On Ethics in Modern Sports
Ethics in modern sports, is that phrase now oxymoronic? I know it sure sounds that way today as I read about the travails of the Big East Conference, devoured by ravenous sharks and abandoned by fickle members. So let’s start with college sports.
College sports are complex but in a number of conferences, mainly small ones, ethics still matter; there’s an understanding that sports are one of several tools available to mold intelligent principled leaders for the future. That’s certainly the case at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, of which I’m a proud alumna: in fact, I believe it to be true at most if not all US military colleges. Our records in sports certainly attest to that where we are perennial over achievers and infrequent champs.
It’s ironic but reflective of reality that the major BCS conferences so mirror modern commerce and its corrupt, anti-competitive, monopolistic tendencies and win at all costs mentality. That’s become even more blatant lately as several conferences, notably the SEC, ACC and Pac 12, raid other conferences, bloating themselves with members at the expense of tradition and balance. It mirrors the monopolistic merger mania in the auditing and legal professions, in financial institutions and in major corporations where the results have led us to the brink of a worldwide depression. It mirrors our political system where a self centered binopoly stifles any real democratic potential.
For a while I thought that the invasion of academic institutional sports by the anti-competitive wave might not involve serious societal issues or consequences but I was wrong. I love sports, both participatory and passive, but I have to admit that our sports establishment has serious moral flaws, beginning with the imposition of involuntary servitude on athletes at both professional and collegiate levels. I haven’t given much thought to undergraduate or amateur levels but now that I do, the concept infects them as well. The hypocrisy is ludicrous, especially at colleges that reap huge financial rewards at the expense of their students’ moral and physical well-being, financial rewards not shared (except with coaches), and where violations of that servitude are punished with strange sanctions, almost always imposed on future programs that were not involved, temporality run amok. The ethical morass is all encompassing and infective. Is it any wonder that we are in the midst of an all-encompassing ethical crisis? After all, where do we claim to train our leaders?
I love sports and am actively recommending sports as a solution to cultural problems among the least favored segments of our society. Teamwork, discipline, self-sacrifice and fair play are all virtues that were honed for me with the help of participatory sports. But like so many other things, the tortured tentacles of corruption are strangling them, squeezing from them all that’s good and noble. And the process, as reflected in the current major college football conferences, is accelerating.
Just where are we heading and why; how have we become this way? Is there any way out?
 © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2011; all rights reserved