Ethics in sports means trying your best to win while behaving with integrity. Sometimes winning and integrity are at odds, and people have to choose. They can choose honorably, as tennis player Andy Roddick famously did in the 2005 Rome Masters tournament when he corrected an umpire’s wrong call to his own disadvantage and it wound up costing him the match. Or they can choose dishonorably, as gymnast Paul Hamm did in the 2004 Olympics when he kept a gold medal that had been awarded to him on a scorer’s error.
Coach Jim Caldwell chose dishonorably yesterday when he chose to keep his best players healthy as the playoffs approached. His Indianapolis Colts were two wins away from an undefeated 16-0 season, playing a game that was meaningless for them (they already had clinched top seed in the playoffs), but that meant a great deal to their opponents, the New York Jets, who were battling seven other teams for the last two playoff berths in the American Football Conference. It also—presumably—meant something to the Colts’ fans who shelled out big money to see them play.
Caldwell pulled his starters early in the second half, leading 15-10. He replaced all-pro quarterback Peyton Manning with Curtis Painter, a rookie who had never played a down in the NFL. Painter promptly fumbled in his own end zone, handing a touchdown to the Jets, who went on to win, 29-15.
The Colts are now 14-1, their fans are disappointed, and the Jets have an unearned edge in the race for the last playoff spot.
Sport is said to teach us about character. Yesterday it taught us about shame.