Totally Unacceptable

For those of us who love the game of baseball, there is disbelief and anger.

The St. Louis Cardinals, one of the iconic franchises in all of sports, is being investigated to determine if team personnel hacked into the computer network of the rival Houston Astros, to steal information.

According to the New York Times, “investigators uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into the network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.”

This wasn’t hacking by foreign nations to steal documents, or by cyber-criminals looking to raid bank accounts. We’re talking about an act of corporate espionage that would represent an enormous breach of ethical conduct.

It’s sickening.

The Cardinals long have been an admired organization, as respected as any in baseball. Since 1900, the franchise has 11 World Series titles, second only to the New York Yankees. But it is more that.

A Storied Franchise

This is the franchise of Stan Musial, one that has represented its sport with honor, class, and grace. It’s an organization that has earned the respect and trust of fans by playing the sport the right way. Everything about the Cardinals reeks of a franchise worthy of our respect. The Cardinals uniform is one of the best in all of sports. The fans are among classiest and most knowledgeable in baseball.

If you are the Mom or Dad of a young baseball player, the Cardinals might be the team you would want to see your son play for, if he couldn’t land with the home team.

And now, the FBI and Justice Department are investigating an egregious act of cheating they believe was perpetrated by members of the storied Cardinals franchise. We don’t know whether anyone on the Cardinals did anything wrong. Though subpoenas reportedly have been served, no one has been charged with a crime.

According to the New York Times report, federal authorities believe that someone in the Cardinals front office may have tried to exact revenge on Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow, or may have been trying to find out if the former Cardinals executive had used Cardinals’ proprietary information to start an information system with the Astros.

Whatever the impetus, hacking into another team’s computer network would constitute a serious violation.

Actions have Consequences

If the Cardinals organization was responsible for this cyber-attack on the Houston Astros, Major League Baseball should take a strong stand. Make it clear that conduct undermining the integrity of the sport will be met with the harshest of penalties.

Those who commit serious violations of competitive integrity should be banished. Why would you want them representing your sport? Kick them out of the league.

Honor the Game

It’s frustrating to see the impact of these stories about a lack of character. Unethical behavior undermines sport. It erodes the concept of an even playing field.

It’s time for sports leagues to band together and send a collective message that integrity is at the heart of competition. That winning with honor is vital to every sport. And, that those who attempt to circumvent the rules to gain an advantage, will face stiff penalties, up to and including banishment, for the most serious violations of competitive integrity.

Teams and players should support this policy. The players associations in the various sports should welcome it, rather than oppose it. Protecting those who damage the sport through deliberate actions that compromise integrity, doesn’t make sense. Unethical conduct dishonors the work of those playing by the rules. Players work too hard to have the outcome of games influenced by those who lack integrity.

Enforcing the Rules

Each league should start by conducting a complete evaluation of its rule book. Each sport has rules that are being ignored or interpreted much differently from the rule as stated. Poorly written rules should be re-written or eliminated. And, any rule that isn’t going to be enforced, should be done away with.

Every rule regarding integrity of the game issues should be carefully reviewed to determine its value. For a rule to remain, it must be clearly defined, it must be enforceable, and there has to be a commitment to apply the rule consistently. In each case, an effort must be made to provide sufficient penalties to discourage those willing to break the rules.

You have to make the risk greater than the reward.

And, if integrity is truly important to your league, then help to make it a priority at the youth level. Future pro players are forming competitive habits that will influence the way they behave years from now, both on and off the field.

The emphasis must be on winning with integrity. Parents and youth coaches should talk more with young athletes about the importance of competing honorably and responsibility.

You want to know why I founded Even Field™? This is it.

Like many of you, I love sports. There is so much that can be learned playing team sports that can help you off the field. The character habits that are formed stay with us the rest of our lives. And, it’s those character traits that largely will determine how well we interact with others.

The Way You Win Matters™. It’s about being a person others can trust, in sports, business, and life.

Baseball’s Challenge

Baseball is a sport that needs to do everything right if it is to continue to engage the interest of young people. It’s a slower-paced game than kids generally like to watch or play, and hitting a baseball is challenging. It can take time to develop a passion for the sport.

Faced with an ethical scandal, Major League Baseball has to get this right, and show everyone the way the sport values its integrity.

Photo Credit: Missouri Division of Tourism via Flickr

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