VOTING DAY: Is stealing football signs unethical? Or ‘part of the game’?

Stealing signs can happen in all sports, including high school football. Is it unethical or “part of the game?”

Greater Atlanta Christian coach Tim Cokely:

“Unethical? You know, I played college baseball. There are all kinds of tips about what the pitch or play is going to be. I think that’s just part of the game. I think what would be unethical is to listen in on somebody’s headsets or try to acquire the game plan. Now if the quarterback is out there signaling around and you can read the signals? More power to you. I wouldn’t call that unethical. If I am playing defense, and every time the quarterback puts his hand down in a fist and it’s a bomb, I think I would catch on. If I look over there and every time they do a certain thing it’s a certain play, I don’t see that as being any different than looking at tendencies based on formation.”

Wheeler coach Michael Collins:

“I personally don’t steal signals. I don’t know if ‘unethical’ is the word that I would use for this issue. I know I personally don’t do it. I think the game loses its purity if you do it. I try to avoid doing it. Yes, I guess my opinion borders on it being on the unethical side of it. However, if a linebacker is on the field, and every time the quarterback taps his helmet, he throws a fade, then that’s a little bit different. To me, that’s part of the game. With me being an old baseball coach, if the catcher tips you off on the pitchout, then that’s part of the game. What I would never do is set out to purposely steal the coach’s signs. If you pick up some tips or tendencies along the way, that’s part of the game.”

13 comments Add your comment


September 23rd, 2010
1:07 am

Stealing signs is an art form.

Mike Thumler

September 23rd, 2010
8:22 am

It’s part of the game and Rush Probst is the best at it. When Colquitt played South Panola Coach Probst told his defense what play the opposing offense was going to run. That is how he held them to 65 points. It would have been ugly if he wasn’t able to alert his defense.

Local Law

September 23rd, 2010
8:24 am

Stealing Signs? The other team is yelling them out and They are not trying to hide their signs so how would that be stealing. It’s not if you dont want the other team to look and you Flying like a bird, pinching your ears lifting your hat, then I say DONT do them. I know where I coach you do the signs , and even YELL them out. We think you have to stop us period. Stealing Signs who ever said that is a cry baby. That is why you have WR and RB to run the call.

Mike T.

September 23rd, 2010
8:49 am

No more than stealing a base in baseball.


September 23rd, 2010
9:38 am

@ Mike Thumler. You don’t have a clue how good Panola was. They looked a whole lot better than Georgia State or Jacksonville State. Better, way better than anything H.S. team in the state of Georgia; even in all of the Atlanta area. Man up and play good teams instead of the same old, same old.

Carl J

September 23rd, 2010
10:42 am

Intelligence gathering is a major part of football. If you’re not scouting your opponents prior to the game or discerning tendencies during the game then you’re you destined to have a mediocre program.

Bare Bear Fan

September 23rd, 2010
12:22 pm

Tim Cokely is right. There are obvious and sometimes more subtle keys as to what play is coming, and if you ignore them, you’re costing your team. The ability to steal signs in baseball is considered to be a badge of honor; why should football be any different?

Mike Thumler

September 23rd, 2010
1:45 pm

@ PACKDADDY. I agree. You got stomped by a great team. I give you credit for getting drug up and down the field, smacked left and right then kicked to the curb by the best team in the country. That took a lot of guts. My hats off to your players. Coach Probst told your Defense what they were going to do and he had them prepared. Heck, your defense even mad a tackle or two. You won’t get an argument from me. South Panola is the best team in the country.

Chris F

September 24th, 2010
5:18 pm

Oh, so this must be another one of those differences between baseball and football. In baseball, there is a whole science around stealing signs, and a first base coach or third base coach who can steal signs is a valued commodiity, not to mention guys in the stands with high-powered binoculars and cell phones. When a player gets a big hit by supposedly guessing right on a pitch, how often is he actually tipped off?

In football, however, it’s different. Evidently, football fans have a higher sense of morality and say that stealing signs is cheating. Now, why the sport that puts a greater premium on knocking your opponents senseless has the more refined morality code seems odd to me, but I guess that’s just another one of those quirks about human nature.


September 24th, 2010
9:08 pm

If “stealing” signs is limited to observing what is done in the open, such as watching (or even recording) what signals are being sent and making a note of what play follows, and then responding appropriately the next time those same signals are sent, then I see nothing wrong with it.

However, stealing a teams playbook or intercepting radio transmissions seems unsportsmanlike.


September 25th, 2010
7:40 am

As a DB, I would often hear the coach yell the plays onto the field. C’mon I was standing right there!! If I hear it, I would run over and tell the play in the huddle as the other team was huddling.


September 26th, 2010
8:09 am

Of course it is not cheating. “Win if you can; lose if you must; but always cheat” Complaining about cheaters is like complaining to the Referee that your opponent just spit in your helmet ear hole. It has been going on for decades! It is called the fabric of the game.

Cardinal Sin

September 26th, 2010
12:44 pm

Well said Paddy!!!!