Catch me if you can

Larry Stanford Editor

September 17, 2013

When a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? That’s a philosophical question about observation and reality. On one level, the answer would be “No,” because the definition of sound is “something that you hear” and if no one “hears” the tree fall, then it does not make a sound. But on the reality level, since we have all heard trees fall in the forest, whether through being there in person or watching it on TV, we know that they do make sounds, therefore, regardless of whether we hear it or not, it does make noise.

It seems to me lately that our world is becoming similar in its philosophy, especially regarding cheating or trying to get an advantage over an opponent – If we cheat and nobody finds out, are we guilty? It seems especially prevalent in the sports world, perhaps because sports receive so much news coverage.

I’m a NASCAR fan. When NASCAR comes to Atlanta Motor Speedway, I get press credentials and cover the races. If you walk through the garage before the races, you will see cars being taken into one stall where NASCAR officials use templates to measure the height and angles of the cars, making sure they meet the exact specifications set out by the racing organization. And after the races, the winning cars are often checked again to be sure that something wasn’t changed during the races to give them an advantage. There are numerous penalties handed out to crew chiefs and drivers each year when something wrong has been found with their cars. And I’ve heard crew chiefs say that they take the rules and specifications right to the limit, trying to give their cars an advantage over the others. I’m betting all the teams try to manipulate their cars to get a winning edge, but we only hear about the ones who get caught.

Then there is the NCAA and college football. Two recent investigations, one by Sports Illustrated writers, and the other by Yahoo Sports writers, have turned up alleged violations at Oklahoma State and at several SEC schools, where football players may have been enticed to attend those schools by everything from being given money to being allowed to date “hostesses” from those schools. All that is, of course, illegal under NCAA rules, and if the NCAA finds that it did happen, the athletes and schools could be heavily penalized. Of course, this happens every year, and I don’t think anyone is really surprised at it being uncovered as much as they might be wondering what it will do to the football programs at the schools where the players are or were.

And let’s not forget professional football. A few years ago the New England Patriots were the whipping boys of the columnists and some fans because they got caught secretly taping opposing teams from the sidelines during games. That’s against NFL rules. Last year the New Orleans Saints went without their head coach for a season because they were caught placing “bounties” on the heads of opposing players, meaning if the Saints knocked a specific opposing player out of a game, they would get paid more money. Again, against NFL rules. But I would wager that the Pats aren’t the first or last team to tape their opponents, nor are the Saints the only team to place a bounty on the heads of opposing players. They were just the two teams that got caught doing it.

This same type of attitude happens in the business world as well, where competing businesses try to get every advantage they can over their competitors, even if it means breaking a law or two. Their success often depends on whether they get caught doing what they are doing, or if they get away with it. Our children are being exposed to and raised in a “catch me if you can” world, and we can only hope they learn that is not the right way to do things, rather than emulating what they hear and see.