Culture At Large

The moral crisis of American sports

Andy Rau

I'm not much of a sports person. When I was in fifth grade, the only game my junior league soccer team won all year was the one that I missed due to illness (a coincidence, I'm sure). But nevertheless, I found this New Republic essay about the moral crisis facing professional sports in America interesting. It looks at our nostalgia for bygone days of good sportsmanship and honor, and at the reasons that sports fans find steroids and other drugs so morally upsetting. Over at First Things, Peter Leithart summarizes the essay's argument quite well:

The heart of the corruption... is a failure to grasp the proper ends of sport. It’s not all about winning and losing, “the separable, the measurable, and comparative results.” Sport is about the “humanity of the human performer.” At the heart of human play is “the lived experience, for doer and spectator alike, of a humanly cultivated gift, excellently at work, striving for superiority and with the outcome in doubt.” In professional sport, Kass and Cohen lament that these ends and goods of sport have been almost buried beneath mountains of hype, cheating, betting, drug abuse, scandals, and greed.

The essay suggests that the activity of sports is a sort of microcosm of human existence in general, and that when it's subverted through cheating and dishonorable behavior, it loses its dramatic (and moral) appeal. I don't know if they did so deliberately or not, but in their closing paragraphs on page 10, the authors use imagery which closely parallels that of 1 Corinthians 9 and Romans 12.

Sports fans—any thoughts? Are there games, teams, or specific athletes that you could still hold up to your children as role models? Was there a particular event in sports history that disillusioned you? Do scandals like the recent baseball/steroids kerfluffle dampen your enthusiasm for professional sports in general, or are you able to still enjoy the game?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Sports, News & Politics, History, Justice