Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ethics and the St. Louis Cardinals' Hacking Case

As most are now probably aware, the St. Louis Cardinals are under investigation for possibly hacking into the database of the Houston Astros. It has been suggested that this occurred on several occasions. Whatever the outcome of this particular case, it raises some interesting ethical questions.

Here, I'll address one such question: What's wrong with hacking into your opponent's computer system?
  • First, it involves breaking a just law designed to protect privacy. The information in this alleged hacking case included data related to players, trades, and scouting reports. The Cardinals have no business trying to access this information. Like any other corporation, they have no right to do this, and are obligated to respect the work and privacy of the Houston Astros.
  • Second, such behavior is unsportsmanlike. If the Cardinals are guilty and were able to gain an unfair advantage with this information, it could amount to cheating and as such violates the norms and ethics of sports. We know that sportsmanship is undervalued from the elite level on down to youth sports. But we must not give in; we must protect the integrity of sports at all levels.  All parties in sport should seek to exemplify sportsmanship, whether on the field or via the internet. Sportsmanship is a virtue worth having, and many of its lessons can be adapted to other realms of life.
  • Third, this hack, if it happened, places victory over integrity. There are many reasons we participate in and watch baseball (and other sports). At the elite level, we want the victory to go to the team that is able to display excellence and demonstrate superiority on the day. There are cheap and undeserved wins, of course, but one thing that makes this sort of behavior objectionable is that a win based on it has nothing to do with athletic excellence or luck. Hacking, if done to gain some sort of competitive advantage over one's opponents, amounts to putting victory ahead of honor, integrity, and the rules of the game. A win based in part on this behavior would be undeserved.
  • Fourth, this shows a lack of faith in the players, manager, and coaches. As a player, I'd be insulted if the organization I played for thought it was necessary to cheat in this (or any other) way to obtain victory. I would want the organization to place its faith in the abilities of the team and coaching staff, rather than trying to gain an unfair advantage in this way.
What do you think? What else might be wrong with this? And if the Cardinals are found guilty, should there be any punishment by MLB in addition to whatever legal punishment is given?

Photo CCL.