Character can mean moral or ethical strength; or more simply, who one is when no one watching. The word character implies an unavoidable scenario for every individual; should one do the right thing or the wrong thing? In the world of sports, we see respected athletes not only acquiring fame and wealth, but influencing things like racial and gender equality. Yet, we also see on television what happens when athletes are dishonest; they can be publicly stripped of their dignity and reputation.
Furthermore we see on television examples of moral deviance in business, politics, and entertainment; as well as the dire consequences of being held responsible for such acts. Participating in sports exposes individuals to a fast-paced microcosm of the real world; where everyone encounters the moral conflict of choosing between duty and desire, and is asked to make a choice based on the consequences they know or experience.
Therefore, participating in sports can influence character since the world of sports simulates the dynamics of a society full of individuals that want to follow the rules, not follow the rules, or do both; while showing everyone how the system weeds out deviants and praises obedience. Currently in America, we live in a capitalistic society, but ultimately a society dominated by Social Darwinism; which means “Survival of the fittest”. Yet what makes survival in social Darwinism different from survival in the animal kingdom, is the fact that the criterion for fitness is not just limited to physical and reproductive qualities.
Furthermore, we live in a democratic society where Social Darwinism is regulated by the people in order to promote fairness and equality. With this in mind, being considered fit in a capitalistic world can mean being wealthy, famous, sociable, skilled, etc; where physical and reproductive qualities can be a means to attaining the fitness described. Yet one can be wealthy by stealing, become famous by manipulating the media, trick people into believing that one is social, fake competence about skills that one claims to have, as well as other shortcuts.
In a way, the world of sports behaves the same way as a capitalistic society; except in organized sports, an athlete does not compete for physical and reproductive fitness; rather it is a means to their goal of winning, which may at times mean fame and “enormous monetary compensation tied to performance and endorsement deals” (Petrocelli 756). Furthermore, individuals from subordinated backgrounds (race, gender, class) must maneuver through obstacles of historically regarded social, political, and economic constraints against their fitness.
Although many athletes attain their success by following the rules; there are many athletes that bend or break the rules in order to attain their success. Athletes have avenues like performance enhancing drugs, rule breaking, and even physical assault with the intent of causing injury to act as shortcuts to assist their “success”; some avenues being highly enforced while others are being overlooked. Regardless, the pressure for a career athlete to succeed is often times immense.
Even for organized sports like Women’s Tennis; athletes may be tempted to cheat in order to support their annual costs of $150,000 just to stay in the Grand Slam (Kimmelman 518-519) The reality is that many get away with using a dishonest means to gaining their fitness; yet those that do not are punished severely; furthermore, society continues to get better at finding out who is acquiring their fitness dishonestly. For example, Marion Jones was a five time gold medalist in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Jones admitted to a grand jury in 2007 that she had taken performance enhancing drugs as far back as the 2000 Summer Olympics, and admitted that she lied about it (Wiki). Jones was consequently stripped of all her medals; her steroid use was also tied to the controversial BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operation) Scandal which revealed many pro athletes to be BALCO drug users; athletes like members of the Miami Dolphins, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds were implicated in the BALCO bust (Petrocelli 753) (Wiki).
Marion Jones not only suffered public humiliation, but also suffered financial problems due to court costs related to the scandal; consequently, Jones was forced to forfeit her property which even included her mothers house (Wiki). Most recently, Louis Armstrong was accused of taking performance enhancing drugs by the USADA (United States Anti Doping Agency), who apparently won the Tour De France seven times (Vertuno). The Tour De France is considered to be “the biggest, hardest, ost grueling race there is,” with “a prize so precious that cyclists will do anything to win” (CBC); apparently cyclists “have scattered broken glass and fans have tossed nails on the road to confound rivals”, while others have died from trying to get a competitive edge with “amphetamines and alcohol” (CBC); furthermore considered to be “Maybe the biggest race of all lies in the testers trying to outsmart the cheaters” (CBC).
If seven time Tour De France winner Louis Armstrong is convicted of doping, not only will he suffer the consequence of legal ramifications; but will also be held in history as an individual that cheated his way through seven cutthroat marathons. Therefore, it is obvious that the consequences of dishonesty in sports can be as severe as the consequences that come from dishonesty in every day life. Ultimately, athletes being publicly held accountable for their dishonesty in sports can influence ethical citizenship and serve as a deterrent for people seeking shortcuts in both the world of sports and real world.
Furthermore, sports can represent the moral integrity of a group, race, or gender associated with their sport or team. For example, we see public displays of religious beliefs from athletes like “Tim Tebow, Shawn Green, Albert Pujols, Eric Liddell or Muhmoud Abdul-Rauf” (Vooris), whom are all considered respected honest athletes. Furthermore, we have athletes like Muhammed Ali and Jackie Robinson making political statements against racial stereotypes and unjustifiable wars (Vooris).
Even though it is a popular belief that making political statements in sports is “unethical” in the sports realm (Vooris); people outside of sports may be able to notice that these athletes making political statements represent subordinated groups that are at the very bottom of our hierarchical social strata (Dworkin 737); and are using sports as a means for upward mobility in order to gain power to remedy important social issues (racism, sexism, etc).
Yet, organized sports has a way of not allowing such statements to have too have too much impact on deconstructing traditional power relations to class race or gender. Sociology professor Michael A. Messner states in his essay Just Do … What? Sport, Bodies, Gender, “Although we can see African American men’s struggle to achieve success and respect through sport as a collective response to class and racial constraint, this agency operates largely to reproduce – rather than to resist or challenge – current race, class, and gender relations of power” Ultimately, it is up to the athlete to challenge hese relations of power by fighting stereotypes meant to reproduce class and racial constraints. For example, infidelity in organized sports is a huge issue today but even more so for African Americans. Messner states in his essay “Americans are increasingly obsessed with documenting the sexual misbehaviors of Black athletes”, which is obvious when one pays attention to current news programs. Apparently, the stereotype revolving around African Americans being sexually deviant is not being challenged in the world of organized sports but rather “reproduced”.
Kobe Bryant is a good example of a famous black athlete given more media attention for infidelity than he is supposed to. As much as the media sets up Kobe to look like a celebrity with semi justifiable hedonistic entitlements; he is still reproducing, and in some ways encouraging, the stereotypes with his behavior. Consequently, Kobe Bryant is still a lower classmen who is achieving “upward mobility by providing entertainment and vicarious thrills to those more advantaged. ” (Dworkin 748).
In conclusion, sports represents the integrity and dignity of the individual and/or group that is participating in it; therefore athletes may have no other option but to play fair and maintain moral integrity for the sake of being valid (at times, more important than success and winning). “The school is the last place they are going to turn for moral guidance” (Sheed 495) Unfortunately, morality is not taught in schools and the fact about ethics not being taught in schools is a matter that is argued by many thinkers throughout history and today.
Although there are a good many intellectuals trying to figure out ways to teach moral guidance in schools; they fail to consider the moral guidance that comes from participating in school sports. Wilfrid Sheed described moral instruction in school sports as being “inevitable” further describing it to teach either “fairness or cheating, teamwork or selfishness, compassion or coldness” (Sheed 498).
Not only is the world of sports full of both dishonest and honest players, but it also exposes individuals to both dishonest and honest players and shows examples of how to deal with them. Furthermore, when athletic dishonesty is discouraged it can also indirectly discourage social dishonesty. Wilfrid Sheed, in his essay Why Sport Matter, credits the discouragement of cheating in sports in the mid 1900’s to have had an effect on people during the Great Depression; making everyone more “honest citizens”.
Sports can also teach valuable life lessons; Sheed escribes one lesson as so, “But if sports teaches you anything, it is that less important thing can hurt more than important ones but they are less important and there are tricks for dealing with them” (Sheed 493). Although this lesson may apply in sports, it also applies to everyday life like dealing with difficult people at the office. An individual may make seemingly harmless remarks about an employee’s behavior but the reality may be that the individual is trying to set up the employee to be labeled as either incompetent or unfit for the job.
The trick to deal with this would be to maintain ones integrity without overreacting; unfortunately many will fail the first time they are dealt with an important issue disguised to be “less important” and possibly react with public fury that makes the issue more important than it has to be. In the real world, not knowing such ways to deal with difficult people can mean the loss of a job, friends, reputation, and dignity; yet in the world of sports, not knowing things like this will lead to less dire consequences that are more palatable to learn from (if the athlete chooses to pursue things other than sports).
For example, cheerleaders are usually on top when it comes to social skills since often times, “cheerleaders have to contend with lack of respect from their peers and frequent mockery” (Yarboff 525) Even those that do not participate in sports or who are not enthusiastic about sports can build character from sports. Athletes may have qualities that non-athletes can be influenced by. Even being a fan of a sport can influence national pride, solidarity, ethical awareness, and even patience.
Felisa Rogers describes how her football fandom was “a source of comfort” when her and her Greenbay Packers fan husband were having a hard time. Furthermore, Rogers described fandom being a source for solidarity and communion when her academic and career life failed to provide it; further confirming the popular belief that sports teaches individuals social skills (Rogers 533). In many ways, the world of sports is a fast paced version of the real world; where real world issues are symbolically and more intensely represented in the world of sports.
Therefore in the world of sports, an individual can be forced to make the same ethical decisions as those in the real world except under a different setting (location, rules, traditions, etc). Both the real world and the world of sports are populated with both honest and dishonest people; in both worlds it is clear that cheating is wrong. Objectively and morally, no one can be considered more than what they are if they are truly not; this applies even more for organized sports.
Dishonest athleticism does not only degrade the value of the athlete, but also the group, creed, or sex that the athlete mandatorily represents. Therefore, a lack of ethical responsibility for an athlete not only put themselves on the line, but also the dignity and reputation of whoever the athlete may represent. Ultimately, for anyone that chooses to do right and believe that shortcuts are not really shortcuts at all but rather a means to cheating oneself; sports should encourage a wealth of qualities that indicate good moral character.