November 16, 2004

Athletes Know Meaning of Integrity

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Ron Artest is tired. The Indiana Pacer, former defensive player of the year, and now, hip-hop producer/ rapper is worn out — because he’s been working hard on an upcoming album. He wants “go platinum.” So he asked for a month off.

Now, the one thing that really stands out to me, amidst this whole debacle, is that Artest was quoted as saying he doesn’t know the meaning of “integrity.” As in, the actual definition of the word. To quote the St. John’s dropout himself — “I don’t even know what that means…I need you to get me a dictionary.”

Hey, I don’t want to insult the guy. But he makes you appreciate Cornell athletes. Cornell athletes compete in sports, excel in school, and I guarantee you that they know the meaning of integrity.

But what does integrity really mean? You can forget the dictionary. Your fellow Cornell student-athletes know what integrity is all about.

“To me, integrity is the ability to stand up for what you believe in even if it’s unpopular or against the norm,” said junior cross country runner Bruce Hyde. “I think it’s easy for successful athletes to lose sight of where they came from, and shift their moral and ethical values.”

Hyde just won the individual title at the NCAA Northeast regionals. Clearly, Hyde — an amateur, a student, and someone who treks up Libe Slope just like you — can handle his work without a month off.

Junior diver Kristin Rayhack was last year’s Ivy League champion on the 3-meter board — not to mention diver of the meet at the conference finals, and Cornell’s diving MVP. But she also knows that a person’s achievements in life are measured by more than just high scores and athletic honors.

“To me, integrity means being honest and true to yourself and others without compromising your values,” she said. “Because I’m a firm believer in karma, I think acting with integrity is key to living without regrets, deservedly achieving success, and creating genuine and lasting relationships.”

Deservedly achieving success. In many ways, that’s the essence of the Ivy League athlete. Consider junior wrestler Dustin Manotti. He’s the nation’s second-ranked grappler at 149 pounds. He was an All-American last year, and he placed fourth at the 2004 NCAA championships. Next week, he will compete at the Marines All-Star Classic, one of nation’s premier events. His strength is enviable to many — but so is his demeanor.

“Integrity to me is being respectful, having self-control, and maintaining discipline throughout life,” he said. “Especially when dealing with certain situations such as a sporting event.”

After all, sports are not just about raw athletic ability. Countless great athletes never live up their potential because they lack Manotti’s resolve and self-control. The same discipline that gets a student through prelim week, can also get an athlete through to the NCAA finals.

Cornell athletes have spent much of their lives dedicated to their sport. So when Manotti wins an event, we shouldn’t just consider that one victory. We should think about the countless practices and endless lifting that brought him to that achievement.

When Rayhack executes a flawless dive, we shouldn’t think of her accomplishment as just one graceful moment. We should think about her years spent working at her chosen sport — a sport where victory comes by the smallest of margins.

And when Hyde crosses the finish line after a cross country race, we should realize that he is not simply finishing a race of a few miles. He is finishing a much longer race, going back to the very first time he laced up a pair of running sneakers.

And now look at Artest. He’s a great athlete, no question. Yet his self-obsessed, undisciplined behavior — not to mention horrible rapping — prevents him from achieving even more.

Artest is not alone among professional athletes in this department. Maybe these experienced pros need to learn a little of what amateur Cornellians seem to already understand.

Archived article by Ted Nyman