.
  9. Technique – Know the basics. – Have or get the information needed to remain in constructive compliance with rules, regulations, and laws. Stay up to date or in front of them.
  10. Tactics – Know what to do. – Have a strategy that is flexible but driven by defined values and a thoughtful understanding of risks. Prepare work based on a plan and in agreed terms.
  11. Development – Sport strengthens body and soul. – Stay up to date or in front of the guidelines that form the controls framework. Feed-forward ideas, letting future productivity benefit from past performance.
  12. Learning – Try to learn something new every day. – Be open to and informed about different perspectives and opportunities. Seek knowledge and evaluate strategy based on it, not based on what is easy or fast.
  13. Play together – An essential part of any game. – Share values and manage risks by working together. Don’t be solicited for advice or seek an opinion; have an evolving and ongoing relationship.
  14. Creativity – Bring beauty to the sport. – Be passionate and on the lookout for novel approaches that will provide elegant solutions to dilemmas.

Cruyff’s 14 rules are about so much more than football or sport. These rules are succinct, relatable suggestions for how to live a moral life in harmony with others and in pursuit of self-sustaining accomplishments. This emphasis on values drives intellectual curiosity, physical effort, mental development, and individual accountability. These powerful principles promote integrity in all areas of life and work.

To learn more about Johan Cruyff and his undeniable legacy in football and leadership, check out this Football’s Greatest feature on him:

Also, make sure to read next Wednesday’s post, when this series continues on to look at Jim Valvano, a famed NCAA basketball coach and, later, broadcaster and motivational speaker, and his legendary speech at the first ESPY Awards in 1993 which makes a powerful, simple statement on integrity and internal success.

Profiles of ethical leadership in sports coaching: John Wooden

This is the first in a month-long series of five posts about historically significant sports coaches as exemplary models for ethical leadership values. Today’s post will focus on John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. November 8th’s post will analyze the famous “14 rules” of Johan Cruyff as business values to promote organizational and employee integrity. On November 15, the profile will be about Jim Valvano and the inspiring speech he gave at the ESPY Awards only two months before his untimely death in 1993. Vince Lombardi, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, and his insights on the ethics of leadership and performance will be the focus on November 22. Finally, on November 29, a contemporary coach will be the final profile along with the previous leaders from sports history, with the focus on NBA coach Gregg Popovich.

These coaches are all beloved, legendary figures whose importance in society extends far beyond their teams, and for good reason.   Beyond inspiring players and other coaches who develop with them or work alongside them, the ideas coaches share about motivation, personal growth, attitude, and performance can easily translate from the court, pitch, or field to all areas of life.

No discussion of legendary coaches in sports history is complete without mentioning John Wooden, so it is logical to start this inquiry with him. John Wooden was the head basketball coach at the University of California Los Angeles from 1948 until 1975. During that time, he coached the team to ten NCAA national championships in 12 years, seven of those in a row. For his many storied accomplishments at UCLA, Wooden was named coach of the year six times.

Apart from his winning record, Wooden is renowned for his popularity among his former players, many of whom recognized him as having shaped their lives positively. He is well-known for his organizational leadership and insights which have been translated as tips for success in life in general, often relying on simple and straightforward inspirations for positive behavior and attitude. Wooden defined many leadership and performance principles to inspire his players to achieve their best in basketball and life. These were embodied by, for example, his Seven Point Creed, which included being true to yourself, helping others, building relationships, seeking advice, and being thankful, and the Pyramid of Success.

The Pyramid of Success describes 15 blocks which, when considered in performance and strategy, support competitive achievements which can be reached through a values-based approach. These 15 qualities are: (1) industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm; (2) self-control, alertness, intitiative, and intentness; (3) condition, skill, and team spirit; (4) poise and confidence; and, culminating in, (5) competitive greatness. These are supported by, on one hand, from bottom to top: ambition, adaptability, resourcefulness, fight, and faith; and on the other hand also from bottom to top: by sincerity, honesty, reliability, integrity, and patience.

This balanced approach demands that any individual hoping to reach competitive greatness must take into consideration the personal qualities and resilience that are required to get there. In this model, quick wins or external satisfaction are not emphasized; instead, building character ethic and cultivating a measured path to the desired achievement.   These values are not special to basketball or sport. They are also not mere business principles. They are a life philosophy and paradigm which an individual can consistently carry though all of his or hers endeavors. The hard work a person devotes to the dual goals of sustaining faith and patience provide the momentum for the culmination in success.

For an interactive look at this, check out the website memoralizing him, which has a section devoted to the Pyramid of Success.

The key takeaway from the Pyramid of Success, and many of Wooden’s finer management and development insights, is that success and winning are not synonyms. A person can reach competitive greatness, the ultimate stage of the Pyramid of Success, but that does not mean the result will be winning every time thereafter. By the same token, an individual game or effort can result in a win, but that does not mean intrinsic success has been achieved in a sustainable, credible way.

In Wooden’s words in his 2001 TED talk (linked below), success is defined as “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.” This is not something others can judge or define and does not come from an external performance or perception. This sense of self-accomplishment, win or lose, prevail or fail, can only be reached through hard work, the commitment to which is supported by equal doses of patience and faith.

Watch and read Wooden’s TED talk, “The difference between winning and succeeding,” here.

Having a commitment to this internally-motivated model of success is powerful for determining that the results of one’s effort will be about the integrity with which it was made. Individuals and organizations can inspire a values-based approach to work from this management mechanism. Getting there is the most important part of the process of “being” there. If the emphasis is on winning, competition, profit, attention, and external accolades, then the internal values will be missing to sustain the accomplishment. But, if the emphasis is on growth, hard work, relationships, learning, preparing, and internal satisfaction, then the greatness achieved will last long enough to get the win and keep much more after that.

For a great study of the enduring legacy of John Wooden, check out this Sports Illustrated article by Seth Davis from March 2017.

Also, don’t forget to check back next Wednesday when this series continues on to look at Johan Cruyff, legendary Dutch footballer and manager whose coaching philosophy is credited with revolutionizing the game of football.

Round-up on compliance issues in sports

Sports and business are close partners all over the world. From this intimate relationship between athletics and commerce comes a huge variety of compliance issues. Huge revenues are made by individuals and organizations connected to all sorts of sporting events, ranging from professional leagues in the United States to the Olympics or other international competitions, and everything in between. For fans, there are demands from all directions for their attention and money. For organizations such as league administrations and companies that work servicing the sports industry, ethical issues are aplenty in their consumer and trade practices.

  • Doping has been a hot topic in competitive sports since the public controversies over the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, revelations surrounding high-profile athletes and even national athletic programs that have engaged in doping have been unrelenting. The one constant is that testing and ongoing oversight programs seem to be unable to effectively eliminate doping practices. Agencies charged with oversight over doping testing are often insufficiently supervised or resourced. In the meantime, the doping trade is continually innovating and moving into new markets, such as Ethiopia:  Inside the doping hotspot of Ethiopia: dodgy testing and EPO over the counter
  • The summer’s heavily reported-on transfer of Neymar from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain has opened up the black box of transfer protocol among elite football players and their clubs and managers. Uefa, European football’s governing body, faced tremendous public, club, and league pressure to scrutinize the trade and contract negotiations for fair play considerations. As record-breaking deals are being made by clubs, transfer rules and good faith conduct in those deals are being questioned more closely than ever:  Record Neymar transfer threatens to shake up elite football
  • The system of discipline employed by the NCAA is well-known by all college football fans. These disciplinary actions range from probation from eligibility and bans from playing in championship bowl games to restrictions on recruiting and reductions in scholarship funding. However, is this discipline fairly applied or effective in reducing or eliminating future violations? Public opinion has long been that the NCAA singles out certain institutions for sanctions while turning a blind eye to others, possibly based upon how much attention the discipline will get in the media – so is the real purpose of the discipline not really deterrence, but just naming and shaming? The efficacy of the discipline in doing much more than causing embarrassment is uncertain, throwing the whole enforcement scheme into question:  How Damaging is Probation?
  • The NFL has been the subject of ongoing academic and medical criticism for its handling of the medical issues surrounding repetitive head injuries suffered by players. Studies in brains from deceased players indicate overwhelming evidence of damage consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease which impats the brain with devastating consequences, similar to Alzheimer’s. The NFL has historically pushed back against the evidence and even refused to let players see their medical records, with their defensive motivations clear – football is big business, and if people are afraid to let kids play football, or feel it is immoral to do so, because of concussion issues, then the future of that business is in doubt:  Head Games: The Moral Calculus of Football and CTE
  • As sports and business go together, so do sports and another major revenue exploiter: gambling. While the rules of athletic bodies often prevent players from gambling to avoid match-setting, it can’t be ignored that the tone of much of the culture around watching sports, at least, is dominated by betting companies. Gambling advertising regulations in sport are certain to be considered in response to the obvious commercial pressures that come from these advertisements which are splashed all over stadium interiors and television broadcasts:  High stakes for gambling firms as pressure grows to curb role in sport

Like the markets and the economies of the world, sports are becoming increasingly globalized as well. As athletes move around the world from one country to the next to work and compete, and as business standards are translated across cultures, expectations and norms become all the more complicated. The business of sports is sure to be a growth area for compliance considerations as the entertainment aspect of athletics continues to expand.