Inside ‘Sport, Ethics and Leadership’: An Introduction

September 21st, 2017 | by Jeffrey R. Mitchell
Inside ‘Sport, Ethics and Leadership’: An Introduction

Sport, Ethics and Leadership

Santa Clara University Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Jeff Mitchell, is the co-author of a new bookSport, Ethics and Leadership, released in July 2017. In addition to Mitchell, co-authors include sport ethics scholar Jack Bowen, sports attorney Ron Katz, former Santa Clara University law school dean Don Polden, and sports agent Rick Walden.  

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. Each chapter includes original real-world case studies, learning exercises, and questions to encourage students to reflect on the ethical problems presented.

“My co-authors and I believe that everyone involved in sport should possess an appreciation for the basic principles of ethics,” says Mitchell.  “Moreover, the ability for athletes, coaches, and administrators to apply effective leadership practices to an understanding of ethics leads to the development of ethical leadership. We hope that the book inspires others to explore ethics and leadership in a manner consistent with improving sport as a whole from the playing field to the board room.”

The book outlines key ethical theories in the context of sport as well as the fundamentals of moral reasoning. It also explores the central ethical issues in contemporary sport: from violence, hazing, and gambling to principles of amateurism, performance enhancement, doping, and discrimination.

CollegeAD will run a series of excerpts from the book.  The first excerpt is taken from the book’s preface.  


A video featured on a youth sports-focused web page stimulated an intense discussion, even though the topic may not seem so grave as to incite emotional outbursts and impassioned arguments.  That topic was the ethics of pitch framing in baseball, in which catchers subtly shift their glove as they receive a pitch in hopes of garnering a favorable call (a “strike” instead of a “ball”).  Although the topic may initially seem quite benign compared with obviously serious issues in sport such as overt violence, athlete drug use, various forms of discrimination, and many others in which real harm results, as it turns out, pitch framing nicely embodies much of the pursuit upon which this book embarks.

The conversation inspired by the pitch-framing video evolved into a conversation about issues much deeper than just framing pitches.  In reviewing the arguments given for both sides, respondents often referenced much more profound and foundational issues, including:

obligationof a player to his opponent, referee, fans, and the game

strategyand skill and their relation to cheating

– what it means to deserveand to earnsomething

responsibilityshifting to the umpire for rule enforcement


– the role culturedoes and should play in ethics

value and what it means to be a “good”player

– objective versus subjective

– the role of rulesand rule-bound enterprises regarding ethics

empathyfor the players involved.

These issues reveal one of the core virtues of a discussion of sport ethics: such discussion serves as an ideal catalyst for framing some of the richest ideals known to humanity.  It allows us to explore such complex, abstract topics under the banner of sport without getting into heavier issues often covered in conversations about ethics.  In short, a discussion on the ethics of pitch framing boils down to a discussion on the foundation of human morality.

Moreover, sport ethics has pragmatic value.  The conclusions reached in such an exploration should be more than just theoretical.  Simply discovering the ethical nature of a certain action is only the first step.  The next step involves putting what one has discovered into practice.  On the one hand, this may be on a personal, individual level.  If an individual concludes a certain practice is unethical, then that person may put this judgment into practice by avoiding the action.  But in the bigger picture, many of these issues run deeper than just one person tweaking an individual moral compass.

This is where the leadership component of this book comes into play.  Those of us who hold leadership roles in sports—be it as a coach, athletic director, sports agent, league commissioner, referee, or any other of the myriad leadership positions—are responsible for not just determining ethical action in sport but also implementing it.  As the cliché correctly frames such a pursuit, “Doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing.”  It becomes even more difficult getting entire teams and organizations to do the right thing, especially when it comes at the cost of other goods such as winning.


You can pick up a copy of Sport, Ethics and Leadership and save 20%* plus free shipping at To apply your discount, enter FLR40 in your shopping cart. 

*This offer expires November 30, 2017 and only applies to print book orders placed via

Jeffrey R. Mitchell About Jeffrey R. Mitchell
Jeffrey R. Mitchell is the Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Operations at Santa Clara University. With a diverse background in intercollegiate athletics administration, Mitchell has experience directing units responsible for revenue generation, media relations and communications, ticketing and marketing, academic support, business operations, and NCAA compliance. A four-year collegiate baseball player, Mitchell earned a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s in Business Administration from Millsaps College. He also earned a J.D. from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

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