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Ethical Dilemmas Are Awesome

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This shouldn't be a surprise or a secret: I am ravenously pro-player when it comes to management/player disputes.  Where does my bias come from? I ask myself that a lot.  I think part of it is age -- although they live in an entirely different world, it is infinitely easier for me as a young person to relate to players (particularly our young players) than it is to relate to management.  I suspect (fear) that will begin to change over the years.  

But, today, I still see teams, more or less, as large, too-often-faceless, corporations with real bottom lines to cover -- mo' money, mo' problems-- while players are recognizable individuals with some money to burn -- make it rain on them-- but generally without true wealth.  While management consists of PR professionals, lawyers (always, lawyers) and MBAs, players are more often than not the products of systems that do not properly equip them with marketable skills other than their athletic ability.

Teams are an injury away from missing the playoffs; players are an injury away from missing their mortgage payments.  That's a very real difference (although I realize that might be 151-proof hard to swallow when you're watching the Zach Randolph episode of Cribs).

It is within this context that I view the Monta Ellis situation.  And it's an ugly situation. 

To be clear: I don't know Ellis.  But here's his biography, in 3 bullet points.

  • Raised in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the country.
  • Never attended college.
  • Just signed a 6 year / 66 million dollar contract at age 22.  

Surely, that's more money than almost anyone at his age would know what to do with.  

It's an amazing amount of money to earn.

It's a staggering amount of money to jeopardize.

Tragically, and almost immediately, Ellis made a bad decision to jet-ski/snowboard/bungee jump/whatever, thereby violating his contract and causing himself relatively serious injury.

And then he probably did the natural thing.

He probably panicked.

I'm getting a vision of Monta as Omar Little -- jumping out a 5th floor window, landing hard, and heading immediately to hide in a janitor's closet so that he can dress his own wounds and take stock of the development before anyone else finds out. Wincing in pain, his thoughts race, Chris Mullin can't find out! Oh, no, will they take my money away? Have they even deposited my first check yet?  What If I never play again?

If I had to bet on it, I'd gladly put up a few hundred dollars that the first call Monta made after the incident was to one of two people: 1) his mom or 2) his agent.  If he called his mom, I'm sure her response was, "Are you alright? ... You really should call your agent."  If he called his agent, I imagine the response was something like, "*#$*$^*#*#$# ... OK OK, calm down, this is a situation we can manage." 

At that point, with the stakes what they are (millions of dollars) and with his agent (a trusted advisor) holding a financial stake in the situation, the temptation for both player and agent to bend the truth would be overwhelming.  

It would be very, very, very tempting.

Most likely, the number of witnesses to the injury was quite small.  Perhaps he really did play pickup ball earlier that day, so telling the team that's how the injury occurred wouldn't seem like a real lie.  

If you're an agent and you are hired to further the financial interests of your client, are you able to advise your client to be absolutely, 100% honest? Knowing the stakes? Knowing how hard Monta worked to earn that contract? Knowing how fleeting health can be?  Knowing that, realistically, some of that $66 million dollars has probably already been spent?

It's an ethical dilemma to make your head spin.  On the one hand, absolutely nothing trumps honesty and integrity, owning up to one's bad decisions and maintaining one's reputation.  On the other, there are the very human repercussions to being entirely honest in this situation.

Here's a hypothetical for you to munch on.  You are a sports agent.  One of your clients finds himself in exactly Monta's situation.  Remember: you have been hired by him to help secure his long-term financial stability.  How would you handle this situation?  

  • Would you advise him to call the team's doctor immediately or would you arrange for an independent doctor to get tests done first, so that you would know the extent of the injury before contacting the team? 
  • How serious would the injury need to be for you to involve the team? If it had been a minor medical problem, would you have made arrangements for a surgery without letting his team know? 
  • Would you let your client issue the first statement about the injury, or would you (or a lawyer) issue the statement?  When would you issue the statement?  [Note: Monta admitted to the injury only one day prior to his surgery.]
  • If your player decided that he didn't want to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, would you support him?  How far would you go?  Would you simply maintain silence?  Would you publicly lie along with him?  
  • If the team eventually called BS on your client's story, at what point would you break with your client to protect your own reputation?  Ever?   

Keep in mind.  You work for the players but the owners ultimately cut the checks.  There's a lot riding on your decisions.  How you handle the situation might influence whether your client will recommend you to other players, or whether future clients will consider you trustworthy.  It also might influence how teams choose to deal with you (or, more likely, choose not to deal with you) in the future.

Help me out here.  

Part of me, a larger part than I care to admit, thinks that I'd probably give serious consideration to lying "supporting my client" all the way to the bank, involving the team only when absolutely necessary.

How about you?

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)