17 March 2008

For Want of a Moral Standard

The Week One pre-class readings for RIT's Spring Quarter session of Business Ethics included pages 1-18 of the course text, Ethical Theory and Business Practice, and an article entitled "Baseball, Steroids, and Business Ethics: How Breaches of Trust Can Change the Game," published by the Knowledge@Wharton Network. From the very well-written overview of Major League Baseball's steroid scandal, I generally agree with Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer's conclusive statement that what the MLB needs now is "an obvious and clear commitment to principles" as Commissioner Bud Selig seeks to close the door on the "Steroid Era." It is an issue of developing and sticking to a moral standard in a land where there is none.

On page 3 of Ethical Theory and Business Practice, we learn that "one common observation in business is that self-interest and good ethics generally coincide" and that "we continually hear that good ethics is good business." In the matter of the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in Baseball, however, bad ethics still seems to be good business. While the now famous "Mitchell Report" exposes many high-profile MLB athletes as 'roid users, stadium seats are still filling up as usual. As a baseball fan, this display of the robustness of America's pastime somewhat pleases me--and as a human being, the lack of awareness or seemingly total disregard for the "ethically toxic atmosphere" (Baseball, Steroids, and Business Ethics) in the Game is somewhat alarming. It is an indicator that we really don't have a bottom-line standard for what morality in professionally sports should be.

The failure of both myself and the world-at-large to notice the lack of a moral standard until now has contributed greatly to the mess that Senator George Mitchell's report has brought about. Ten years ago there was rumor of steroid use amongst the two front-runners in the great home-run race of '98, Sammy Sosa ending the season with 66 dingers and new champ Mark McGwire with 70. Two players eclipsing a 37-year old mark in a single season raised eyebrows, but no real questions. MLB baseball didn't act at all until 2002, acting prudently and imposing immediate albeit light punishments for offenders to a little-known drug policy. Actions are often more important to external stakeholders--baseball fans in this case--than the actual motivation behind the actions ( Ethical Theory, 3). Prudence took precedence over morality and it suited us just fine. After all, how do we create a moral solution to a problem such as steroid usage that we don't universally think of as immoral?

There are many ethical principles which could easily be brought into the fold of Major League Baseball's Steroid Era, however to me, the underlying fault is the inability of the fan-base, coaches, owners, and administrators to determine the moral standard. An approach needs to be chosen and the true moral standard this issue has hidden so well needs to be identified. I say it's an issue of the right versus wrong of building an unfair competitive advantage in a system that touts itself as fair. Professional sports in the United States is about talent, skill, and hard work--not the accessibility of a drug boost.


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