I always look forward to reading the New York Times' The Ethicist columns by Randy Cohen, which runs on Sundays. In fact, it's the first thing I go to online on Sunday mornings -- it's a bit of an unhealthy obsession. Some people go straight to the crossword puzzle, I go to The Ethicist.
This morning's questions included paying hockey officials which I found interesting and did agree with Mr. Cohen that the coach and writer acted unethically. I also know how fanatical some hockey parents are, so if this behavior was discovered, it would balloon into something ugly.
THE ETHICIST (illustration at right by Christoph Niemann)
Paying Off the Refs
I officiate youth hockey. In nonleague games, it is the coaches who pay the two officials. At one game, one team’s coach (whom I knew) paid the other official the normal fee but tucked away extra money for me. When my co-official asked if I had gotten the same wage, I said yes so he would not feel cheated. Was it ethical for this coach to pay me extra when the other official and I are the same age, have the same experience and both did the same amount of work? — A.M., NEW JERSEY
That’s why I lie to my (imaginary) wife about my (fictional) mistress: so my wife won’t feel cheated.
Both you and that coach acted badly. He prevented your fellow official from getting equal pay, and you covered up for him. But it is the other team’s coach who has the bigger gripe. How can he be confident that a game is officiated fairly if his rival might slip an official a few bucks? For obvious reasons, few sports permit a coach to give an official a pregame tip. (Or a postgame Buick.)
It is unfortunate that this coach directly paid you at all. It would be better if both coaches contributed to pay packets not designated as coming from either of them individually, to avoid the possibility of an official, even subconsciously, favoring the team that put money in his pocket.