The Pros and Cons of Playing Sports (or, Why Should People Play Sports?)

The Pros

Sports certainly can bring out the best in people and enhance their most noble qualities.  At a young age, men and women begin defining their values and when sports are taught by conscientious coaches and encouraged by caring parents, they can prompt a child or young adult to perform selfless acts of proper sportsmanship and gallantry.  One of the great disciplinarians and military minds in American history, General George S. Patton, had a high regard for athletes and sport as did the Duke of Wellington and the latter acknowledged that sport prepared his men for the decisive victory in the battle of Waterloo versus Napoleon’s Grand Armee in the War of 1812.  Success cannot be achieved without discipline or a strong work ethic, and when attained with earnest regard for ethics and morality, victory transcends the material realm and turns inward to the heart of the man or woman on the field.

Several examples of how sports’ lessons nourish the soul may be found in a few select readings.  In Jim Thompson’s Positive Coaching Alliance’s Bottom 10 Moments and Top 10 Moments in Sports, 2008, we see some of the best and worst that men and women can achieve as competitors and citizens.  When, in 2008, the USC Trojans squared off against the UCLA Bruins in college football’s most heated rivalry, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel took a time out after the initial kick off to match the two time-outs USC had to begin the game with; USC had only two because of a sanction the NCAA issued the Trojans the week prior.[1] Such displays of good sportsmanship are in line with one of the seven key descriptors of modern sport according to Professor Craig Lamay of Northwestern University’s Master of Sports Administration program: competition is fair and equal. An observant and ready student of sport may regard such a gesture as a symbol of how fairness and equality transcends competition and hatred (as a USC alum, I can attest that there is certainly no love lost between both schools.)  Number one on Thompson’s list is Central Washington’s Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace carrying their opponent, Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon, around the bases after the latter hit the game-winning home run in a crucial game and was injured as she rounded the bases.[2] Holtman and Wallace knew that the home run would not count if Tucholsky did not round the bases and could win the game on a technicality, but this is not in keeping with the definition of modern sport.  It would be dishonorable to win in such a way.  In both the USC versus UCLA and Sara Tucholsky examples, we find coaches and students by profession — these are full-time college students, after all — demonstrating that it is not just winning but how you win that counts.

These ladies and gentlemen demonstrated a high regard and respect for their opponents and the sport itself; both occasions afforded all participants – members of society aware of these events and competitors alike – lessons in selflessness and gallantry.  Spectators can certainly internalize the deeds of the days discussed and gather their own interpretations of these events.

In Ann Dodge and Brenda Robertson’s article “Justifications for Unethical Behaviour in Sport: The Role of the Coach,” the authors begin the introduction by observing that “sport can be a vehicle for teaching positive lessons, and those lessons come from involvement in activity where ethical dilemmas occur frequently.”[3] Though it is not always the case that sports teach noble lessons, as we will see in part B of this week’s article titled “The Cons,” it cannot be discounted that in one play, at one pivotal moment in a sporting event, a person’s view on life and/or of themselves may change forever.  A student of academia and/or life as well as an athlete can learn the value of discipline, a good attitude, and honor from sports and apply them to their own pursuits of perfection whether at home or while engaged in the duties required to maintain one.

[1]Jim Thompson.  “Positive Coaching Alliance’s Bottom 10 Moments and Top 10 Moments in Sports, 2008.” (as found on Northwestern University’s Blackboard page for the MSA 400 course on 27 June, 2009.)  1.

[2]Thompson, Jim.  “Positive Coaching…”  1.

[3]Ann Dodge and Brenda Robertson.  “Justifications for Unethical Behaviour in Sport: the Role of the Coach.” (as found on Northwestern University’s Blackboard page for the MSA 400 course on 27 June, 2009.)  1.


The Cons

While sports can bring out the best in some, it is not difficult to find examples on local and international information media of how athletes and participants disgrace themselves and the sport on and off the field of play.  Dodge and Robertson state that “it is almost a truism that socialization into sports nowadays has as much to do with becoming adept at… [many] forms of cheating and violence, as it does with furtherance of athletic excellence.”[1] Number three on Thompson’s list is an excellent example of disregard for rules and unnecessary violence in what is arguably the most celebrated spectacle in sports: the Olympic Games.  In the 2008 Summer  Olympics, Angel Matos was angered by a call made by the referee officiating his taekwondo match and kicked the latter in the face in a base show of anger and selfishness.  It would logically follow that after reading their points of view on unethical behavior in sports, Dodge and Robertson may not be surprised by this display of man’s darker side.  This lack of concern for others is not unique to Angel Matos or Taekwondo (as a brown belt, I attest that the art does not condone such behavior and instead teaches respect and honor for your opponent and the art itself); in fact, disregard for both rules and fairness accompanies a lesser tendency to develop a keen moral character as described in Andy Rudd and Sharon Stoll’s research on the type of character athletes possess.

Rudd and Stoll performed a quantitative analysis that would determine the differences, if any, between the character of athletes (mostly involved in team sports) and non-athletes.  Though this analysis did not appear to make allowances for the samples’ socioeconomic status, age, religious affiliation (Randall Balmer’s article on titled “Is God a Rams Fan?” drew several parallels between sport and religion, as did Carl T. Hall’s September 29, 2003 article in the San Francisco Chronicle titled “America and the Church of Baseball” which would make religion a relevant detail in this study) or whether or not the sample called “non-athletes” ever played sports (organized or not) at one time in their lives or another.  Nevertheless, the researchers provided data that accounted for variance in their statistics and drew several conclusions that marked a broad line between athletes involved in team sports and non-athletes and their respective views on the importance and relevance of morality.  Their analysis, in short, revealed that females (both athletes and non-athletes) “scored significantly higher than males [on the moral character index]… and males scored significantly higher than females on the social character index of the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory.[2] All in all, in qualitative studies that summarize the news of the day such as those found in popular information media and quantitative analyses like the work provided by Rudd and Stoll one finds sufficient data to support the notion that athletes, in general, tend to act more out of selfishness and with little regard for morality and ethics than those who are not full-time athletes.

Support for the claim that sports create a lack of concern for others, whether or not the “other” is an opponent or a teammate, is readily available on every medium spanning academia and popular culture.  Does this mean, though, that in the aggregate sports foster bad sportsmanship?  I would argue that, like any tool, it can be used to build or destroy.  It is up to the athlete to decide what to do with the life-changing potential of sport and the audience to interpret the actions they witness or learn about.

[1]Dodge, Ann and Brenda Robertson.  “Justifications…”  1.

[2]Andy Rudd and Sharon Stoll.  “What Type of Character Do Athletes Possess?” (as found on Northwestern University’s Blackboard page for the MSA 400 course on 28 June, 2009) 1-4.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thanks go once more to Professor Lamay for providing me with the prompt for this article.  And once more, thank you for your readership.

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