Sondheimer: There's a gray line in sports competitions that tests right from wrong

There’s a gray line in sports. It straddles right from wrong. Some don’t like it when people are on the gray line, but it’s perfectly legal and even expected if you’re ambitious and seeking to exploit every possible advantage.

In basketball, there’s the player falling down and embellishing a charging foul. In baseball, there’s the player raising his glove as if he caught the ball when he didn’t. In football, there’s the lineman using his hands to hold a rusher until he’s caught. In soccer, there are players acting as if injured when tripped to convince the referee to issue a yellow card.

The gray line is a way of using the system without hurting anyone. Anger, though, sometimes sends you over the gray line. That’s when people need to stop and think.

In high school sports, let’s look at gray-line examples.

There’s the coach hiring a parent so that the son or daughter will attend the high school. There’s the player telling a friend how good the program is and inviting them to join. There’s the school being so nice to the official by giving him a locker, food and water with the hope a call goes their way.

Exiting the gray area is when trouble starts.

It’s a coach verbally abusing a player in the name of tough love. It’s a coach trying to recruit a player from another team or telling a parent to do it. It’s a soccer player deciding to play in an adult Sunday league in the middle of the high school season. It’s a Southern Section baseball or softball team holding batting practicing before a game during the playoffs. All enter the phase of against the rules and not permitted.

Probably no sport has more gray areas than golf, such as coughing when someone is in the middle of their swing or losing a ball in the rough, then placing down a new one without telling anyone to avoid a stroke penalty. And how about taking a swing, missing and saying it was a practice swing?

Golf is a sport with an honor system, whether marking a ball, filling out your scorecard accurately or figuring out how many swings you took to get out of a sand trap.

A former coach tells me that when you teach your players to fake a charge in basketball, you should never get mad at an official on a 50-50 call. Same when you teach your player to hold on a box out or when it’s a close call sliding into second base on a steal.

There are so many gray lines in sports that you could have an hourlong debate about right from wrong with people who think there’s only black and white answers.

Faking injuries in soccer increases whenever the World Cup is taking place. And instant replay is used so often in professional and college sports, the experiences are teaching teenagers how to get away with it in similar situations.

I bring this up because it’s hard to tell if cheating is rampant or people are simply testing the gray line.

It’s something to think about when you attend your next game at any level.

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