Sunday, September 18, 2016


Sunday Reflection: The Ethics of Sports

Playing sports, especially the most violent sports, is often characterized as "building character." Does it really do that? And what principles do they teach?

As with all things, it depends on who is teaching you. "Winning is the most important thing" is a terrible goal. Winning what? It takes into account nothing about the value of the contest. Some things are not worth winning, yet people who are competitive, who have been trained to always win, pursue them with a full-throated roar regardless.

What does winning mean?

Christ always turned everything upside down. It is the meek who win the earth. Why, then is it so hard for our Christian society to accept the value of the meek?

I suppose in sports winning is a measure of the effort one puts into whatever it is they compete for and the life lesson found at the end of that pursuit is the value of merit and fair play. Some times winning fuels progress, which is not a bad thing...winning at any cost always is.
My all-time favorite coach, personal hero, and model for teaching, John Wooden, defined success as putting forward the very best effort of which you are capable. Toward the end of his career his teams won ten NCAA national championships in large part because the best players in America wanted to play on his team. But, in the beginning, his teams won because they came and learned the value of hard work, team work, discipline, and preparation. He coached eighteen seasons (sixteen of which at UCLA before he won a national championship). His ten national championships in 33 seasons stands out as an unparalleled accomplishment. He retired at sixty-five years-old drawing a salary from UCLA of $35,000 per year. Much more than championships, his players learned essential life lessons. John Wooden was the winningest coach in the history of sports.
I am not a big fan of winning at all costs, yet I do thinks there is great virtue and much to be gained (re: building character) from playing highly competitive, physical (and at times violent) sports. Not only in terms of the hard work, persistence, discipline, dedication … and hopefully team work … that goes into it. More importantly, in a Jungian sense, it is a great way to do important shadow work … as one is forced to come face to face with the shadow (negative/destructive) side of competition, anger, and violence. There is a way to do so with integrity and respect … and not. In hockey, there is an expression … “do not step on the ice if you cannot take a hit (without reacting).” A hockey player also has to be willing to hit (check). And we all have the ability, like it or not, to cross the line. Therein, if brought to awareness and confronted, can be source of great learning. Arthurian legend, “sword” stuff.
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