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Sports Ethicist Rules: Fair or Foul?

Good morning. Sports Ethics court is in session, the self-declaredly Honorable J. Neuman presiding. First case!

1.  Martin Brodeur, Devils goaltender, states after Game One in which the Rangers blocked more shots (26) than the Devils put on goal (21), “We might be able to hurt a few guys [by] hitting one-timers in the foot and their head or something.” Fair or Foul?

If you’ve been watching SportsCenter, you may have forgotten the difference between a blocked shot in basketball and one in hockey. Or that there is such a thing as hockey. In the NBA, a player blocks a shot taken with a large inflated ball by leaping and swatting it in flight. In hockey, a player blocks a shot by sliding his body horizontally in the path of a hard rubber disk launched in excess of 90 miles an hour. Goaltenders wear considerable external armor; other players do not. A shot blocked by the goaltender is not a blocked shot; it is a save.

Was the 40-year-old veteran and certain Hall of Famer really suggesting that his teammates should target the opponents’ heads and feet with their shots rather than the goal? Maybe, maybe not. At the least, he gave the Rangers’ hardy crew of masochists something to think about. As a tactic, the proposed stratagem is similar to a second baseman encouraging a runner from first to slide early on the double play by throwing the ball head high. Verdict: Fair.

2.  Terry Collins, Mets manager, lifts David Wright for a pinch-hitter to prevent the Milwaukee Brewers from targeting Wright after D.J. Carrasco drilled Ryan Braun with the Mets trailing 8-0. Fair or Foul?

There are many legitimate reasons to hit a batter with a pitch: He’s crowding the plate; he spiked the first baseman while running out a ground ball last time up; he exposed your character to an ambush in an on-line role-playing game (see counterexample in Schilling v. Glanville, 2001). The fact that the last batter hit a baseball 400 feet is not one such reason. Collins may have spared Wright on Tuesday night, but teams and players have long memories, and a Brewers pitcher will plunk the Mets’ best hitter in retaliation before the season is over. Verdict: Foul, Weasel-y, and Pointless.

3.  Cole Hamels hits Bryce Harper with a pitch, and admits after the game that it was on purpose. Fair or Foul?

“He’s Bryce Harper” is at least as good a reason as anything listed above, even though the suspension was inevitable once Hamels opened his mouth. It’s always the lack of cover-up that gets you. Verdict: Fair.

4.  Metta World Peace insists he won’t shake James Harden’s hand before the Lakers meet Oklahoma City in the NBA Playoffs. Fair or Foul?

The man has mellowed. As Ron Artest, he probably would have taken Harden by the hand, pulled him closer, and kneed him in the nuts. The Lakers are facing a younger, faster, more talented team; giving them even more incentive is not exactly an instance of veteran leadership. Verdict: Flagrant Foul.

5.  Golf fans heckle Kevin Na as he goes through his torturous and tortured pre-shot efforts. Fair or Foul?

Golf fans should not heckle a pro golfer who plays as slowly as Na. Pro golfers should heckle a pro golfer who plays as slowly as Na. Verdict: Foul.

6.  Oregon high schooler Caroline Inglis is disqualified from the state 5A golf championships for signing an incorrect scorecard, depriving her of an unprecedented fourth straight victory in the event. Fair or Foul?

The Rules of Golf are merciless but clear. A golfer is responsible for her own score, and if she signs for a score on a hole lower than what she actually shot, she is disqualified. It doesn’t matter if she would have won the championship by nine strokes anyway, or that her father was diagnosed with leukemia last summer, or that when he was in high school he signed an incorrect scorecard that took his team out of contention for the state title. 

On tour, where every group is accompanied by a rules official and a scorer, the scorecard rule is a silly anachronism. On the high school level, it is not. Verdict: The whole situation is Foul, but the ruling was Fair.

Court is adjourned. Thank you linesmen, thank you ball boys. Don’t forget to tip your bailiff. 

Jeff Neuman's columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday. Follow him on Twitter @NeumanJeff. His collected golf writing and blogging can be found at www.neumanprose.com.

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