Integrity

Maintaining the Integrity of the Game

Yesterday I wrote a post about the character lessons children can learn while participating in team sports. I also included warnings to parents hoping to avoid the dangers of undermining what our kids could learn. Unfortunately, ESPN reported today that Little League Baseball has stripped the 2014 US Little League World Series title from the Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) team due to the actions of some of the adults involved.

According to the report, the team manager and the Illinois District 4 Little League administrator used falsified boundary maps to recruit better players from other districts to “build what amounts to a superteam.” These actions violated the Little League rules that are meant to ensure that all teams have an equal opportunity to advance through the tournaments and reach the World Series. Building an all-star team from multiple districts is a clear violation.

After discovering the violations and taking action, Little League International CEO Stephen D. Keener stated:

For more than 75 years, Little League has been an organization where fair play is valued over the importance of wins and losses. This is a heartbreaking decision. What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of, but it is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.

As our Little League operations staff learned of the many issues and actions that occurred over the course of 2014 and prior, as painful as this is, we feel it a necessary decision to maintain the integrity of the Little League program. No team can be allowed to attempt to strengthen its team by putting players on their roster that live outside their boundaries.

The most difficult part of this entire situation is that a lack of integrity on the part of adults has cost a group of boys their championship. The players did not conspire to manipulate the system; instead, it was men they should have been able to trust—coaches and local league administrators—who violated that trust and the rules.

This is a problem that is all too common in children’s sports. Adults get so focused on winning that they will sacrifice their integrity and reputations for a trophy.

When I was in college, I worked as a little league umpire for a couple of summers. One encounter with a coach still sticks out in my mind. I was calling balls and strikes from behind the plate when a boy hit the ball to right field. He hustled around the bases and slid into third just as the throw arrived. I had done what I was trained to do by running up the third baseline from home plate as I saw a play was going to happen at third base. I was standing less than six feet from the bag and watched the runner slide underneath a tag and called him safe. Immediately, a coach from the first base dugout came running across the diamond yelling at me about my call. I turned and instructed the coach to stop right before she got to the pitcher’s mound and return to the dugout. I reminded her that I had the authority to throw her out of the game if she continued to question the call I was clearly in position to make better than she could have. For the rest of the game, she grumbled about my calls and questioned my ability in front of her players in the dugout. Her actions said more about her character than my ability.

For these players from Chicago, their team’s reputation is tainted through no fault of their own. In addition, they have been shown a very poor example of how adults are to conduct themselves. The adults in this case lost sight of the most important thing—that the kids learn how to play the game with integrity. Instead these adults sent the message that you win at all costs, rules don’t apply, and integrity doesn’t matter.

Do we really want to bring up a generation of young men and women who are taught that you play to win even if it costs your name? Scripture teaches that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1). If your name and reputation are more important than great riches, then surely they are more important than a trophy.

If we expect our kids to grow up and act like adults, then we need to act like adults. Let’s teach our kids how to play with integrity. Let’s teach them how to build a reputation. Let’s teach them that there is more to life than simply winning a game.

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Tom Farrey, “Little League punishes Chicago team,” ESPN.com, February 11, 2015.

*Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Good Reading: Founding Virtues and Class Divisions in America

I have been reading a book that was recommended to me on a number of occasions because of my interest in marriage, family, and culture. The book is Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray. I am about two-thirds of the way through the book, but I have come across a few interesting nuggets that I would like to share.

Without going into the entire premise of the book, I need to set the stage. Murray tracks the changes in “White America” (excluding all minorities) to see if such changes reflect similar changes in the minority populations. While much sociological research typically compares minority populations to whites with the understanding that a white majority is a fairly static baseline, Murray seeks to demonstrate the vast changes in white America that have taken place in the last 50 years.

The second section of his book addresses four “founding virtues” that he deems critical to the American experiment for the first 185 years of the nation’s existence. These virtues are marriage, industriousness, honesty, and religiosity. Let me share a few of his observations on these virtues, specifically as they relate to “white America.”

Marriage

It’s even worse than it looks. The pessimistic title of this section springs from my belief that families with children are the core around which American communities must be organized–must, because families with children have always been, and still are, the engine that makes American communities work–and from my conclusion that the family in Fishtown [bottom 30% in education, bottom 50% in income, typically blue-collar or low-skill white collar jobs, working class] is approaching a point of no return.

Industriousness

In 1960, 81 percent of Fishtown households had someone working at least 40 hours per week, with Belmont [upper 20% in education, affluent, white-collar jobs, upper-middle class] at 90percent. by 2008, Belmont had barely changed at all, at 87 percent, while Fishtown had dropped to 60 percent. And that was before the 2008 recession began. As of March 2010, Belmont was still at 87 percent. Fishtown was down to 53 percent.

Honesty

I am not arguing that people of integrity never declare bankruptcy. Rather, I am arguing that there are always temptations to get into debt and always patches in life where finances become dicey. In a nation where integrity is strong, the effects of temptations and of rough patches are damped down. That trendline . . . showing a quadrupling of personal bankruptcies over a period that included one of the most prosperous decades in American history, looks suspiciously like a decline in personal integrity.

Religiosity

Many Americans still feel that they are supposed to be religious, and so they tend to tell interviewers that they profess a religion even if they haven’t attended a worship service for years. They also tend to tell interviewers that they attend worship services more often than they actually do. In the GSS, about a third of all whites who say they profess a religion also acknowledge that they attend no more than once a year. It seems reasonable to assume that, for practical purposes, these people are as little involved in religious activity as those who profess no religion. . . . If we think in terms of disengagement from religion, Fishtown led the way, and the divergence was significant. In the first half of the 1970s, about 10 percentage points separated Belmont from Fishtown. Over the next three decades, disengagement increased in Belmont to 41 percent in the last half of the 2000s. In Fishtown, the religiously disengaged became a majority amounting to 59 percent.

So far, Murray’s book is an interesting read. The impact of these societal trends on the church is also an intriguing question. Do you think they are having an impact?