Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Ethics of Sport

My friend John Forenti alerted me to the heartwarming story of a college softball game where players on a competing team carried an injured athlete around the bases to save her over the fence home run, "because she earned it."

I blogged about it and sent him a notice so that he could see my post. We then exchanged a couple emails on the subject and each time he expanded his thoughts further on the matter. It was then that I offered to let him be a guest blogger on a subject he is passionate about. The added benefit of this guest post it will serve as a first draft of a speech he will be delivering a in a few months.

First, here is the video from ESPN and YouTube to serve as a reminder of the story of Sara Tucholsky.







John Forenti:

I currently am a member of the Josephson Institute of Ethics National Faculty. It has been, and continues to be, a most rewarding and fulfilling endeavor. I work primarily with educators and members of the community. However, I also work extensively with athletes and coaches.

One of the great pleasures I've experienced as a result of my work as an ethics practitioner is that I've met so many successful and significant athletes. One the people who I now count as a friend is Olympic swimmer and 4 time gold medalist at the Montreal Games in 1976, John Naber. John has wonderful Olympic stories and hardly any of them has anything to do with winning gold medals. He's incredibly genuine and not in the least impressed with himself.

He tells me the meaning of competition comes from the Latin word competere meaning "to seek together" (also to "strive together toward a common goal"). It would seem dreadfully shortsighted to think what competitive athletes are seeking, is simply to find who won. It would also do a terrible injustice to those who have sought valiantly and lost.

To add color to the above, it was the great sportswriter and novelist Grantland Rice who wrote:

"When the great scorekeeper in the sky comes to mark upon your name, he won't mark whether you won or lost...but how you played the game."

When working with coaches, who are often under what I consider unreasonable pressure to produce exemplary won/lost records, I remind them of the anecdote I heard the legendary basketball John Wooden cite. He was discussing what it meant to be a teacher/coach and to "teach" a game.

He recounted that Amos Alonzo Stagg, the great football coach at the University of Chicago, was once asked by a reporter after a particularly successful season from the won/loss perspective, "Coach, was this your most successful team?"

His reply for the ages was: "Well, I won't know that for another 20 or 30 years."

Not surprisingly, Coach Wooden always refers to his final game as "the last game I ever taught." I find that particularly insightful from a 97 year old man who won 10 NCAA Basketball Championships. By the way, John Wooden wasn't always a basketball coach. He started out as an English teacher. That's not surprising either.

The notion of the teacher/coach came only recently to me. I wish I would have had that notion 35 years ago when I first started coaching. All is not lost, however. I have a 9 year old grandson with whom I can "seek together." I also can "teach" him a game. That means a great deal to me, because......

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."

--John W. Whitehead

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And thank you, John Forenti, for sharing your thoughts.

- Linda
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