When sports and ethics collide, answers can be murky

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Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:00 am

Kyle Peterson was rehabbing a shoulder injury, trying to return to major league pitching, when a man he’d never met offered to help.

These steroids will help you get back, help you compete, help you have that excellent season that will lead to a big-paying contract, the man promised. Just do it.

Peterson didn’t.

He, Othello Meadows and Lisa Yanney Roskens shared their ethical encounters in the business of sports with about 150 people Wednesday. The Omaha Business Ethics Alliance at Creighton University met at the Gallup campus.

Discussions during the group’s meetings usually conclude that ethical conduct in business wins financial rewards.

This time, however, the conclusion was less clear: Many times athletes, coaches, team owners, colleges, sponsors and others in sports make much more money despite bad choices, even if their faults are exposed publicly. And often, nobody knows about the ethically questionable decisions they make.

Not that the three speakers at the meeting have struck out in life.

After his playing career, Peterson became a TV sports analyst and is now Nebraska CEO for Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm. Meadows, who played high school sports with Peterson, is executive director of Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corp. of Omaha. Roskens, a marathon runner and equestrienne, is chairwoman and CEO of Burlington Capital Group, an Omaha investment banking firm.

Their stories, though, show some of the ethical issues facing those involved in the real world of sports:

» Meadows’ first two years of college basketball were wonderful, on a winning team, perfecting his outside shot, bonding with teammates with common goals. Then two junior college players showed up with other priorities and destroyed the team’s unity. At a meeting, the other players told the coach he should suspend or dismiss the two for the sake of the team. The coach, under pressure to elevate the college from mid-major to big-time status, kept the juco transfers on the team.

» Recently in Omaha, Roskens said, a would-be sponsor wanted to buy the naming rights for an Omaha sporting event, offering to pay more than the current longtime sponsor. Roskens, chairwoman of the Omaha Sports Commission, said the response was “no.” You don’t abandon the sponsor who helped build up the event, just for the money, she said.

Peterson said he doesn’t regret avoiding steroids, even though there was no way at the time to detect the drugs and he never had the breakthrough pitching year that would have resolved his family’s financial future.

“For me, it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “You’ve still got to look at yourself in the mirror.” Years later, he was able to answer his son’s questions about steroid use and honestly say he hadn’t done it.

But the decision is more difficult for an athlete who grows up in poverty. For that athlete, even a single successful season can be a “life-changer” for his entire family, Peterson said, and it’s hard to pass up what likely is a one-time chance.

“It becomes difficult when money enters the equation,” Peterson said.

Meadows said that although education was his priority in college, basketball became his job when he was a student. If a coach and the college’s leadership do not emphasize academics, he said, they fail to develop the whole person.

The years when his team was not unified were “miserable,” he said, and also resulted in poor won-loss records.

During Wednesday’s meeting, attendees voted to choose an “ethical villain” from three candidates shown in sports-related videos.

One showed a woman kicking a fellow fan during the Oklahoma-Alabama Sugar Bowl; the second showed Alex Rodriguez denying and then confessing to the use of performance-enhancing drugs; the third showed Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini chewing out quarterback Taylor Martinez and then a referee.

By a show of hands, the attendees voted overwhelmingly for Rodriguez as the villain, with one participant citing his “blatant intent to deceive.” Pelini got a few votes for his conduct, and the kicking fan got the fewest votes.

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