A reader of The New York Times asked Chuck Klosterman (a/k/a “The Ethicist”) the following thought-provoking questions about the ethics of flopping in football: “If (nearly) every player does it, is it wrong to flop? … If flopping is part of the game, as it obviously is, are you not putting your team at a disadvantage by refusing to flop?“
Here is an excerpt from Klosterman’s reply: “Within every sport, there is an undefined ethos dictating what degree of deception is acceptable … Part of what draws people to any sport is the clarity of its conventions. The rules are supposed to be everything: Soccer (or any game) is simply a manifestation of the rules that were designed to govern its existence. Yet even in a constructed world, certain details are open to interpretation (particularly when a game is played by so many disparate cultures). There is, technically, a FIFA rule against diving; a player who attempts to ‘deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled’ is supposed to be cautioned by the official. But this rule is (clearly) not enforced with any intensity or consistency. Diving is accepted. For whatever reason, there’s a theatrical aspect to soccer that is awkwardly embraced as an element of its richness. What we call ‘flopping’ is part of what international soccer is; it’s not essential, but it’s also not aberrant.”
Is Klosterman’s armchair analysis of the ethics of flopping persuasive? (Compare, for example, Klosterman’s ethical analysis above with Michael Gard’s economic analysis “Why football players feign injury” here. See also our post titled “Faking it.”) In any case, are we asking the wrong question? Shouldn’t we be asking instead: what is the optimal level of deception in any given sport?