775.448.6070 SEPTEMBER 2018 PLAY THE GAME, DON’T THROW IT Should Sports Teams Purposefully Lose? WWW.JERRYCARTERLAW.COM
D o you ever intentionally give less than your best effort? Would it shock you to learn your favorite sports team either does that or seriously contemplates doing that? For the last decade, fans have seen various sports organizations encourage their teams (MLB, NBA, NFL, FIFA, and NHL) to tank their season or a particular game. “Tanking” is when a team intentionally loses, and it can happen for a variety of reasons, the most common being a team’s desire to get a favorable draft pick in the upcoming season. The theory is that forcing short-term losses now might equate to a more successful record in the future. Some might say that these teams are “losing the battle so they can win the war,” or maybe losing the current war so they can increase their chance of winning a subsequent war. But to me, the practice of tanking causes far more harm than it does good. Tanking isn’t just about foresight; it defies the competitive nature of the game, it perpetuates a severely problematic cultural mentality, and it sacrifices the integrity of the players, the team, and their fanbase. Some of the most intriguing tanking examples are fairly recent. England and Belgium rested most of their starters in their first World Cup match because they believed the loser of the game would go to a more favorable side of the tournament bracket. Some NBA teams do all they can to lose games in order to improve their odds in the draft lottery. Some Major League baseball teams send position players to the pitching mound when they are badly losing a game in order to rest their pitchers. Now, I understand that putting in second- or third-string players at the end of blowout games is commonplace, but at what point is it all too much?
inferior entertainment product on the fans, sometimes for seasons at a time. It is hard to take pride in rooting for that kind of an organization. The idea of tanking plays an interesting role in the business and legal world. As in sports, it always makes sense to be pragmatic in business and law. However, when it comes to a choice between attempting to game the system and remaining true to who you are, it is always more important to be who you are. Similarly, it is more worthwhile to focus on developing and tapping into your own unlimited resources than looking mainly to manipulate external factors. When you look for an “acceptable” level of failure or compromise of your values, especially from a business or legal point of view, you walk a dangerous line. “IF YOU’RE CONSTANTLY TOLD TO LOSE, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU’LL DO.”
I concede that gaming the system is part of basic human nature, but the biggest danger associated with tanking is the mindset and culture it perpetuates. Rather than looking inward to find the resources and motivation needed to win, teams focus on factors external to them, such as draft picks and trying to select their next playoff or tournament opponent. They focus on what they lack rather than what they have. Then what happens when they finally get the draft picks they want? After several seasons of purposefully losing, the players and other members of the losing organization may not be able to suddenly shift their mindset. The culture of losing permeates the team’s overall mentality and has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re constantly told to lose, that’s exactly what you’ll do. The growing trend of tanking as a franchise- building model also abuses sports fans. Many of these fans are already forced to pay extra taxes to finance their local team’s stadium. Now the team owners and management add insult to injury by purposefully forcing an
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