I was fortunate to attend the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in Arlington, Texas, earlier this month. It's my absolute favorite sporting event, in part because of the intense competition and will to succeed demonstrated by the players.
In doing my research before the game -- and I study the teams and coaches intently -- I came across a blog from Jim Tunney, the "Dean of NFL Refs," who spent 31 years officiating pro football. In that time, he's seen it all. His insights are spot on.
His topic was "flopping," defined as "an intentional fall by a player with little or no contact by an opposing player in order to draw a personal foul call by a game official."
For the record, I hate flopping. It sets a bad example. Unfortunately, flopping has filtered through all levels of basketball.
Tunney talks about how the NBA added a rule in 1997 to cut down on flopping. The rule was ignored until the league actually began fining players 15 years later. The NCAA has a similar rule which results in a technical foul, but the call is seldom made. Some players use flopping as a tactical maneuver, he says, but purists say it is a mockery of the game.
So is this a column about basketball rules? Hardly. I'm borrowing a page from Tunney, who takes examples from sports and relates them to messages for everyday living. He continues with some real-life questions: "Did you ever intentionally not do your best?" "Did you ever try to trick others into believing it was someone else's fault and not yours?" Flopping is a deliberate deception -- and it translates in business to a failure to accept responsibility for your actions.
Tunney also says that flopping is a difficult call to make. Exposing the deceivers is not always simple, because deception is not always immediately obvious.
Damon Runyon, a New York City newspaperman, also wrote charming short stories about gamblers and various types of con men. The Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls" was based on one of his stories.
Runyon had this advice on avoiding the pitfalls of con artists: "One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice, brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. And this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to get an earful of cider."
Spotting deception requires paying close attention. Think you can detect a lie easily? There are some clues to watch for, but bear in mind that accomplished liars can fool experts. If you think someone is trying to deceive you, you should watch for these signs.
-- Do words and body language match? When someone says, "Sure, I'd love to help," but can't manage a sincere smile, chances are, you shouldn't trust the offer.
-- Is there a pause in the answer? "I couldn't make it to work because ... my car broke down" is more than likely a cover story. Take it a step further and ask, "Why didn't you call me for a ride?" Awkward speech patterns are a good indicator of deception.
-- Does the answer include some repetition? Liars are more likely to repeat your question or rephrase it when they answer. "Did you leave the mess in the break room?" "No, I did not leave the mess in the break room."
According to a recent biography, a man who is the epitome of deception got his start at a young age. As a high school sophomore, this young man was assigned to present a book report to his class.
But he never actually got around to reading anything. So he stood up in front of the class and told them about "Hunting and Fishing," by Peter Gunn -- a book that didn't exist. He made it up. When the teacher asked to see the book, the student calmly replied that he couldn't, because he'd already returned it to the library.
The student was Bernie Madoff, whose Ponzi scheme bilked investors out of more than $17 billion. In that case, the judge had no problem sentencing him to 150 years in federal prison for his deception.
Mackay's Moral: With lies you may get ahead in the world -- but you can never go back.