COMMENTARY 974.3: The Pressure to Win in Sports and Business

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.

Comments 6

  1. My brother is a high school basketball coach. He has coached at several high schools and has taken one of his team’s to the State championship tournament. In one of his stints the alumni of the school drove him out because his win-loss record was not up to par. In support of him I wrote the following:

    Success in coaching is not measured by the number of wins and losses. My brother

  2. Dear Michael:

    Some schools and some coaches seem able to win games, educate student-athletes, promote fair play, and inspire respect in the public-at-large. Frank Beamer, Head Football Coach at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA), has, for 26 years, led his alma mater to the top of the NCAA rankings on the field and in the classroom. Coach Beamer’s teams have played in 20 consecutive postseason bowl games (winning the Orange Bowl twice) while graduating 80% of its players in 6 years or less, as compared to a 59% graduation rate of football players, on average, from all large publicly-funded 4-year universities. Gregg Easterbrook, of the Atlantic magazine and ESPN.com’s “Tuesday Morning Quarterback,” has dedicated two chapters to Coach Beamer and Virginia Tech in his recent book about the impact of football on our nation, “The King of Sports.” Coach Beamer deserves the attention he receives.

  3. Cheating in sports begin quite early! Today, my grandson was bitten on his arm by his opponent when the scoreboard showed that my grandson listed 4 while his opponent listed 0 (ZERO). This is AAU wrestling! The referee didn’t hear my grandson screaming that his opponent bit him! There were 5 teeth marks on my grandson’s arm. These boys do not weigh more than 60 lbs! It is a disgrace when parents defend their children’s lack of ethical practice. Because they claim that no skin was broken and no blood leaked, it was OK! It is frightening to see children being influenced to cheat for only one purpose-WIN @ all cost!

  4. Coaches receive too much credit for the wins and too much blame for the defeats- A coach has done his or her job if he turns out players with character, integrity and who are contributing members to their communities and who are not characters- Did I lead a good life or did I live the good life? Many have lived the later, few have lead the former-

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