Archive for the ‘Integrity in Sports’ Category


A Great Athlete Showed Us How To Keep One’s Word

July 24th, 2012
Jim Thomas

  A recent article in the Athens Banner-Herald recounted how acclaimed athlete, Charlie Trippi, came to enroll at the University of Georgia, over seventy years ago. The entire account was of absorbing interest.  But one feature in particular stood out—Trippi’s integrity.

 In choosing Georgia, Trippi declined enticing offers from other schools, including Notre Dame. The reason was simple, he said, “I had given Mr. Ketran (a Georgia alumnus) and Georgia my word.” Back home in Pennsylvania, Trippi’s father taught his talented son the value of keeping one’s word. When the chips were down, the Georgia prospect kept it.

 In October 1982, editors of The New York Times ranked the cardinal virtues. They gave integrity first place, concluding, “With integrity much can be accomplished. Without it little else is possible.”  Upholding a promise—in matters great and small—is one of its fundamental tenets.

 The word “integrity” comes at us from every point on the compass. It is invoked to describe the personal and impersonal, from upright conduct to the condition of Old Master paintings. As with Trippi, we know it when we see it, acknowledge it, are drawn to it—irrespective of race, creed, station, or calling.

  Yet, few pause to declare its authentic meaning or benefits in everyday life. In the abstract, it remains vague, indefinite, and elusive. At times its implications are thick and hard to get a handle on. The everlasting underpinnings, however, are steadfastly in place. They are the product of human experience and open for review.

 The authorities of the ages hold, first and foremost, that integrity is the capacity to stand by an idea, an idea that withstands moral scrutiny, that is beneficial to the parties affected. Walter Lippmann said, “One has virtue when one can respond to a situation that is larger than a mere inclination; if one can hold fast to an ideal of conduct when it is inconvenient or unprofitable to do so.”

Consider the case of Eugene V. Debs, a social agitator in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was demonstrating in Ohio against the practice of small children working in dangerous coal mines. He was charged with disturbing the peace and arrested. While incarcerated he received a one-sentence telegram. It read: “Stand by your principles regardless of the consequences.” Signed, “Your mother and father.” Debs held fast and became a factor in reform of America’s child labor laws.

 Those with integrity grasp, intuitively, the rules that govern it. For them certain principles are non-negotiable. It is they whose word is their bond; who ascribe weight to accountability; who deliver as promised, when promised in the manner, promised; who stand up and are counted when it counts; who to the alluring temptation and ill-advised compromise have the power to say “no.”

 Their behavior, regardless of the effort, is characterized by fairness, credibility, and square dealing. The pay-offs are immense. They gain the priceless by-products of trustworthiness and good reputations.

 In our era the times, including the world of big-time college athletics, are marked by high-profile scandals, ethical fiascoes, and moral indifference. Across the spectrum demand for performance with integrity is greater than ever.

 Long ago Charlie Trippi gave us an unmistakable demonstration of it. It still stands.

Golfer David Toms Exercises Monumental Integrity and Preserves His Self- Respect

October 11th, 2011
Jim Thomas


 Performance with unbending Integrity has more than one legitimate motivation. One, however, outranks all others—a determination to maintain one’s self-respect. Writing in the New Republic, Brad Blandshard observed that self-respect “…is the most powerful of motives for it is what no one can afford to lose; we try to be what we really admire because if we do not we despise ourselves.”

 Toms, a consummate professional on the PGA tour affirmed Blandshard’s tenet at the 2005 British Open, one of the game’s most prestigious events. That year it was played at the renowned Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland. That year Toms held one of the tour’s hottest hands. He was a leading contender to win the Open. That is until an unwanted occurrence came to light.

 On the morning of the Second Round, Toms came forward and made a startling revelation. He informed tournament officials, and later the press, that he might or might not have committed an error on the famous Road Hole. If he did, he should have taken a penalty stroke. Toms reported that once on the green, he missed a medium-length putt, then strode to the pin and tapped it in. He could not say for sure, but the ball may have wobbled in the wind. Placing a club on a moving ball called for a one-stroke penalty. No player or official at the scene caught it. He had no one to ask

 Toms disqualified himself from a major championship, in which he had chance of winning, with a lot of money on the line. The officials instructed Toms the call was up to him, since they could not verify one way or the other. He, himself, never doubted his disqualification. In his book, How, Dov Seidman describes his telephone interview with Toms as he made his way back home home to Louisiana from Scotland.

  Among other things said Toms, “Whether there was a breach of the rules or not, there was a doubt. I did not want to live with it; my conscience is clear because I felt like I did the right thing.  Sportsmanship in golf is on a different level. Whether I had won, or even made the cut, it wouldn’t have been fair to the rest of the field, and it certainly wouldn’t have been fair to me because I would have had to live with it forever.”

 Toms drives home a basic tenet of Integrity: it require individuals, professionals of every stripe, business executives, corporate managers, and organizations of all kinds to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons—even when there is no absolute demand to do so. In this fashion, the priceless capital of trust, confidence, purpose, credibility, and reputation is established and maintained.

 To assist in management of this kind of capital, Alliance for Integrity, LLC offers free of charge and costs two working tools: An Integrity Checklist and An Integrity Credo. Both are easily adjusted to your particular circumstances. Contact


For Coach and Athlete:Integrity is a Core, Yet Endangered Element!

March 23rd, 2011
Jim Thomas


The March 7 issue of Sports Illustrated reports on criminality among college football players at some of the country’s largest schools and universities. Sports writer Bobby Page of the Macon Telegraph, says the current academic year has been a particularly distressing one, for athletes and coaches, alike. He cites an array of players dismissed or suspended for off-field misconduct. Joining them are coaches charged or penalized for violating NCAA rules and misleading investigators.

 The world of college athletics can only gain from affirming and promoting integrity. This ancient virtue dictates upright conduct, standing firmly by the right standards, for the right reasons, at the right time—even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or unprofitable. Stated differently, it means when you say you’ll do something you’ll do it. You do it in the manner you said you would do it, at the time you said it would be done.

 The great pro quarterback, Johnny Unitas, exemplified it. Years ago Time magazine reported an incident that characterized his career. He was leading the Baltimore Colts in an offensive drive late in the game. A huge tackle broke through and smashed him to the ground, breaking his nose. He lay flat on his back, nose bleeding, the massive lineman hulking over him. The lineman gloated, “That finishes you for the day.” “Not yet it doesn’t,” replied Unitas, as he pulled himself to his feet.

 Time was called, as the quarterback staggered to the sideline. There he insisted the assistants pack his nose. With his nose packed and the bleeding stopped, he returned to the game and finished driving the Colts to a touchdown. He then trotted off the field—no high fives, no hugs, no fanfare, no jubilation, just the pure stuff. An admiring teammate said, “Unitas meant to play like he was paid to.”

 Conspicuous are those who play, coach, and lead with diminished integrity:

 They put little value on trustworthiness and reputation;

  • They cannot keep their word in matters great and small;
  • When they err they take no responsibility;
  • They cut corners and play loosely with the rules;
  • They succumb to alluring temptations;
  • They disregard commitment;
  • They place little stock in their sport’s highest and noblest traditions;
  • They are easily compromised and lured into unhealthy, unwise, and immoral circumstances, or worse;

 Upright conduct is not about being perfect. But for every coach and athlete that sets foot on a college campus, it means closing the destructive gaps. It precludes a double life between stadium, coliseum, track, and diamond on the one hand, and on the other private behavior—off the field, outside, and beyond. Both must meet the same standards. Then, coach and athlete become authentic; they become the real deal.


Conduct with Integrity on the Tennis Court

November 16th, 2010
Jim Thomas

The incident that follows was reported at Sports Stephen Covey cites it in his book, The Speed of Trust. It occurred on a tennis court in Rome, in 2005, during an Italian tournament of major importance. Here’s what happened.

Andy Roddick was paired against Fernando Verdasco of Spain. The contest reached match point, Roddick’s favor. Verdasco’s second serve was called “out”by the line judge. It appeared the game was over. Roddick saw things others missed. He said the ball was “in” and called the umpire’s attention to a slight indentation on the clay court. The evidence was unmistakable. The ball had landed on–not beyond–the line. The umpire allowed Roddick to overrule him and awarded the point to Verdasco.

Roddick lost the tennis match with a call against himself. A call that exemplified standing firmly by the rules of the game, even when the stand was costly. It was an act of integrity, in its purest light, for the real meaning of integrity is the capacity to stand by an idea, an ideal, a standard, a value, though to do so is difficult and unprofitable.

The tennis player may have lost the match, but his doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons will bear priceless fruit. He will gain– in trust–credibility–respect. From here on in, whenever he walks on the court racket in hand, his impeccable reputation will precede him. Covey calls it a “Roddick Choice”–demonstrating integrity even when the costs are high, higher than many will pay in this day and age.