Sports and ethics are two fundamental aspects of human society that have a significant impact on our lives. When we think of sports, we envision competition, athleticism, and teamwork. However, it is essential to recognize that sports are not merely about physical prowess and winning; they also involve moral considerations and ethical dilemmas. In this article, we will delve into the complex relationship between sports and ethics, examining how ethical principles shape our understanding and practice of sports. By exploring real-life examples and adopting an analytical perspective, we will uncover the multifaceted nature of this intriguing intersection.
The Role of Fairness in Sports
One of the key ethical principles that underpin sports is fairness. Fairness ensures that all participants have an equal opportunity to succeed and that the outcome of a sporting event is determined by merit rather than external factors. In competitive sports, rules and regulations are established to create a level playing field and ensure fair competition.
However, maintaining fairness in sports can be challenging. Instances of cheating, doping, and match-fixing not only undermine the integrity of sports but also violate ethical standards. These unethical practices not only compromise the spirit of fair play but also erode the trust of fans and spectators.
How many people think of Lance Armstrong when they think about cycling?
What about Barry Bonds in baseball?
The New England Patriots and "Deflategate" in football.
The list unfortunately could go a mile long. And while various factors surround each case, the true core of why they did what they did was to win. When teams or individuals win, we call them champions. When we find out they cheated, we rightfully call them cheaters. Sadly, the past can't be repeated, and while titles or cups can be stripped and names erased from history, those that bore to witness to an accomplishment in real time are forced to reconcile for themselves.
Sportsmanship: The Ethical Conduct in Sports
Sportsmanship, another vital aspect of sports ethics, encompasses the values and behaviors that reflect the moral character of athletes and participants. It goes beyond the pursuit of victory and emphasizes respect, integrity, and humility. A good sportsman or sportswoman displays grace in both victory and defeat, treating opponents, teammates, officials, and spectators with respect.
As I'm writing this, I feel personally a decline in sportsmanship across all levels of sports. I'm constantly reading headlines about youth referees being attacked at tournaments, and we've grown cold to the NBA moving away from the handshake line at the end of each game. What was once an affirmation of a game well-played has now become a meaningless inconvenience.
Does sportsmanship even matter anymore?
I'd argue that it matters more today than it ever has before. Kids need to be taught the values of sportsmanship at a young age. High school coaches need to enforce it at all costs. Professionals need to understand that their constantly being scrutinized and exhibit it around the clock.
Does a 12-year-old kid that screams at a referee behave the same way when he/she is in a management meeting at age 40? I'm not a researcher, but unless someone told that kid at 12 that their behavior was unacceptable, I'd bet on it.
Ethical Challenges in Modern Sports
As sports evolve and become increasingly intertwined with commercial interests, new ethical challenges emerge. One such challenge is the influence of money and financial incentives on the integrity of sports. The pursuit of lucrative sponsorship deals, endorsement contracts, and prize money can sometimes overshadow the ethical considerations within the sporting arena. Athletes may face the temptation to engage in unethical practices to gain a competitive edge or secure financial rewards.
We've seen this with meaningless baskets made at the end of games or starting a game before going to the bench just to keep a streak alive. I'm all about athletes making what they can; if anything, I'd argue that the drafters of some of these contracts have it coming.
On a broader scale, when organizations as a whole get involved in questionable decision making, it certainly makes you shake your head.
One could look at the Houston Astros and their team-wide commitment to stealing signs.
Or, the former bounty program for the defense of the New Orleans Saints.
Players will say it was out of their control. Coaches will point fingers. GM's will claim not to know about it. At what point do we all look in the mirror and simply say, "is this right?"
I understand that the pressure to win is enormous. Mike Budenholzer for the Milwaukee Bucks led the team to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. A first-round playoff exit, though, and he was fired.
Is it possible then to play by the rules, to do the right thing, and still win ball games?
I absolutely believe that it is. And it starts from the very core of "we don't cut corners here."
As an athlete, I played for some fantastic coaches who lived that way. One simply said, "you cheat on that sprint, you then cheat on your taxes, your wife, and your life." Point being, all it takes is a simple step in the wrong direction and all of a sudden, it's that much easier to keep going the wrong way.
Some may disagree with me, but we live in a society of short cuts. There is a cheat code for everything. But even that phrase, "cheat code," just feels slimy to me. I don't want to cheat, or cut corners, or take the easy way out. Why? Because I know the reward at the end doesn't feel as good without the raw, wholehearted effort of knowing I did things the right way.
Too many youth coaches today want to talk about recruiting and tournament schedules and sponsorships. All that stuff matters, it does. But, it shouldn't come close to those fundamental principles that kids (and sometimes their parents) desperately need.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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