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SPORT ETHICS. "To educate a person in the mind but not the morals is to educate a menace to society." –Teddy Roosevelt.

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sport ethics


"To educate a person in the mind but not the morals is to educate a menace to society." –Teddy Roosevelt

Ethics is the study of morals or character; a study of the principles of human duty or the study of all moral qualities that distinguish an individual relative to others.

Moral pertains to an individual’s motives, intentions, and actions as right or wrong, virtuous or vicious, or good or bad.

Values are anything having relative worth.

Moral values are the relative worth that is placed on some virtuous behavior.

Principles are universal rules of conduct that identify what kinds of actions, intentions, and motives are valued.

moral reasoning process
  • Moral Reasoning is the systematic process of evaluating personal values and developing a consistent and impartial set of moral principles by which to live.
    • Moral Knowing is the cognitive phase of learning about moral issues and how to resolve them.
    • Moral Feeling is the basis of what we believe about ourselves, such as self-esteem, and society, such as empathy for others
    • Moral Acting is how we act based on what we know and value.
moral reasoning

“Moral reasoning does not promise behavioral change, but it does promise individual soul searching and reflection on personal beliefs, values, and principles. Without this process, cognitive moral growth will not increase, behavior change will never occur, and the potential for consistent moral action become little more than a hit or miss proposition.”

Stoll and Beller (1998), p. 24

kohlberg s stages of moral development


  • Conventional
  • Pre-conventional
  • Stage Six states that universal ethical principles and the individual conscience serve as the basis for all actions.
  • Stage Five expects people to fulfill the social contract and show genuine interest in the welfare of others.
  • Stage Four assumes that people act in conformity to the social system and social order.
  • Stage Three suggests that people react to the expectations of parents, peers, and authority figures to gain their approval.
  • Stage Two emphasizes following rules for self-interest.
  • Stage One focuses on obedient actions performed to avoid punishment.
societal attitudes toward ethical conduct
Relativism this belief advocates that what is right or wrong is determined based on the situation (situation ethics)

Absolutismthere is an absolute moral code that should be applied without partiality in every situation

Consequential (utilitarian) theory states that the ultimate standard of what is morally right is dependent on the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people.

Non-consequential(Kantian) theory holds that there is an inherent rightness apart from all consequences.

frequent rationalizations for unethical behaviors in sport
  • There is no rule against it.
  • Everyone else does it.
  • This action is not unethical because no one will ever know about it.
  • Circumstances require acting in this way.
moral justification
  • The unethical action was really ethical; that is, muddy the waters and make the wrong look right.
  • The unethical action was a non-issue in the sense that the action caused no harm to another individual or was unseen by an official; that is, no foul, no harm.
  • A rule was violated but the amount of good accomplished overshadowed the small amount of harm that occurred; that is, the end justifies the means.

Stoll & Beller, 2006, p 79

ethics and sportsmanship
  • “Ethics is a matter of being good (character) and doing right (action).”
  • “Sportsmanship is a matter of being good (character) and doing right (action) in sports.”
  • “The majority of acts that we consider bad in sports and call ‘unsportsmanlike’ are bad precisely because they are unfair, dishonest, disrespectful, or against the rules.”

Gough, 1997, Character is everything: Promoting ethical excellence in sports, pp. 21-22

what does sportsmanship look like
  • Playing fair
  • Following the letter and spirit of the rules
  • Respecting the judgments of officials
  • Treating opponents with respect
  • Shaking hands at the end of the game
  • Never running up the score
  • Never cheating
  • Never taunting
teaching how to reason morally
  • The systematic process of evaluating personal values and developing a consistent and impartial set of moral principles by which to live
  • Moral reasoning occurs when you decide that you will always strive to do what is right.
  • It takes moral courage to act upon what a person values.
problems with the moral reasoning and athletes
  • The longer athletes participate in sport, the lower their moral reasoning.
  • Males have lower levels of moral reasoning than do females.
  • Teamsport athletes show lower levels of moral reasoning than do individual sport athletes.
  • The moral reasoning of interscholastic athletes is less consistent, impartial, and reflective than is that of non-athletes.
values and ethics of athletes in high school sports
Values and Ethics of Athletes in High School Sports

The Mostly Good News

The vast majority of high school athletes (90%) say their coaches “consistently set a good example of ethics and character,” and 91% reported that their current coach “wants them to do the ethically right thing, no matter what the cost.”

values and ethics of athletes in high school sports14
Values and Ethics of Athletes in High School Sports

The Bad News

  • Girls are more committed to honesty and fair play than are boys.
  • Boys who play baseball, football, and basketball cheat more (injure; intimidate; break rules) than do boys playing other sports.
  • Athletes cheat more in school than do non-athletes.
  • Athletes in football, softball, (girls’) basketball, cheerleading, ice hockey, and baseball cheat more than athletes in other sports; girls and boys in cross country and swimming are the least likely athletes to cheat in school.
values and ethics of athletes in high school sports15
Values and Ethics of Athletes in High School Sports

More Bad News

  • 43% of boys (51% in football; 49% in baseball; 47% in basketball) and 22% of girls agree when coaches teach basketball players how to foul in ways difficult to detect
  • 28% of boys and 11% of girls approve of a soccer goalie advancing past the line on a penalty kick
  • 25% of boys (48% in baseball) agree it is an acceptable part of baseball to throw an opposing batter who hit a home run in his last at bat
  • 42% of boys (54% in football; 49% in basketball) and 18% of girls approve of verbally demeaning opponents
  • 34% of boys (40% in baseball; 39% in football) and 12% of girls approve of coaches trying to pump up their team by swearing at officials and getting ejected
whatever it takes to win
Whatever It Takes to Win
  • How is Peter a victim of moral callousness brought on by the game itself!
  • What did his acceptance of and participation in violent behaviors indicate about his moral reasoning?
  • What are the ethical ramifications of pushing the rules to the limit and even attempting to get away with breaking them?
  • Given the cultural imperative of winning, how does ethical behavior apply?
  • How could or should have Peter behaved in order to act as a morally responsible person?
the baseball brawl
The Baseball Brawl
  • Assuming that the collision at home plate was within the rules, is this within the spirit of the rules?
  • Why did the benches clear and a brawl ensue?
  • How would the penalty for participating in this fight affect the possible recurrence of a fight or players’ participation in one?
  • Should "taking out" a player covering a base to tag a runner ever be considered violent behavior?
  • If an advantage is gained and the practice is permitted, should the action be questioned based on moral principle?
aggression in ice hockey
Aggression in Ice Hockey
  • Why was Mario allowed to fight and display aggressive behavior as a youth hockey player? Were any of Mario's actions unethical?
  • What values may the coaches who attempted to get Mario to play for their youth hockey team been displaying?
  • What values were being shown by Mario's flagrant action against Stefan?
  • How could this unfortunate incident have been avoided?
  • In an aggressive sport in which bodily contact is part of the game, should aggression be tempered, and, if so, how? Can athletes play aggressively in a contact sport and behave in an ethical manner?
pushing and shoving in basketball
Pushing and Shoving in Basketball
  • How is psychological intimidation associated with physical retaliation in sport?
  • When and how were Ramona and LaShonda guilty of inappropriate behavior?
  • How did the coaches and officials contribute to this violence in sport?
making weight in wrestling
Making Weight in Wrestling
  • Is Coach Miller violating any ethical principles by instructing Jerry to wrestle at a weight below that at which he would naturally compete? If so, what principles?
  • Is the motivation to succeed influencing Jerry to violate any ethical principles? If so, what principles?
  • Is Jerry cheating by wrestling at an unnatural weight (that is, a more mature athlete taking advantage of a less mature athlete)? Why or why not?
  • How are Coach Miller and Jerry treating the eligibility rule governing weight classifications to equalize competition?
  • What moral lesson is Coach Miller teaching Jerry?
cheating to stay eligible
Cheating to Stay Eligible
  • In this situation, considering the opportunity for a grant-in-aid and a college education, would it be acceptable for James to take the exam?
  • What should Lynn do? (Lynn knows that James must pass this test to go to college. There is no way that James could afford to go to college any other way than on an athletic grant-in-aid. This may be James's only chance.)
  • If Lynn says nothing, is Lynn being dishonest?
  • Does a friendship take precedence over a moral principle? Does Lynn's loyalty to James come before the rule about honesty?
  • Should Lynn ask James to return the exam?
the star running back
The Star Running Back
  • What moral principles, if any, did Coach Allen violate in getting Nathan to attend NHS?
  • What moral principles, if any, did Coach Allen violate in negotiating a package deal of a college coaching position for him in exchange for ensuring that Nathan attends the same institution?
  • What moral principles, if any, did Coach Allen violate in "taking care of" Nathan while in high school and potentially in college relative to extra benefits or academic assistance?
the young gymnast
The Young Gymnast
  • What are the ethical issues, if any, associated with starting a highly competitive sport at a young age?
  • Did Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell pressure Jane unduly? If so, why?
  • What are the pros and cons of the sport skills development program operated by Coach Symanski?
  • What types of pressures contributed to Jane's burnout?
  • What ethical dilemmas do this case present for Jane, Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell, and Coach Symanski?
  • If you were Jane's parents would you support her wanting to quit, considering the money invested and the opportunities Jane had to become the best gymnast in the world?
expectations for winning
Expectations for Winning
  • Did Virginia Sanborn learn any unethical coaching practices from Coach Turner?
  • Did it take the combination of all of Coach Turner's coaching methods, both ethical and unethical, to build a winning team at Midwestern State University?
  • How and why did Coach Sanborn earn the respect of her players?
  • Were Mr. Ethridge and Mr. Farmer violating any ethical principles in issuing the ultimatum to Coach Sanborn?
  • Would you sacrifice your principles and adopt a different coaching style? Why or why not?
the coach as role model
The Coach as Role Model
  • Can a coach stress winning and simultaneously teach moral values? If so, how?
  • Why was cutting a boy who wanted to play baseball not an option for Coach Young?
  • To what, do you think, did these boys attribute their continued love of sports?
  • How do you think Coach Young would have handled a "star athlete" who was disgruntled when he was replaced by a lesser skilled teammate?
  • How do you think Coach Young would have handled an athlete who cheated, violated a team rule, or displayed unsports­manlike conduct?
  • How do you think Coach Young would have handled an athlete who did not achieve academically?
  • What if this athlete was the best player on the team?
too successful too young
Too Successful, Too Young
  • What are the ethical issues, if any, associated with Shirley's early tennis career?
  • What values did Mr. Foster appear to emphasize during his daughter's tennis career?
  • What factors seem to have been contributors to the changes in priorities when Shirley turned 18?
  • What was Shirley valuing when she made the allegation against her father?
  • How might sport burnout have contributed to the changes in Shirley's approach to tennis?
the super star
The Super Star
  • What ethical values, if any, did Danny violate in summer league play?
  • What ethical values, if any, did Danny violate while in high school?
  • What ethical values, if any, did Danny violate as a collegiate athlete?
  • What ethical values, if any, did Danny violate as a professional athlete?
  • Are the moral principles applicable to sport always the same, or should they vary by level of competition?
  • How did the economic values learned in his earlier years affect Danny's behaviors as a professional athlete?
the un level tennis court
The Un-level Tennis Court
  • What principles or moral values are in jeopardy?
  • Is this a moral issue, and why?
  • What questionably moral actions are occurring, and why?
  • How had Billy been treated during his early years of playing tennis? What does this tell you about the values of the individuals he played at his club?
  • What were the conflicts Billy experienced in competitions outside his club?
  • On what values did Coach Vines base his recruiting and team selection decisions?
  • What legal and moral values, if any, were violated by Coach Vines in not selecting Billy for the tennis team?
limited opportunities
Limited Opportunities
  • What, if any, moral values or principles are involved in this case?
  • What morally questionable actions are occurring, and why?
  • Did the Miller boys experience any discriminatory treatment while playing in youth football leagues? If so, what was it?
  • Were the beliefs expressed by Coach Dobbins based on fact or myth, and was he behaving morally by espousing them?
  • Did the position shifting of Jeremy by his Caucasian coaches violate any moral principles?
all i want to do is run
All I Want to Do Is Run
  • What moral principles, if any, are being violated?
  • What moral values, if any, were displayed by Coach Jonas?
  • What were the moral values of the people of Stegall that placed females in supportive, rather than participative, roles in sport?
  • What were the ethical issues, if any, why Coach Hudson initially resisted and subsequently allowed Sally to train with the boys' track team?
  • Why did the School Board allow Sally to compete? Was this decision a morally reasoned one?
  • What were Sally's moral and legal rights in this situation?
lack of equal opportunity
Lack of Equal Opportunity
  • What, if any, ethical issues led to Lisa's forced exit from baseball?
  • What are the moral bases for equity in high school sports for both genders?
  • What ethical principles, if any, were violated by SCC’s refusal to treat female athletes equitably?
  • What values or principles did Mr. Riddick violate by eliminating the softball team?
  • What underlying values were used by each person in making his or her decisions in this situation?
athletics and masculine hegemony
Athletics and Masculine Hegemony
  • What are the moral and ethical issues in this case?
  • Is it ethical to treat female athletes inequitably in program support because they do not play revenue-producing sports? If not, what are the unethical practices?
  • What moral principles, if any, could have been used by Hugh Knowles in his decision to hire men to coach the four women's teams?
  • Is it ethical for women's athletic programs to be administered exclusively by men? Why or why not?
the moral ethos of sport
  • Is an intentional rule violation congruent with the moral ethos of sport?
  • Is a tactical rule violation, or the breaking of the rules on purpose to gain a benefit even though there is an associated penalty, ethical? Is this an ethical way to attempt to secure a victory?
  • Is cheating, which is an intentional deception or circumvention of the rules that were established to maintain fairness, ethical? Is the intent of sport to get away with things to gain an advantage?
  • Are rule violations ethical if they are not caught and penalized? If rule violations are attempted and penalized, then are these rule violations deemed to be acceptable?
are there ethical issues in youth sports about these
  • Cutting a child trying out for a sports team
  • Playing the best players (some do not play)
  • Keeping the best players in the “key” positions
  • Competing for championships and trophies
  • Requiring a child to play a sport
  • Specializing in one sport
  • Offering teams for one gender only
are these ethical issues in interscholastic sports
  • Requiring athletes to pass all subjects
  • Specializing in one sport
  • Treating male athletes preferentially
  • Requiring athletes to play while injured
  • Using drugs to enhance performance
  • Teaching athletes (by coaches) how to break sport rules to gain an advantage
  • Giving athletes money or other benefits
  • Taunting and gamesmanship
are these ethical issues in intercollegiate athletics
  • Requiring athletes to maintain academic eligibility and progress toward a degree
  • Giving money or tangible gifts to prospective college athletes during their recruitment or while playing
  • Treating male athletes preferentially
  • Teaching athletes (by coaches) how to break sport rules to gain an advantage
  • Making money from the performances of athletes while they receive only grants-in-aid
are these ethical issues in intercollegiate athletics37
  • Using drugs to enhance performance
  • Requiring college students to pay fees to support athletics
  • Allowing students and other fans to shout obscenities at or harass visiting athletes
  • Using psychological ploys, such as taunting and gamesmanship to gain an advantage
  • Allowing a television network to dictate the date and time of a college competition
Teamwork is important for winning.

I would taunt my opponent.

A team must have a good coach to win.

I would spit on my opponent.

Luck is a part of winning.

It is important to shake hands with my opponent after a game.

I have never been in a game where any rules were violated.

Referees’ decisions will affect a game’s result.

Intramurals are a waste of time.

I would deliberately injure my opponent to help me win.

A team must have a “star player” to be a winning team.

Respecting my opponent gives me a better chance of winning.

The team that prepares the best should win the game.

“Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.”

I have never seen or heard someone taunt or trash-talk an opponent.

Respect is an important attribute for a winning team.

Football is a more violent sport than ice hockey.

I must respect my opponent to play my best.

Basketball is a non-contact sport.

I would trash-talk my opponent.

Soccer is a non-contact sport.

I compliment an opponent for a good play.

It is “OK” to run up the score against an inferior opponent.

Basketball players are better “athletes” than baseball players.

I would "bend the rules" to win.

It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

It is not up to players to enforce rules (it’s the referee’s job).

Integrity is an important attribute for a winning team.

Intercollegiate athletics are bad for a university.

I would retaliate if I was given a “cheap shot” by my opponent.

Skill in a sport is more important than hard work.

I play fair.

Being a good sport (showing sportsmanship) is important to winning.

“Every student an athlete, every student challenged.”

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