Pondering collegiate athletics

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Posted Feb. 05, 2010, at 10:36 p.m.

As we settle in for the game, or at least that’s what the NFL and television would like us to believe, let’s venture afar from the chips and dip — sports ethics.

David Brooks touched on the subject in his column on Thursday in the New York Times.

He wrote of an article by Professor Michael Gillespie of Duke on the role of sports in ethical training, particularly as to college sports.

Gillespie, as Brooks reads it, calls for reforming “college sports into something smaller and more participatory.” Gillespie says the games have become too big and athletes have become the gladiators of Roman times, performing for a “braying” mass of spectators looking for the kill (also referred to as winning).

Another attempt at reform came in 2001 when the Knight Commission on intercollegiate sports issued a call to bring college sports back under the umbrella of university activities, citing the disconnect between big-time college sports and the university, a problem that still grows today.

The ethics of this is that as all sports have grown and money and making it to the pros have become the end all, regard for sportsmanship, fair play and common decency on the fields and in the stands has lost its place.

Brooks sees the sins, but argues for the virtues of major college sports. The discussion is a worthy one.

Brooks says big-time college sports “cross class lines,” bringing us together at the games.

Maybe, but those suites and special boxes are not for the masses.

He says the games bring people together to share common emotional experiences.

Maybe, but those drunks swilling down beer at 9 a.m. and shouting obscenities at the games are an emotional experience to be missed. The whole idea of sports as a place to get plastered and be obnoxious needs reigning in.

Brooks finds the games help “make university towns vibrant communities.”

Maybe, but university towns were vibrant long before big-time sports. Smaller-school towns can be just as vibrant and perhaps more textured.

Brooks concludes his column saying, “Big-time college sports are absurd, but we would miss them if they were gone.”

Maybe, or maybe the ones who would really miss them are television networks, advertisers and those who live vicariously through athletes they replace every four years, or earlier if the graduation rate for the athletes is abysmal.

The ethics of all this goes to a set of scales: ethics on one side and on the other the win-at-all-costs concept in the chase for exposure and money, both for individual athletes and for institutions.

That chase has created big-time college sports. That scale has titled too far to the latter side.

We might go to the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNISCO) for their Code of Sports Ethics for some help.

That code says, “Fair play is defined as a way of thinking, not just a way of behaving.” The responsibility to establish that way of thinking rests with all of us.

Big-time college sports have their place and can be a quality ethical example in society. Bringing the games down a peg can only help.

Now to the Super Bowl, enjoy the ads.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/02/05/sports/pondering-collegiate-athletics/ printed on August 30, 2014