Inside ‘Sport, Ethics and Leadership’: Ethics and Moral Reasoning

September 29th, 2017 | by Jack Bowen
Inside ‘Sport, Ethics and Leadership’: Ethics and Moral Reasoning


Pull up any article in the last few days about the FBI’s probe into bribery and corruption in college basketball and you’re sure to find a quote by a university president or athletic director who states that ethical behavior and adherence to rules are of the utmost importance and that any form of violation will not be tolerated. 
Scroll more and you’ll likely find other articles on activism in sport, the meaning of kneeling, and posturing wars about patriotism through social media.  The action or reaction is based, at least at some level, on both the ethics of communication and methods of protesting. 
But what is meant by ethical behavior? What is the general premise of how ethics works? 
These questions and more are explored in the new book Sport, Ethics and Leadership.  The textbook investigates the ethical, social, and legal underpinnings of the most important issues in sport today while introducing the reader to the foundations of ethical leadership in sport. 
CollegeAD is running a series of excerpts from the book, which is co-authored by Santa Clara University Senior Associate Athletic Director, Jeff Mitchell; sport ethics scholar Jack Bowen; sports attorney Ron Katz; former Santa Clara University law school dean Don Polden; and sports agent Rick Walden.
This week’s excerpt, written by Jack Bowen,  is taken from the book’s first chapter, “Ethics and Moral Reasoning.”  


Before exploring the nuances of sports ethics, it is important to establish a foundation for ethics in general.  In order to truly pursue sports ethics, we need to have a basic understanding of how ethics is viewed on a large scale, to take some time to explore the various moral theories throughout history, and to recognize how to devise moral arguments.  From that point, we can engage in a more robust discussion of the ethical aspects of the sporting experience.

To begin, we should consider the distinction between morality and ethics.  While often used interchangeably they can and do express slightly different modes of thinking.  Ethics typically involves the study of foundational principles, whereas morals tend to focus more on values.  Ethics, then, is more of an academic approach to discovering and discussing what is “right” and “good.”  In a sense, ethical principles serve as a guideline for how one ought to act (or, conversely, how one ought not to act), whereas morals express a set of values, such as the importance of generosity, patience, and truth telling.  So one might say, for example, that the death penalty is immoral because it infringes on the value of life and that it is unethical because it violates one’s right to life.

Discussions of ethics often boil down to some version of people on each side of an argument claiming, “I have a right to my opinion.”  This sort of comment misses the mark because it assumes discussions of ethics and morality are merely matters of opinion or taste, with no need for logical defense.

We will explore various foundations of moral theory as well as a means for establishing sound, cogent arguments in defense of moral conclusions.  In doing so, it will become clear how ethics goes beyond just being a matter of personal taste.  We will address the skeptic who says of someone making a moral claim, “Prove it.”  And it will be clear that, although one may have some sort of “right” to an opinion—essentially, having a right to think things—once those opinions are voiced, they will then need to be defended, especially because they address issues involving the interests of others.

Jack Bowen About Jack Bowen
Jack Bowen writes on sports ethics for the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics and Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), USA. He graduated from Stanford University with Honors in Human Biology and received his Master’s from California State University, Long Beach, with an emphasis on the Philosophy of Sport summa cum laude. He was a two-time All-American water polo player at Stanford, has been recognized as a national award-winning coach by PCA and USA Water Polo, and has written three books on philosophy.

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