Sadly, the words honor and sport rarely show up in the same sentence these days. Last week's revelations about corruption in FIFA came right on the heels of Tom Brady and Deflategate.
In all of the recent turmoil, the thing that has saddened me most is the attitude taken by so many people in professional sports. This is what I keep hearing:
- "Everybody cheats."
- "A real competitor will look to every possible advantage."
- "If I don't cheat, the competition is going to get an unfair advantage on me."
- "It's as American as apple pie."
When you look at the history of sport, you can't help but acknowledge the truth of some of these sentiments.
From the Black Sox scandal of 1919 to the point shaving scandals of the 1950s in college basketball to the recent performance-enhancing drug use in everything from cycling to football, it seems that most every sport has its share of dishonorable behavior.
While this troubles me, it also makes me think of how proud I am to be associated with the most honorable sport of them all: Golf. It is the one sport where players -- including those at the highest levels of the profession -- are called upon to police themselves. Violations of even the most arcane rules are enforced and penalties are assessed, even in cases where the infraction does nothing at all to provide a competitive advantage.
The history of golf has seemingly endless examples of players who have penalized themselves for accidental violations that were seen by no one else and that would never otherwise have come to light.
Perhaps the most shining example of this took place at the 1925 U.S. Open when the legendary Bobby Jones (no relation) assessed a penalty against himself that would eventually cost him the title. As Jones was addressing the ball in the rough, the ball moved almost imperceptibly. Walter Hagen, playing with Jones at the time didn't see it. The spectators didn't see it. Neither caddie saw it.
But Jones saw it.
He assessed himself a one-stroke penalty. Without the penalty, Jones would have won the Open by a stroke. With it, he ended up in a 36-hole playoff, one which he would ultimately lose.
When a reporter wanted to interview him about this selfless act, Jones wanted no part of it.
Just last year, Cameron Tringale, a young and talented golfer, finished in 33rd place at the PGS Championship. After the 72nd hole, he signed his scorecard and took home a check for $53,000.
On the final hole of the tournament, Tringale just needed to tap in a three inch putt to finish his round. While approaching the hole to tap it in, the putter may or may not have swung over the ball. Since this was not an attempt in his mind, Tringale did not record it as a stroke.
When he returned home though, Tringale couldn't escape the nagging doubts -- could he have possibly violated the rule? If there was even a hint of doubt, Tringale wanted no part of it.
Based on the fact that there "could be the slightest doubt that the swing [was] over the ball" Tringale informed the PGA of America that a penalty should be assessed. Because he had signed an improper scorecard, the penalty effectively disqualified him from the tournament.
These are just two out of countless instances of golfers doing the right thing. It's just the way the game is played. Parents teach their children much more than just a game when they put a golf club in their hands. They teach patience, diligence and most of all, honor.
All of this brings me back to Tom Brady and Deflategate. Brady, at least for now, is slated to miss the first four games of the year. Investigators found "substantial and credible evidence" to conclude he was aware of what was going on.
The hue and cry following this report was enormous. Brady was attacked on all sides and was relentlessly pursued by the media.
So what did Brady do to get away from the furor? He played a round of golf with Michael Jordan.
When I heard about this, the wheels in my brain started to turn. It was a hope -- more of a fantasy really.
I imagined that sometime in the middle of the round Brady accidentally causes his ball to move ever so slightly. In my fantasy, the golf gods look down upon Brady and he has an epiphany about sports, honor and character.
In my mind's eye, Brady calls the penalty on himself, returns home from the course, provides the NFL Commissioner with a complete mea culpa and takes his punishment like a man.
Of course that's just my fantasy -- call it Brady's Moral Mulligan. Not going to happen, of course. But the fact remains that the ancient game of golf has something important it can teach the men and women of modern sports. Let's hope more of them start learning the lesson.
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