Monday, April 4, 2011

Who's corrupt? Athlete or the system?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

There seem to be opposing views on the recent revelations about payoffs, strip clubs and sexual favors in sport. One side says sport needs to remake itself. The other says all that matters about sport is what happens on the playing field.

The latter view was expressed by LaVar Arrington in the Washington Post.  Responding to coverage of the Barry Bonds trial, Arrington says that when people pass judgment on Bonds, they're just responding to their own insecurities and fears. People rejoice at seeing athletes such as Bonds brought down because it makes the superstar seem more human and points out that no one is immune to bad judgment.

Arrington says people should focus on what the athletes did on the playing field. "My memories are based off of what I saw them do on a playing field; I don't know them beyond that. For what it's worth, it suits me just fine to leave it that way," Arrington wrote.

Bob Hertzel, writing in the Washington Times-Herald, took a different tack. Looking at the scandals involving Ohio State, Auburn, Michigan, Connecticut and the Fiesta Bowl, Hertzel the structure of college sports is crumbling.

He suggests major changes in sport, including separating the major revenue sports from the rest of college sport. He says major college football and basketball clearly have different goals that sports such as soccer or gymnastics, and they need to be run differently and under separate leadership. He thinks the money made in those sport should be shared with the players, and that college presidents should be calling the shots, not coaches.

On Fox Sports, Jason Whitlock ripped the NCAA for the way it uses and abuses young college athletes. "The kids are disposable," he writes. "They’re totally controlled by the NCAA rule book and dictator coaches. They have little value to the media. We in the media can’t resist exploiting them. We’ve wasted two decades of energy pushing college presidents to add a playoff system to college football. Could we spend a year or two pushing college presidents to do the right thing for football and basketball players?"

Frankly, they all make good points, and their views may not be as far apart as it seems at first glance. They all call for refocusing attention on the most important thing in sport -- the athlete. Our obsession in sports with money, winning and statistical glory now overshadows the purpose of the game and the people that play it.

Mr. Arrington, I do want to remember Bonds for the way he played. But if he used steroids to gain an unfair advantage, then he failed to perform honorably on the field and therefore I must judge him by that. But he's was also a great athlete before all this talk of steroids.  He's just one more indications that our obsessions with money in sport have corrupted the people who play the game.

Until we start thinking like Mr. Whitlock, and asking ourselves what's the right thing for the players, sport will continue down the same road. And we'll have more casualties. Mr. Hertzel's idea of letting college presidents call the shots sounds like a good one for college sports. College presidents, while still subject to the lure of big money in sports, at least understand that education is the primary business of universities.

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