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Should You Help Your Competition?

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Ryan Hirsch NASBA Center for the Public TrustImagine working as a salesperson for a company, when an employee from a competitor sends you his company’s prospective client list and encourages you to follow up on the leads.

Would you use or even trust the information he is giving you? Would you contact the other company and let them know they have a rogue employee who is sabotaging their sales strategy?

As strange and unlikely as this scenario may sound, it is exactly what officials from Wake Forest University are saying happened within their football program. One of the school’s radio announcers, Tommy Elrod, was recently fired for “providing or attempting to provide confidential game-plan information about the Wake Forest football team to its opponents.” The findings were reported as part of the university’s internal investigation, and Elrod has not yet commented on the accusations or his dismissal.

Elrod is a former Wake Forest football player and coach, who was fired in 2013, after a new coaching staff was hired. He transitioned to the Wake Forest broadcast team and was granted full access to players, team meetings, film sessions, etc.

If these allegations are true, most agree that his actions are unacceptable, and that no coaches should accept this information if it were given to them. However, there seem to be mixed feelings throughout the sports community regarding the ethical responsibility of the coaches who received this confidential information.

Once Elrod attempted to provide the opponents with Wake Forest’s game plans, should the opposing coaches have contacted the Wake Forest coaching staff to let them know they had a mole within their team? For those who believe the coaches should have contacted Wake Forest, they said the integrity of the game is more important than the rivalries between the schools, and they believe the coaches had a responsibility to communicate this infraction to the opposing school, the athletic conference or the NCAA.

Others believe every team or organization has issues, and they should not be expected to help their competitors identify internal problems.

As we consider the example of the salesperson who is given leads about another company’s prospective client list, what responsibility (if any) does that employee have to support a fair, competitive playing field? How would you respond if you found yourself in this situation? Would you contact your boss or the other company? If yes, would you do so anonymously or communicate directly? What if you used the information, then found out it was false information, intended to distract you from the real sales leads you should have been pursuing. How would you defend your actions?

These are the types of questions and decisions we all must consider when facing ethical dilemmas with unclear boundary lines for our ethical responsibility. Sometimes we have weeks to evaluate these types of decisions. In other cases, you may be handed the proverbial game-plan of the other team minutes before the game. In a split second, you may have to decide which course of action you will take.

Over the next few months, an investigation is expected to take place, to determine which teams received the confidential information and what they did with it once they were contacted. The actions of these employees could impact their schools’ reputation, potentially vacate previous wins and cause others to lose their jobs. The CPT encourages all teams, both businesses and athletic programs, to discuss these types of scenarios and explore how employees are expected to uphold the ethical values of their institutions and organizations.

Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

Ryan W. Hirsch
Operations Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT)

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