Sports Cause the Discussion of Ethical, Social and Cultural Issues

Sports Cause the Discussion of Ethical, Social and Cultural Issues
Abstract: In contemporary American society, the pervasiveness of sports has become the vehicle for the discussion of important ethical and cultural issues. The typical American is included in this discussion due to this cultural saturation. This saturation plays an important role in public discourse. Sports provide an egalitarian platform for the daily discussion of important ethical, social and cultural issues. Throughout history, sports have been an integral part of human experience. In his Laws, Plato stated, " is made God's plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and women should live life accordingly, and play the noblest games..."(Plato)

Humankind has, over the centuries, participated in, observed and commented on sports.

In contemporary American society, sports have become a readily accessible means for the average citizen as well as the academic to participate in the public discourse. As Professor James Shall has noted "Philosophic discussions sometimes lend themselves to non philosophic beginnings" (1). The pervasiveness of sports in society provides the vehicle for the discussion of important ethical and moral issues. The typical American is included in this dialogue because the culture is saturated with sports. Americans of all socio-economic and educational backgrounds discuss these concepts in a wide range of venues, such as, scholarly journals and popular magazines, in sports bars and around the breakfast table. They are debated in the workplace, as well as in casual social gatherings. Radio talk shows regularly feature sport-related subjects and newspapers exhibit this conversation throughout every section. When people talk 'sports', they are simultaneously addressing much weightier matters and participating in the continuing conversation called the American public discourse. This saturation plays a vital role in stimulating individual participation in public discourse. Sports provide an egalitarian platform for the daily discussion of important ethical, moral and social issues.

Public discourse and philosophical reflection are usually associated with professional philosophers and politicians. Traditional philosophical concepts such as truth, justice, human worth, transcendence, gender roles and integrity are included in this list. Sociologist, philosophers and cultural critics study, analyze and debate these issues. They usually do so formally, through such vehicles as scholarly journals, symposiums and books. They do so purposefully, with the intent of impacting the culture in a manner that reflects their particular arguments. However, the average American does not typically set out to influence the culture when discussing the latest escapades of Denis Rodman. Since such topics as personal responsibility and civility are may be touched upon, the conversation does involve matters important to the culture as a whole. Unexpectedly, the participant does impact how we think and act as a society.

The permeation of contempory American society by sports facilitates the natural participation of the average citizen in public discourse. In most cases, the individual does not realize that they are actually participating in such an important process. The importance of daily spontaneous conversations involving sports should not be under estimated. These conversations, participated in by many Americans, allow for continuing discourse on important philosophical concepts and cultural issues. This participation is organic and springs from daily conversations and involvement in the culture in general. It is good that we argue about the recent contract signed by Alex Rodriguez, because it demonstrates that we are thinking about important issues such as human worth and the ethical use of money. Sports bring these concepts down to earth. They can be wrestled with. People will argue that sports are too violent, commercialized and sexist. We argue because the issues of violence, commercialization and sexism are important to the development of any society. Sports cause a substantial portion of the American population to participate in the continuing public discourse on important moral, ethical social issues.

Looking at the typical Americans day, shows how pervasive sports have become in culture and how often the typical American participates unwittingly in the public debate. Citizen X wakes up to a local talk radio station. Politically based talk radio, according to Sean Roth, is "up sharply (15.7-16.9 12-plus) in last Falls Arbitron numbers, compiled by Billboard from the ratings service's 92 continuous measurement markets." (62) The alarm clock is tuned into Talk Radio 570, based in Seattle, Washington. The format is politics and culture with a conservative bent. The host is Kirby Wilbur and his topic for the day is Casey Martin. Wilbur is engaging his callers in dialogue regarding the significance of the Supreme Courts desecion to allow Casey to use an electric golf cart during PGA Tournaments. Martin is "...a 28-year-old professional golfer who suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a debilitating circulatory disorder which has withered his leg and made it painful him to walk far" (28). When Martin was denied the use of a golf car in a Professional Golfers' Association Tournament, Mr. Martin sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He won his case. This topic provokes callers to respond passionately and discuss the appropriateness of governmental interference in private associations. They question if the equal access laws apply in this situation. Does using a golf cart give Martin an unfair advantage. Significantly, many of the callers were not golfers themselves, yet the sports related topic provided the springboard for this discussion. At 6:05 A.M., Puget Sound residents are discussing important matters, all with bearing on the direction our culture will move. Important concepts such as fairness, freedom of association, compassion toward those less fortunate and the acknowledgement of hard work and perseverance. Sports have transformed these callers into amateur philosophers and arm chair cultural critics.

Another usual activity, reading the morning paper, the sports page features a photograph of Seattle Mariner outfielder, Jay Buhner, giving Helyn Nelson, 77, a 'buzz-cut'. This event raises money for the Susan G. Komer Foundation. (Seattle Post Intelligencer). Jay Buhner has not played a game during the 2001 season. He is still a fan favorite and has been commended for his presence with the team during his rehabilitation. Individuals discuss his team spirit and faithfulness to the fans. Others wonder why he is not at home, spending time with his wife and family, while he has the opportunity. Others ask is it appropriate, for a 77 year old women, to be getting her head shaved? How do we think about gender and age becomes a topic for consideration? The cultural conversation continues. Even if they are not cognizant of the reality, by having their heads shaved, fans have supported a charitable cause and interacted with other members of society. They have helped further the public debate. They were having fun and enjoying what Plato considered the important things in life. This cultural participation has the ability to and often does influences society for the good.

On the way to work, again sports related content is experienced. The radio is now tuned to a sports-talk station. Stations with this format are growing at an exceptional rate. "More than 200 stations nationwide are currently courting sports fans, predominately men, with some type of sports radio.... according to Interep, a New York radio rep firm, 37 percent of sports stations' listeners have household incomes of more than $75,000. For radio in general, the percentage is just 21 percent." (50). David Theo Goldberg, writing in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, argues that the rapid growth in sports radio is a deterrent to democratization in the United States. (212). According to Billboard Magazine, Pete Rose is now a syndicated sport radio host (64). This raises important issues. What kind of example does this set for our children? Does it matter that he bet against his own team. Do integrity and honor still have a place in our society? As the professional analysts and cultural philosophers are presenting their various positions, sports fans are calling in about last night's game with the Texas Rangers. They want to talk baseball. Alex Rodriguez is the topic. The callers are all over the social and cultural acceptability spectrum. Should the fans have booed A-Rod the way they did. Was it healthy? Did it demonstrate good sportsmanship? Did he deserve it? Was the Mariner Management justified in calling for civility? Even sportscasters, Dave Neihaus and Rick Riz were surprised by the vehemence of the fans desire to make themselves heard. Should Seattle, as a city, be embarrassed? This desire to make a statement raises important issues such as mass persuasion, and the desire to punish an individual for real or perceived betrayal. This experience of group demonstration of emotion, as a manifestation of culture becomes material for further public discourse. Over the course of the program a wide range of individuals has discussed substantive issues. The fans were talking 'sports', yet simultaneously they were weighing in on such issues as human worth, sportsmanship, civility and loyalty. The common good, as it may be impacted by A-Rod's decision to sign for the largest contract in baseball history was also considered. How will it impact baseball, how will it impact the economies of cities with major league teams who cannot afford such an astronomical amount? Not only do sports provide the platform for serious discussion, the vehicle that provides that platform, such as sports radio can also raise issues bearing on the public good.

At work, in the break room, amongst the normal banter, the Alex Rodriguez question is continued. Many questions are raised. Is any individual worth 252 million, even over 10 years? According to Ross Atkin, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, a fan from Texas is not bothered by A-Rod's contract because the amount is too astronomical to comprehend. (12). Others ask, can he really love the game now? These questions reveal how we as a society feel about sports. Many believe that sports should be special. We agree that sports are a big business but the players should still exhibit a true love for the sport. Could that money be put to better use? Is this good for baseball? This conversation is informal. The participants would most likely never state explicitly that they are participating in the larger cultural debate. Sports are the platform for the public debate to continue.

The wide world of sports provides an almost limitless host of topics for philosophical and cultural discussion. The Japanese hitting sensation, Ichiro, has opened up for Marnier fans in particular, a complex array of cultural and social issues to discuss. Ichiro, despite never having faced North American League pitching (save for the random exhibition against touring big leaguers and a few spring training cuts), entered this week (05/2801) batting .365 (third in the American League); leading the league in hits (73), runs (40), and stolen bases (15)...all the while fulfilling the role of catalytic leadoff man..." (34). Ichiro has arrived. He has proven himself. Yet he will probably be named rookie of the year. He has already player seven years in Japan. Is he really a rookie? What does this say about America? Do we feel superior to all other countries? Ichiro, by his very presence in the Major leagues, has caused discussion regarding race. Dave Neihaus, Mariner radio announcer may, according to some, have made a mildly racist comment when he stated that Ichiro was really good for a Japanese player. What did he mean? Was it just a slip of the tongue? As a society, do we unconsciously think the same thoughts? Ichiro wants to be known as Ichiro. He is the only current Major League baseball player who has his first name only on his jersey (34). This fact and the reality that Ichiro does not give locker room interviews, gives material for discussion of personal privacy and cultural assimilation. Ichiro values his privacy highly yet must contend with 23 Japanese writers, 11 Japanese photographers, and one Japanese television crew. (35) As a society, we take it for granted that women should be allowed in the locker room of professional sports clubs. At one time, this was something that was not only not assumed but also actually had to be fought for. Sports often though of as the exclusive realm of men provided the milieu for this substantial cultural change.

The issue of performance enhancing supplements such as Androstenedion, "first lit a firestorm - over the issue of media access vs. an athlete's privacy -- when Associated Press national sportswriter Steve Wilstein revealed that slugger Mark McGwire uses the supplement as he chases Roger Maris' 37-year-old single season record." (6). Initially the matter concerned only professional athletes. I t soon became a topic for public debate. Is it fair for anyone to take a supplement that enhances performance? Are these types of supplements harmful? Many will argue that they are harmful to the human body. Mark McGwires', baseballs slugging hero's private life, has stimulated the continuing conversation called American public discourse.

John Rocker, the Atlanta Brave pitcher, provides a storehouse of issues to discuss current cultural issues. Sexism, homophobia, racism are among the issues encountered when the name of John Rocker is mentioned. After being quoted in Sports Illustrated as having said "Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just go out of jail for the fourth time next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing. The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speak English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish the hell did they get in this country?" (39). This controversial outburst leads too much heated discussion. Many people defended Rocker. The question needs to be asked, what does this say about the current state of race relations in society? Another question this incident raises is how the fans treated Rocker afterwards. Is it not just a negative for individuals and groups in society to call him a 'red-neck'?

In the non-professional world of children's athletics, the culture discourse continues. Values are clarified. Therese Iknoian, writing in Family Life Magazine, suggests that parents "Look for a program that requires its coaches to have special training. Otherwise, they may rely on the aggressive, punitive, win-at-all-costs coaching model they see in professional sports." (82). She also counsels parents to "observe practice sessions. Watch how the coach handles athletes. He should not always be yelling his commands or using physical activity as a punishment (time-out on the bench is a more appropriate penalty) (82). The author, suggest that aggression in a coach is not good for society and that our children should not be treated this way. This is matter for public debate.

Sports clearly are an integral part of our society. They have become an important component in the way the average American participates freely in the cultural and societal debate.

Sports Cause the Discussion of Ethical, Social and Cultural Issues 8.9 of 10 on the basis of 1237 Review.