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Do Athletes View Themselves as Above Reproach?

Coach Andy Stadnik of the Amateur Athletic Union and his basketball team talk about the importance of ethics in sports and life, Oct 2010

Coach Andy Stadnik of the Amateur Athletic Union and his basketball team talk about the importance of ethics in sports and life, Oct 2010

Top athletes often are held to high standards, both on and off the field. So when they are accused of cheating or using performance-enhancing drugs, or simply unsportsmanlike conduct, it can be a shock to their fans. Coach Andy Stadnik teaches children about ethics in sports in hopes that the lessons last a lifetime.

Netanya Zucker is only nine years old and she enjoys basketball. But there is more to sports than just play. That's why early into the basketball season Coach Andy Stadnik gives a speech on ethics. It is a lecture welcomed by Netanya's mom, Janet Zucker. "They're most malleable at this time," she said. "Just like when they are small, you teach them right from wrong."

Sportsmanship is the cornerstone of Stadnik's organization, the Amateur Athletic Union. Coach Stadnik says it's never too soon to teach ethics. To insure his young players have success on and off the court. "It's ethics they learn in the sports program that will carry over to their professional lives and they will do the right things in their lives," said Stadnik.

Sometimes the lessons learned on the court as a child are forgotten, or ignored, when the stakes are higher. As in Japan's sumo scandal when more than 60 wrestlers confessed to gambling. Or in international cricket, when Pakistani players were accused of match-fixing. In the Tour de France - doping charges - and claims of unsportsmanlike conduct when one cyclist did not stop for another.

"If they fall down and you are next to them, help them get up," said Stadnik. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Author Thomas Murray has written widely about performance-enhancing drugs. Via Skype, he said competition drives some athletes to extremes. "Because they fear that if they don't use drugs and other people are and getting an advantage by doing so. Even if they are more talented, they are worried they are going to lose."

Murray says no society tolerates sports doping. And it has hit globally, in many sports. In the Olympics... a Russian shot putter stripped of her medal, a Greek weightlifter stripped of his. American sprinter Marion Jones had five medals revoked and spent six months in prison after lying about her steroid use.

Again, a lesson for youngsters. "You will get caught eventually," said Stadnik.

Amanda Visek teaches sports and exercise psychology. She said athletes view themselves as special, above reproach. "So on the field, in the context of sport, their morals for everyday life get suspended. They will engage in behavior on the field or in the context of sport that they wouldn't normally engage in outside that."

Murray predicts more sports scandals in the future that will reach down into high school teams. "We can try to work against very early specialization of young athletes and the pressures that are put on the very young athletes."

As for Coach Stadnik, his work begins right here. Every week, drilling basketball - and ethics.