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ETHICAL REASONING IN SPORT

The difficulty of distinguishing the ethical ideals associated with sport from the ideals of athleticism and the characteristics and dispositions regarded as necessary to the professional athlete has led some theorists to investigate the kind of reasoning which is typical within the sporting arena. Bredemeier and Shields (1994) argue that a transformed notion of reasoning - what they refer to as 'game reasoning' - occurs in sport. Their research com- pared the performance of 50 US college students, both athletes (basketball players) and non-athletes, in relation to reasoning about standard moral dilemmas. They found discrepancies in performance in that the non- athletes' moral reasoning was evaluated as more mature than that of the athletes; and further, the athletes' reasoning in response to sport-specific dilemmas was less mature or adequate than their corresponding reasoning about everyday life (1994). On the view of Bredemeier and Shields (1994) mature moral action is marked by a focus on relational responsibility, that is on equalising the obligations and benefits in one's various relationships. By comparison, sport is generally characterised by a greater degree of personal freedom, a lessening of relational responsibility and by more egocentric moral thinking. The researchers explain these discrepancies by arguing that sport is somehow 'set apart' or bracketed from everyday life; the concept of 'bracketed morality' in reasoning within sport has been sup- ported in previous research by Bredemeier and Shields (1986a, 1986b). Bredemeier and Shields argue that unlike everyday life, sport allows partici- pants to focus narrowly on performance and to largely set aside other con- cerns. Moral issues do arise in sport, but participants are appropriately and legitimately acting egocentrically in this context. Sport is taken to involve a transformation of cognition and affect and hence the egoistic change that moral reasoning undergoes when one moves from everyday life into sport, is generally regarded as legitimate by players and observers.

The researchers argue that this change occurs partly because moral authority in sport is by design externalised and placed in the hands of officials; and partly because moral issues of fairness and protection are already presupposed within the concept of sport. But they also argue that the morality of sport is inevitably characterised by a certain leniency. Reid notes that 'it's hard to imagine sports without deception, fouls, and inces- sant attempts to get away with something' (2002, p. 186) and this may explain the attribution of leniency; but as Reid also points out, sports con- sist of rules and hence there is a quandary here as to how we discern when rule-breaking actually threatens the game and when leniency is appropriate on the field.

While one might reasonably challenge the extent to which data about competent college athletes can be applied to professional athletes, the com- ments of Holmes, Kinnane and Gould (above) might recommend consid- eration of the applicability of the data to professional athletes. The focus of this chapter is not on the nature of moral reasoning in sport; however, the research of Bredemeier and Shields suggests that defending the intuition that professional athletes have a duty to be role models both within and beyond the sporting context will be a more complex matter than distin- guishing the nature of various types of ethical responsibility, as Wellman (above) has done. The 'on-field' context is itself the site of moral dilemmas, while both 'on and off-field' contexts are complicated by the interplay we have identified in understandings of sport and ideals of athleticism. The consequent confusion that arises in relation to our expectations of profes- sional athletes gives some support to two related claims: firstly, that com- peting moralities exist in sport in general and in the professional context; and secondly, that given these competing moralities, explaining the rela- tionship between the values attached to living well 'off-field' in everyday life and the values attached to living well as a professional athlete is not a straightforward process.

The question of articulating the ethical responsibilities of professional footballers as role models 'off-field' is particularly problematic, given that the contracts of employment they are required to sign can unrealistically imply that those responsibilities need not be limited. Such contracts usually require the athlete to behave in a manner that will not bring the sport into disrepute and to observe the association's code of conduct. The code will include rules of behaviour that the athlete must observe both on the field (the constitutive and regulatory rules of the sport) and off the field. It will also contain reference to the sanctions that will ensue if there is proven breach.

A typical example of such contractual rules and codes is that of the arrangements made with Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in consultation with the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) and that form part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the ARU and RUPA. ARU contracts generally require that all participants in the game are bound:

to promote the reputation of the game and to take all reasonable steps to prevent the game from being brought into disrepute … not to conduct themselves in any manner, or engage in any activity, whether on or off the field, that would impair public confi- dence in the honest and orderly conduct of matches and competitions or in the integrity and good character of participants … and not to do anything which adversely affects or reflects on or discredits the game, the ARU, any Member Union or Affiliated Union of the ARU, or any squad, team, competition, tournament, sponsor, official supplier or licensee, including, but not limited to, any illegal act or any act of dishonesty or fraud. (Australian Rugby Union [ARU], 2013)

What is immediately evident is the generality of the language in these clauses, which refer to 'anything which adversely affects or reflects on or discredits the game, the ARU …'; to taking 'all reasonable steps to prevent the game from being brought into disrepute'; and to protecting 'the integ- rity and good character of participants'.

These legal devices are powerful both because of their generality and

their breadth of scope. What is of particular interest is that they not only relate to 'off-field' behaviour but they in effect allow a sporting association (the ARU in this case) to sanction all behaviour by an athlete, whether or not it is illegal and whether or not it relates to the sport. The ARU is no doubt justifiably concerned with the extent to which infringement of these clauses might cause reputational damage to the game and impact upon its viability as a sport and as a commercial enterprise. However, from the per- spective of the professional athlete bound by this contract, the demand would suggest not that the professional Rugby Union players have an ethi- cal responsibility to behave as moral exemplars, but that they have a con- tractual obligation to do so. Of course, there is an ethical imperative to honour a contract. But the ARU contract measures the reality of the threat which the action of a particular footballer might pose to the game in terms of the perception of loss to the sporting association and the sport, rather than in terms of a commitment to particular ethical standards or to what can realistically be expected of professional athletes from an ethical perspective.

In fact, competing ethical imperatives might suggest that a professional athlete's right to free agency is limited by extremely general but restrictive contracts. This is so despite the fact that athletes are (theoretically) free to refuse to sign such contracts; and despite the fact that sporting associations and the community in general are right to be critical of unethical behaviour on the part of revered and well-remunerated professional athletes. However, there is room for questioning the reasonableness of some of the demands made of professional athletes, for recognition of the complexity of ethical decision-making in the context of sport and for attention to be focussed on alerting professional athletes to that complexity. Part of that process ought to involve providing training to assist professional athletes developing an appreciation of the contentious nature of ethical responsibility in the context of sport; secondly, in critically reflecting on their own patterns of ethical reasoning and thirdly, in learning to defend, articulate and act on their own values. This is an area for further research, as are the questions of the genesis and reasonableness of the demands made of professional athletes to act as role models.

 
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