COMMENTARY 867.3: The Pressure to Win in Sports and Business

by Michael Josephson on February 18, 2014

in Commentaries, Sportsmanship

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A former successful college coach and athletic director once wrote me a note about the state of college sports.

The pressure to win in high-profile schools is so great, he said, that it’s almost impossible to resist rationalizing. When competitors cheat or engage in other unethical conduct, the tendency is to redefine the ground rules for competition rather than be at a disadvantage.

He compared the way win-hungry boosters blur the vision and undermine the integrity of coaches and administrators with the way money-hungry shareholders stress stock prices, which promotes accounting manipulation and other ethical shortcuts.

In sports, outsiders who aren’t concerned with a college’s educational mission or notions of sportsmanship and character building promote a “no excuses” demand on coaches that can transform an athletic program into a business driven by the pursuit of money and glory.

In business, shareholders (from day traders to money managers of mutual and pension funds) who aren’t concerned with the ethics or long-term viability of a company create pressures and incentives that can promote short-term decision making and undermine the economic and moral health of their firm.

We need people to act as guardians who will understand and protect the soul of their enterprise. Coaches should be allowed to think about more than winning, and business executives should be given the opportunity to consider more than stock prices and short-term profits.

If we don’t recalibrate our incentive systems and insulate coaches and managers from unhealthy influences, things will only get worse.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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