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Have Your Say: Is it OK to Intentionally Break the Rules?

There is perhaps no sport that is more protective of its code of etiquette than golf. Despite the best players in the world competing for millions of dollars in prize money and some of the most prestigious titles in sports, any infraction of the rules is met with condemnation.

So when Phil Mickelson intentionally hit his ball as it was still moving at the U.S. Open this year, it stirred all sorts of controversy. Some called for him to withdraw from the tournament, while others thought he should  be forcibly expelled.

Whether or not Mickelson knew what the specific penalty was for hitting a moving ball, he simply concluded that it was a better proposition than playing his ball from wherever it ended up. The greens at Shinnecock Hills are famously difficult for the U.S Open, and Mickelson — like any golfer, pro or amateur — had had enough. At the time, Mickelson was well off the pace of the leaders and would end up shooting an 81 on the day, which was his highest-ever score at a U.S. Open.

Bending the rules to gain an advantage is commonplace in sports. At the ongoing World Cup, players strive to walk the line between leaning on an opponent with the ball and outright fouling him. In baseball, catchers who can subtly make a ball appear to be a strike are highly prized for that ability.

But Mickelson’s case is a little different as he obviously and intentionally chose to break a rule. He wasn’t so much trying to gain an advantage as he was just trying to pick up and move on. To again go back to an example from world soccer, a closer comparison to Mickelson occurred at the 2010 World Cup.

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez intentionally used his hands to bat a ball off the goal line and preserve a tie game in extra time. Suarez was shown a red card and sent off, but Uruguay went on to win the match in a penalty shootout. Handballs occur fairly often in soccer, but plays as obvious as Suarez’s are very unusual.

So when a player breaks the rules, judging the ensuing penalty to be less severe than the outcome on the field, is that cheating? Or is it just another decision that a player has to make?

What’s your take?

Take 1: Players know the risks

If a player is in a desperate situation, he or she may feel the need to resort to desperate measures. The rules are in place for a reason, but sometimes a player may have to do something but then they have to accept the consequences. The violation and its punishment complete the cycle. It is not cheating any more than an accidental breaking of the rules would be.

Take 2: Playing around the rules is cheating

Rules are in place so that players abide by them. Brazenly breaking a rule is just another form of cheating. Cheating is cheating whether it is punished or not. It is especially egregious in golf where players are expected to police themselves. That is a breach of trust between all competitors. Players judged to have intentionally broken a rule to gain an advantage should be punished beyond whatever the in-game punishment is.

So if a player breaks a rule and accepts his or her punishment is that the end of it? Or should efforts be made to make punishment greater so players don’t do it again? Have your say in the comments below.

From GameChanger and Todd Kortemeier

Check out past Have Your Say pieces here.

Youth sports, ethics in sports, sportsmanship, have your say