Refreshing Victory for Honesty

If you broke the rules and no one knew it, would you turn yourself in?

Pro golfer J.P. Hayes recently faced that crucible and his answer was, “yes.”

His honesty, which got him kicked out of a tournament and jeopardized future opportunities, earned him the spotlight on ABC's World News November 20.

How sad that an athlete exhibiting character and integrity merits the attention of the network news.  But cheating and sport practically go hand in hand these days, which ABC's anchor Charles Gibson noted in his lead to the feature on Hayes. 

GIBSON: A lot of people don't think of professional athletes as role models anymore. In a recent survey, almost half the people asked said they're not likely to trust athletes. [A graphic showed 47% said they don't trust athletes while 43% said they would and 10% said “not sure.”]

ABC reporter John Berman explained why Hayes merited the attention.

BERMAN: Hayes, a middle of the road pro-golfer, admitted that he mistakenly used a non-regulation ball for just two strokes in a tournament last week. That admission got him disqualified.

HAYES: I violated a rule and I had to take my medicine.

BERMAN: But he didn't really. No one filmed it. No one else saw it. No one would have ever known.

HAYES: No one would have known, but I knew and I've got some people looking down on me that would have known. And that's important to me, so, that was the decision I had to make.

Berman took the story a step further and illustrated how cheating permeates our culture, on the field and off.

BERMAN: Character, they say, is what you do when no one is watching. It's a discussion dominating the world of sports. A world where NASCAR drivers say if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying. A world where players take illegal steroids and coaches make illegal films of their opponents.

DAMON HACK, Sports Illustrated: The lessons that kids are being taught today, if you look at sports in general, it is how to get away with things.

BERMAN: And it's not just sports, is it?

VIDEO CLIP OF BILL CLINTON: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

Berman reported that Hayes' remarkable act of integrity not only cost him the tournament in which he played the day he used the wrong ball, but also a chance to qualify for the pro tour next year.  Nationally syndicated radio personality Paul Harvey Jr. noted on November 21 that, “Hayes says the integrity of the game is most important.  They do call golf a gentlemen's game. It really is.”

Perhaps Hayes could find a job as a mentor for American and British youth.  The Times of London recently reported that almost half of the students at Cambridge, one of the leading universities in the world, admit to cheating.  Meanwhile CBS's Evening News on November 20 featured a report about kids who teach other kids to cheat by posting video instructions on YouTube.  Reporter Daniel Sieberg interviewed two young people – a ninth grader and a college freshman - who had no remorse about cheating and no regrets about teaching other kids to be dishonest.

Yes, J.P. Hayes could teach those kids something.  In fact a lot of people – politicians, religious leaders, corporate executives and business owners, to name a few – should take a page from Hayes' playbook. 

HAYES: I'm proud that in that situation I reacted how I should have.

BERMAN: A small loss for J.P. Hayes, the golfer. A refreshing victory for honesty.

Kristen Fyfe is the senior writer for the Culture and Media Institute.