Inside ‘Sport, Ethics and Leadership’: The Virtue of Sport

November 22nd, 2017 | by Jack Bowen
Inside ‘Sport, Ethics and Leadership’: The Virtue of Sport


As sport evolves, the idea and promotion of virtue itself (behaviors that embody what we value most, such as acting with respect and integrity and celebrating humans acting honorably, often in the face of external motivators) helps steer the conversation to the promise of sport as a catalyst for good in the world.

For example, take the newly defined platform that Golden State Warriors star, Stephen Curry, artfully describes in his recent post for The Players’ Tribune.

At its core, the article can remind us of some of the unique riches sport provides as well as how virtues from sport can inform and shape our own daily lives.  If competitors are truly striving together—as the root of the word “competition” suggests—then morally praiseworthy actions should be the norm, not the outlier.

Included in Sport, Ethics and Leadership, which was released in July 2017, is an examination of the virtue of sport. Co-authors include Santa Clara University Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, 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 concludes the series of excerpts which has been published by College AD.  Written by Jack Bowen, this week’s excerpt comes from the book’s fourteenth chapter, “Value, Virtue, and Meaning in Sport.”


With Steph Curry’s platform as a basis point, examine these next two leaders in the world of sport and the stages on which they once stood.

Albert Camus
Existential philosopher and Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus was also a soccer goalkeeper and, at one point famously said, “All that I know most surely about morality and the obligations of men I owe to football.”  In making such a comment, Camus hoped to capture the relative simplicity of the moral nature of sport as compared to the more convoluted, seemingly unnecessarily complicated and self-serving moral frameworks espoused by politicians and religion.  Instead, Camus reflected on the moral nature of friendship and fairness, all of which could be captured by sport.

Some have suggested Camus intended his quote more as irony and even sarcasm, instead meaning that sport reflects the tribulations of the human condition and the meaningless of life more so than teaching virtue.  They note that in the same essay he reflected, “I learned…that a ball never arrives from the direction you expected it.  That helped me in later life, especially in mainland France, where nobody plays straight.” Here, we get the sense that sport frames the unethical nature of others as well as the unpredictability and inherent frustrations of being human.  Regardless, Camus invites readers to allow sport to inform life, both in moral and metaphysical terms.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and went on to become the first black president of South Africa.  He is best known for his ethical leadership in the anti-apartheid movement and for how he utilized sport as a vehicle to help overcome the deep-rooted racism in South Africa.

In a seminal moment of Mandela’s anti-apartheid work, he was able to bring the 1995 Rugby World Cup to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Despite rugby being a white-dominated sport, Mandela saw an opportunity to unite the races.  The team representing South Africa, the Springboks, had only one nonwhite player, and blacks viewed this as emblematic of the unjust racial ethos at the time.

Despite this—or, actually, because of it—Mandela donned the green Springboks jersey for the championship match against New Zealand, much to the surprise of the home crowd of 65,000, which began chanting “Mandela! Mandela!”  South Africa went on to win the match, resulting in blacks and whites celebrating together.

Following the match, Mandela presented the Championship Cup to Francois Pienaar, who served as the Springboks’ captain.  Pienaar, like most other white members of the team and the country, had overcome a deeply engrained negative view of Mandela and, following the trophy presentation, referred to him as the “symbol of everything that is good about humanity.”

Mandela reflected on this in what has now become a famous quote for those who celebrate so much of what is good in sports:

Sport has the power to change the world…It has the power to inspire.  It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  It speaks to youth in a language they understand.  Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.  It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.  It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.


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

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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