The Moral Life of Sports

Beyond Jack

Last year, while traveling through the town where my parents grew up, I had the opportunity to relive the memories and sights of their childhood.

Yet with the multitude of social and technological changes that have occurred in the last half-century, many of the recollections seemed extremely distant and unimaginable.

After all, television was still black and white, and radio shows were still the most popular form of entertainment. These were the days when drive-in movie theaters were local hangouts, families were more apt to stay together and Sweet 16 parties had nothing to do with the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Regardless of my difficulties imagining life without Letterman, one recollection vividly stands out in my mind. As we drove past a baseball field, my father reminisced about his days of anxiously running onto that same field with his friends, eager to begin anew the beloved sport.

Ever since that day, I have seen sports in a different light.


Robert Coles lectures about the moral life of children. Journalists groan about the [im] moral life of politics. And with the coming of the 21st century, the moral life of sports is beginning to dominate the spotlight.

When people discuss sports today, the actual physical actions--hitting the ball, swinging the bat, throwing a punch--are often noticeably absent from conversation.

Sports enthusiasts rarely think about sports in the way that my parents' generation did. In the past, society's primary sports focus was on the beauty and finesse displayed by talented athletes. Now, an overbearing sports bureaucracy--prominently featured in the big bucks, me-first attitude of current stars--dominates the scene.

In last week's New York Times Magazine, Robert Lipsyte's article, "The Emasculation of Sports" examined this overwhelming transformation of spots over the last 50 years. Lipsyte asserts that "[s]ports are over because they no longer have any moral resonance. They are merely entertainment, the bread and circuses of a New Rome."

He is precisely correct.

By now we all know that Mike Tyson was released from prison two weeks ago. Although we cannot blame the fall of sports on him, his case exposes many flaws in the modern sports' mentality.

Tyson has been bombarded already with fan excitement and anticipation of the Tyson-Foreman ticket. As Lipsyte says, how can we even think about "crowning a convicted rapist as male champion of the world?"

Regardless of the fact that we cannot forgive and forget, Tyson does have the right to fight and overcome his troubles. Yet we cannot deny that his sport is a violent one, and thus we must not overlook the possibility that the viciousness inherent in boxing transferred into his personal life.

Tyson had problems throughout his youth, and therefore the sport can't take all of the blame. But it also cannot be ignored as a factor in his conviction.

In every professional sport today, the increasing significance of success has caused athletes and spectators to lose site of the joy of sports, and in many instances, anything--moral or immoral--becomes acceptable in the name of success.