Sunday, October 07, 2007


After one of his assistants was caught videotaping the New York Jets' defensive signals during a game, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and his team was fined $250,000 and lost a first-round draft pick or two second-round picks.

There was a great deal of talk, however, that trying to steal an opponent's signs is simply part of the game in professional sports. Belichick's only sin, some observers argued, was trying to videotape signals rather than pick them up visually -- and, of course, getting caught at it.

"Stealing signs isn't cheating in baseball," Troy Renck wrote in The Denver Post. "It's as much a part of the game as peanuts and Cracker Jack."

If every team in professional sports does indeed steal signs, does that make it an OK practice?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

Some use the saying “all’s fair in love and war” to justify any kind of cheating. There are officials in every sport whose job it is to impose penalties on those who break the rules, accidentally or on purpose. Sometimes the offenses are “flagrant, and the penalty is more severe - even to the point of a player being kicked out of the game.

I would say that using technology and deception to try to determine what the other team is going to do constitutes a “flagrant foul” and deserves severe punishment. Certainly the argument that “everybody does it” should not hold up with the rulemakers any more than it did with your parents.

Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, NC

Anonymous said...

Stealing is wrong, but if everyone agrees that if you can get the signs within reasonable limits, then it isn't stealing. However this must be a "before the fact"
understanding. A renege in certain card games is not cheating unless you are caught. (Pinochle is one of them).

No one would allow illegal actions to get the signs, i.e. breaking into some place, etc.

I have heard that some teams have had "Lip Readers" in the stands, and that is why you see the coaches covering their faces while talking.

Lyman Woodman
McFarland, WI

Manny Boyz said...

Use of a word like "stealing" presupposes an immoral act. A private organization like the NFL can make any act a punishable offense, irrespective of its moral content. The propriety of it depends on what the "victim" might expect an opponent to do. A careful coach might, indeed, cover his mouth when talking, whether or not the opponent might be punished for the taking. If most coaches "steal" opposing signals, then it might be detrimental to not engage in the behavior, but one best not get caught.

Anything that happens in professional sports is immaterial from a morality point of view, even use of so-called "performance-enhancing" substances. I just don't care. I expect the "worst."

Watkins Ellerson
Hadensville, Va.