Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dear Denver Post, Would You Be Okay With Us Cheating on the CSAP, Too?

So two weeks ago the Denver Post disappointed us with this headline:
Summer is almost over, and the disappointment about returning to class . . .
Now this week they follow that up with a column about the Derek Jeter cheating incident, where he fooled the umpire into thinking he’d been hit by the ball so that he could get on base instead of making an out. Troy Renck, the Denver Post baseball columnist, had this to say:
All those people who talk about the honor in baseball, I wonder when exactly they watched the game. Don't they realize that third-base coaches used to do cartwheels to try to get pitchers to walk or balk?

. . . I agree it doesn't set a great example for kids. But that's where parents should be able to articulate the difference between professional athletes and youth sports. For the pros, their livelihood depends on the results of the games, not whether they get banned from the orange slices and Capri Suns.

If Jeter is guilty of anything, it's bad acting, not cheating.

So, what you’re saying is, the more important something is the more okay it is to cheat? Following your logic, then it would be okay for schools and students to cheat on CSAP because most certainly “our livelihood” depends on the results. What you’re saying is, “Hey, he cheated too, so it’s okay for me to cheat!” My fifth grader already knows that’s not a legitimate excuse.

I can’t help but point to the irony of this story being on the facing pace in the print edition of the sports section, with the headline “Question of Honor:”
Undisclosed Creek players conspired to fix results in a preseason intrasquad qualifying "ladder" tournament that determines varsity seedings. Several players were serving suspensions this past week when Creek dropped one match at Fairview and another at home against rival Regis Jesuit.

. . . "What this was for (the players involved) was a life lesson," Cherry Creek spokeswoman Tustin Amole said. "It showed poor sportsmanship and very bad judgment. The school and the athletic director and the principal took this very, very seriously."
So, on the one hand, we have educators at Cherry Creek High School making an unequivocal statement that cheating is not okay. That it’s not only wrong, but that we’ll punish both you and ourselves as an institution to make sure you understand how wrong it is. Then, on the other hand, we have Troy Renck and the Denver Post supporting – no, in fact, promoting – the win at all costs culture that has given us not only Derek Jeter, but also Enron, Lehman Brothers, credit default swaps, and our current economic crisis.

A few years ago Charles Barkley stated that he didn’t want to be a role model for young people. Put me firmly in the camp that believes that all of us: teachers, athletes, coaches, and adults in all manner of occupations should be role models for our young people. And, yes, that includes sports columnists and newspaper editors that are asleep at the switch.

If I asked students at my high school the following question,
In non life-threatening circumstances, and in cases where it’s not a conflict between good and evil (think World War II), is it okay to cheat?
I’m pretty sure that all 2,150 of them would get the correct answer. Now, to be sure, it’s likely that some of them have cheated in a variety of endeavors, but yet they still know it’s wrong. And most of them, like the tennis players at Cherry Creek, know they made a mistake and regret it.

Yet apparently Derek Jeter, Troy Renck and the editors at the Denver Post would disagree with our high school students, and would tell them that, “Yes, it is okay to cheat if the stakes are high enough.” So now those tennis players at Cherry Creek, who got a very clear message from the educators in their lives that cheating is not okay, have to be asking themselves, “Wait. What you’re saying is that what I did wasn’t wrong, I just should’ve been making money off of it?”

In combination with the disappointing headline from two weeks ago, that makes two strikes on you Denver Post. You know what they say in baseball, “Three strikes and you’re out.” Of course, perhaps that doesn’t apply anymore to people like Derek Jeter . . . or Troy Renck.

No, Mr. Renck, I’m not going to “give you a break.” I expect more from you Mr. Renck, and from the Denver Post. As I said a couple of weeks ago, perhaps you should pay closer attention to what you are actually communicating to our young people. That instead of undermining what we are trying to teach our students about respect and responsibility, about right and wrong, about honor and doing the right thing even when no one is looking (and that includes umpires), perhaps you should try to support us.

If you have an opinion on this, feel free to leave a comment on this post. But, perhaps more importantly, feel free to contact the Denver Post with your thoughts.
Troy Renck:
Sports Page: or
Dan Haley, editorial page editor: or @danhaleyDP on Twitter
Letters to the Editor: or 303-954-1331
Daniel Petty, Denver Post Social Media Editor:  @danielpetty on Twitter


  1. I'm not sure I agree that what Jeter did is cheating. I definitely think it is uncool (I'm struggling to come up with a better word but, so far, that best describes my thinking).

    Pitchers fake a throw to first to keep a runner from stealing second. Quarterbacks fake throws to receivers. A part of sports is convincing others that things are different than they really are. Jeter did that. I think he crossed a line, but I don't think he cheated.

    As to the writing about school beginning - that drives me crazy. The great majority of kids, in my experience, actually enjoy school. I don't understand why, we as a society, feel a need to portray school in a negative light. I see it often in TV shows and movies.

  2. Jenny - I would say your two examples are within the rules of the game, they are misdirection. Mr. Jeter knew he didn't get hit by the ball. Not only did he know he didn't get hit by the ball, he actively tried to convince the umpire he did. That's not within the rules of the game.

    That's. Cheating.

    How refreshing would it be to see an umpire make a bad call and the professional athlete stand up and say, "Nope, the ball didn't hit me ump."

    My guess is that most fans can't even conceive of that happening, and would disagree with it if it did (well, if that athlete was on their team they would disagree). The fact that there's even any question about this shows just how far we've gone done the road of "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

  3. I too would love to see that. I agree that we have gone much too far along the road of winning is everything. I'm sure it's a problem those of you in high schools see frequently with sports teams. It's easier to ignore in an elementary school where there is much less competition. Regardless of whether or not I think Jeter cheated (and I'm going to have to give it more thought now), I find the incident depressing.

  4. Karl, I couldn't agree with you more. In life, as in sports, there are rule of fair play. Working to circumvent those rules has brought us things like Watergate, Enron the Wall Street meltdown that began in 2008. Adults are all role models for kids. They pay WAY more attention to what we do than what we say.

  5. I was actually watching that game and saw the incident live. Jeter was completely lying to the umpire by acting like he got hit, particularly after Joe Maddon (Rays manager) went out to argue the call with all four umpires - and was subsequently ejected from the game for being RIGHT. The person who was correct was ejected from the game, and the liar was awarded first base (and subsequently scored a run, which thankfully didn't wind up costing the Rays the game). If that's not cheating, I'm not sure what is.

    A columnist who asserts otherwise clearly has a big challenge with understanding his ethics. While I don't live anywhere near Denver, I am very disappointed that anyone who would consider himself a journalist would have such an immature perspective on truth and lies.

  6. What's the over/under (including NEVER) on how long it will be before you hear from the Denver Post on this? After all, this isn't a letter to the editor... ;)

  7. Bravo, Karl Fisch,
    for not equivocating on questions of honesty and fairness. This whole conversation connects with live wires to Thomas Friedman's article "Easy Street Put U.S. Values in the Ditch," in which he quotes Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson, suggesting that perhaps student motivation has been influenced by the values breakdown we've witnessed in the banking sector and other shining pinnacles of corporate America (what kind of cash can I get away with, even if it causes the downfall of the entire company & the loss of thousands of jobs??). Check out Alfie Kohn's scathing response to Samuelson's assertion while you're at it, and you'll have a pretty good dialogue. Kohn's take is that extrinsic "motivators" actually undermine intrinsic motivation, which he's written about convincingly in his previous books. Well, as far as extrinsic vs. intrinsic, where do we put the desire to win, or get an A, or get away with a huge load of cash? Extrinsic. And where do we put the sense of fairness & honesty, justice & compassion? Intrinsic. So perhaps Samuelson, Friedman, & Kohn don't disagree as much as they might appear to. Teachers know that there are lots of students in their classrooms whose primary motivation IS the extrinsic grade, not the learning that should come with it (we call them grade-grubbers), but our challenge is to model (as in role model)the excitement and exhilaration that come with genuine curiosity and learning. We only hope that their parents have done the same throughout their lives, because it really does take a village.

  8. petedignan - Thanks Pete. Yes, they do pay attention to what we do, and what we say, and try to match them up.

    And I don't mean to imply with this post in any way that I'm perfect in this regard, but I try every day to model for my students, and I think the message from this article is confusing at best, and downright undermining at worst.

  9. Scott McLeod - Well, I did also email this post to the columnist and the editorial page editor (actually, to all the email addresses I included in the post), and @ tweeted the two Twitter addresses.

    The columnist replied within 5 minutes saying he would take a look, but I haven't heard anything since. On my previous post about the Post, their social media editor did reply to me on Twitter and said he would "pass it along" to the prep sports people.

    So, some response, and I think they're trying to navigate these new spaces, but perhaps they see me as just another angry blogger (which, I suppose, I am).

  10. Mr. Fisch, I am a student of Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I totally agree with you, what Jeter did was wrong. Personally I have never liked the guy, but anyways he is a role model himself for kids, just as much as teachers and others are. I think it should be made a point to the public that cheating is wrong, no matter what your reasons are or how important it is. That tells kids that well hey if it is okay to cheat in sport games, it is okay to cheat in school. That cheats that child out of truly learning something.