Is It Okay for Athletes to Trick the Referee or Umpire?

Sports columnist Robert Lipsyte cited the following play, involving Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, as a particularly egregious instance of a professional athlete being a bad role model for kids:



This topic, raised Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, seems like a good subject for debate.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that this would definitely be cheating if Jeter were playing in a sand lot game with friends, where everyone was calling their own balls and strikes. Does the presence of an umpire change things? Or take pickup basketball. On the playground, it's bad form to call a foul unless you were, in fact, hit on the arm during your dribble drive to the hoop.

But in the NBA, players are beneficiaries of bad calls all the time, and never say anything. The rationale is presumably that bad calls are part of the game, that they go both ways, and that there's no shame in taking advantage of them when you benefit, because you'll definitely suffer from bad calls too.

Notes from the Aspen Ideas Festival -- See full coverage

And it isn't like the NBA fines players for pretending that they didn't touch the ball last when it went out of bounds. The league itself seems to condone the behavior at issue. Does that matter?

What do you think? Does the presence of referees or umpires make it okay to benefit from what you know is a bad call, or even to actively mislead? Or does good sportsmanship demand more than technical adherence to the rules? Are athletes who feign being fouled doing something immoral?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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