Saturday, November 22, 2008

Weekend Potpourri:
Is Integrity Inherent In Running?

"The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." -- Thomas Babington Macaulay

I had every intention of blogging about my long run today—how I pounded out 18 miles in sub freezing temperatures with a wind chill in the teens and wind gusts up to 25 miles an hour. But before I was even able to entertain the question of how or where I was to run the tough middle miles, I noticed my hands getting cold and numb (even as my head and body was sweating!) after just the first loop around Central Park. As a result, for health reasons, I was forced to terminate my run after only 6 miles today. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with myself and the weather.

So instead I am going to tell you a fascinating story that I read in the news a couple of days back which had me thinking about the integrity of our sport…

The story involves a lesser known PGA golfer named J.P. Hayes and what he did during the second stage of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last week. You can read the full account of the tale here, but essentially the highlights are:

  • During the 12th hole of the first round, Hayes inadvertently played two shots with a different model golf ball than the one he had used to start the round.
  • When he realized his mistake in the middle of the hole, he acknowledged his mistake, called an official over, and incurred a two-stroke penalty for the hole. According to golf experts, if he had not admitted his own mistake, it would have been impossible for anyone else (except for maybe his caddie) to have known about it otherwise.
  • Even after incurring the penalty, Hayes still shot a 74 in Round 1 and a 71 in Round 2, putting him in good shape to finish within the top 20 and advance to the qualifying finals in December. Of note, finishing well in this qualifying tournament affords the golfer automatic entry into major PGA Tour events the following year.
  • Later that night, while relaxing in his hotel room (after Round 2), he suddenly realizes that the errant golf ball he had used in the 12th hold of Round 1 might not have been on the approved list.
  • He had a choice: He could have said nothing and kept playing, with no one aware of his mistake. Or he could turn himself in and let his mistake cost him a 2009 PGA Tour card.
  • He chose the latter.
  • When asked about his decision afterwards, Hayes nonchalantly replied “I would say everyone out here (on the PGA Tour) would have done the same thing.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I found this story absolutely fascinating and intriguing on so many levels. How someone can be so forthright and honest that he calls a penalty on himself and then disqualifies himself from a tournament that essentially eliminates him from active competition in 2009 just boggles my mind. In this day and age of professional athletics, where it seems like every other story is about instant replay, bad officiating, gambling scandals and doping controversies, it is so awkwardly strange to hear about a sporting culture that is fundamentally built on honesty, integrity, and trust as in golf. Can you imagine if baseball, or basketball, or even tennis operated on such a premise—where ballplayers will say to the ump, “You know…I know you called Ball Four, but I really swung across the plate so I’m just going to go back to the bench now.” or the point guard will go to the referee and say “Sorry ref, I know you missed it, but I hit his arm as he was releasing his shot…please give him a free throw.” That would be so weird, I’m not even sure I can imagine such a scenario. Then I started to ask myself if I can find a corollary in the sport of running. Is there a scenario where our integrity is similarly tested--where our character is in full display for others to bear witness?

Off the top of my head, I can think of one such example.

Somewhere in the middle miles of the New York City Marathon, in a remote section of Queens that is distinctly unpopulated and for the most part, deafeningly quiet, there is a playground/soccer field around which the marathon course travels. Although I’ve rarely seen children play there in the three years that I’ve run the race, I’m no less shocked and bothered by the gamesmanship tactics and unsportsmanlike actions I see all around me in my travels through that neighborhood. No, I’m not talking about kids pushing, shoving, or kicking each other as they chase after a ball. I’m talking about my fellow competitors who jump off the course, onto the sidewalk, and back onto the course as they make their sharp right corner turn at the edge of this field! Normally, I often do not notice such trivial things during the marathon as I’m too absorbed in my own breathing and my own pace to care, but in the most recent edition of the race three weeks ago, I succinctly remember a fellow runner start from behind me, took the short cut over the sidewalk and end up in front of me as I made the full right hand turn! It was a bit aggravating to say the least, but in my mind, I wanted to ask him if the knowledge of breaking the rules and running off the course if only to gain a few extra seconds or feet of running was worth more to him than his regard for honesty and integrity and the satisfaction that he ran the full 26.2 miles instead of a fraction less. I know there are many who took the shortcut that day and the trespassers will not be identified or reprimanded in any sort of way, but I just wonder how many of them would do what they did if they knew their friends and/or families were there, cheering them from the sidelines.

I’m not here to judge anybody because god knows I’ve had my share of transgressions. I’m simply throwing this out there for us to realize that even in very simple acts of life, like running, our inner character is in full display. The essential question which we should ask ourselves is: If you knew others were watching, what kind of person/runner would YOU want them to see?

Have a good weekend, everyone!


Xenia said...

Wow, now that's integrity. I'd like to think I would do the same, but I'm not sure.

J said...

First I hate when my hands get cold when running - we will see how it goes today cause I am going to try and run outside!

That is very impressive - a lot of people would have just lied.

Laura said...

I haven't run NYCM, so I'm not quite sure I follow. Do you mean that the course is marked to be on the road and they went a few feet over to run the adjacent path on the sidewalk? To me, that's not a huge deal - I've done races (5Ks, even) where I've run on the sidewalk instead of the "official" road. I guess the difference is that I don't do it to cut the course (and actually I think in the situations I've done it's been to the outside of the course so it makes it longer) but just to have a clear path for running. With how crowded the NYCM gets, is it possible that that's the reason people move to the sidewalk?

Cowboy Hazel said...

Well, I think that 99% of runners out there would abide by the rules. Unfortunately, that 1% that doesn't can really leave a sour taste, so to speak. I can't imagine why anyone would want to cut corners on a marathon -- they'd be cheating themselves more than anyone. But, I also see how it would be very disheartening to be passed in such a way. I suppose, though, you can just try to push it out of your mind because you are not really competing against them but rather against the clock. Easier said than done, though...

Cindy said...

i've thought that golf is a sport whose players are particularly polite and honorable (with the exception of rowdy drunks on the public course). that's really impressive. i didn't realize that about sidewalks. i've been crowded into them before, but have never used them to scramble ahead. good to know.

Julianne said...

Wow, JP Hayes is a true role model in the sports world! It really is amazing when pros own up to such things... Maybe I'm skeptical but I tend to believe they would hide stuff than tell the truth! Thanks for sharing that with us Lam!

The Laminator said...

Laura - yeah, I'm talking about going on the sidewalks when rounding a street corner as a shortcut.

In my opinion, even if it's done to avoid crowds, it's still fundamentally wrong because you're running off the designated course.

For example, when we see professionals and elites running marathoners, do we ever see any of them actually run on the sidewalks...even when the field is crowded coming around a corner?

So I think the right thing to do is to wait your turn when rounding a corner in a crowded race.

Interesting discussion though, no?

RazZDoodle said...

I'd like to say that I would. I'm a golf coach at my high school and I posed the same question to my friends in the golfing "community". I think the game sets itself up for integrity. I've always said that you find out a lot about a person when you play golf with them.

My $.02.

That being said, I'd like to think I have that sort of integrity. I'm a believer in Karma, so I think that any transgression would come back to bite me in the a**.

M*J*C said...

I heard something about the golfer but missed the whole story, very interesting! Integrity and honesty are very interesting subjects...lots of "gray areas" for some people, not so much for others.

The Happy Runner said...

Great post filled with things to think about. I'm impressed by the golfer and disappointed in the marathoner. What you said it true: He gained so little while diminishing the integrity of his marathon.

Anonymous said...

I heard this story while my husband was watching Sports Center. I found it amazing.

I can't stand it when people cut corners or have bad sportsmanship. I do not know how they can be satisfied with the end result. I rather come in last and know I played by the rules than come out close to the top.

*aron* said...

great post lam and great topic! i never even thought about the whole sidewalk thing.

i am a total rule follower :) i just feel horrible about cheating and lying (and am actually the worst liar ever, its written all over my face if i try).

sRod said...

I'm all cool with going on the sidewalk in the first few miles when it's really crowded. But even at that I only do it on the straight-aways.

I'm not upset as much as I am saddened at this guy's pathetic attempt to trim down his time. Really? Is cutting corners going to improve your time that much? And really, if it improves your time, you actually didn't run the full mileage anyway.

To play devil's advocate: every course is over-measured anyway by USTAF regulation to compensate for people that hug corners.

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