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A Good Sport? Do College Athletics Build Character

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012

The Big Q contest for the best student response to this case is being hosted by PolicyMic, "the first democratic online news platform to engage millennials in debates about real issues."  PolicyMic rules will apply in selecting the winner of the prize, a $100 Amazon gift certificate.  Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, March 4.  A link to PolicyMic follows the case.

     Nathan has always thought, to be the best, you have to believe you’re the best. Recruited to a top Division I school to play basketball, he is ruthless on the court. If he knocks a player down, the player shouldn’t have been in his way. If he scores a three in his defender’s face, he lets his opponent know how bad his defense was. Most guys dislike playing against Nathan because of his competitive callousness. But confidence, alone, can’t take you to the top, and Nathan knows that. He is the first guy to arrive at practice and the last one to leave. Nathan may be called inconsiderate, rude, and egotistical, but being the best means making other people worse than you.

     Off the court, however, Nathan seems like a totally different person. He is polite, soft spoken in class, and is willing to help others if there’s homework they don’t understand. Noticing this shift in disposition, one of Nathan’s teammates—one that Nathan had recently called out in front of the whole team—accused Nathan of being two-faced: although he tries to appear friendly off the court, he’s really just an arrogant jerk.

Weigh in: So, is Nathan a good guy or a bad guy?  What impact have sports had on his character?  In general, do you think participating in college sports has a good or bad influence on the players?

Useful Resources

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making SCU

Do Sports Build Character? (Chronicle of Higher Education) 

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Comments Comments

Julie said on Feb 26, 2012
I've been an athlete my entire life and I can really sympathize with Nathan both as an athlete and student. There's a saying that competition can bring out the best and the worst in people. Athletes train for hours and hours each day to perfect the moves that they need to win when their in competition. While Nathan might seem "inconsiderate, rude, and egotistical", what he's doing is putting everything into the game that he's spent so many hours practicing in. However, I don't agree with the fact that he needed to "let his opponent know how bad his defense was." Making great shots and being proud of how well you did doesn't mean you need to put another player down. I feel like this is where the issue of bullying and self-esteem issues come into play. With sports, you can have great days and "off" days (days where you just can't seem to find your center). No one is perfect and there is no reason to put someone down, when players can be just as hard on themselves when they aren't playing their greatest. I wouldn't say that Nathan is a "bad" guy but just that he should learn to approach situations differently. It's alright to be excited about great shots he made but its never okay to degrade others. I believe that participating in college sports or any sport for that matter is a great influence on the individuals who participate in it because it does build character, good character for some and bad for others but life is all about making the most of the opportunities that come your way. With sports you make new friends, learn how to problem solve, work hard and stay fit. I've been through 13 years of ballet, 15 years of gymnastics and 8 years of tennis and am now playing Club Tennis at my University and I can honestly say that I've learned and grown so much from these sports. - Like - 2 people like this.
Adam Irino said on Feb 27, 2012
Nathan seems to have a problem that many athletes have to deal with. Although his competitiveness has taken him to the top of his game, it appears that he has taken it too far. I have been involved in competitive sports for my entire life and have come across situations similar to this many times. I believe that it is unnecessary to be degrading to your opponent when in competition. Nathan must understand that his actions on the basketball court are not ethically correct. For example, when he lets his opponent know how bad his defense was. This shows his lack of sympathy for his fellow athletes. His opponents should not have to dread playing another player. However, Nathans cold-hearted attitude on the court has caused just that. Nathan is not a bad person, however. His rigorous practice habits show that he has a great work ethic and a dedication to excellence. Aside from sports, his desire to reach out to classmates show that he is a friendly guy who truly cares about others. I think basketball has had a minimal impact on the actual person Nathan is. Unfortunately, his in-game attitude has not been reflective of the kind of person he is. I think Nathan will soon realize that it will pay off in the long run to be admirable on the court and to show good character when he wins or loses. A few thing must be brought to his attention. He must realize that many people look up to him, be it younger siblings, cousins, or just other kids, and being a good role model is very important. Also, he should visualize himself in his opponents shoes and see how it feels when he is talked to in such a degrading manner. I think that if these realizations are brought to Nathans attention, he will reevaluate his priorities and be able to fix the problem that is at hand. As stated by The Chronicle, sports are what can be described as a substance that is both a poison and a remedy. Ultimately, I think that college sports can have a positive effect on the players. It can teach work ethic, perseverance, determination, sportsmanship, as well as many other great qualities. Nathan, as well as all other athletes, need to remember that basketball is just a game and being a good person is more important than any stat in the stat book. Sportsmanship is just as important as any other quality in evaluating an athlete. - Like - 7 people like this.
Kevin said on Mar 1, 2012
Participating in college sports can indeed have an extremely strong influence on an individual, especially because competing at a high level requires a lot of dedication and oftentimes sacrificing a 'normal' college life. However, whether college sports is a positive or negative influence is not something that can be answered with a general statement; it definitely varies on a case by case basis. I know some athletes who have found participating in college sports to be a humbling experience and a valuable opportunity to be part of a close group of friends and teammates. In Nathan's case, participating in sports has brought out many of his negative traits but has also fostered his work ethic and drive to succeed. The one sentence that stood out to me, however, was this one: 'being the best means making other people worse than you'. This mentality demonstrates a bit of selfishness and a lack of perspective on Nathan's part. While his dedication to practicing and improving his game is admirable, this statement goes against the positive values that athletics usually promotes. It also demonstrates a egotistical mindset which is detrimental in an environment which requires teamwork to succeed. He should realize (and hopefully his time as a college athlete will teach him this) that the better the players he plays with and against, the more valuable his success can be. Even though athletics at such a high level as Division I basketball is focused on winning, there is a difference between winning with good sportsmanship, and winning by getting ahead at all costs. There is more to 'being the best' than what Nathan thinks, and in general the athletes that realize that will come out better people than before. What separates individuals with good sportsmanship and those with poor sportsmanship is a respect for one's fellow competitors, and this is what I think Nathan lacks. For example, 'trash talk' and banter is a natural part of sports and competition, but in Nathan's case, needlessly insulting an opponent seems like putting down an opponent just to boost his own ego. Similarly, constructive criticism during practice is often an important way for a team to get better, but the way Nathan's teammate (who, presumably, is used to the kind of criticism that comes from playing at a high level) reacted to being called out in front of the whole team suggests that Nathan has a tendency to disrespect his teammates. Of course, based on his behavior off the court, Nathan is not a horrible person. Being well mannered and helpful in the classroom shows that he does indeed have a basic sense of integrity. What he has to realize is that, even though society often tends to separate the arena of sports from 'real life', he should not allow his competitiveness to overcome the basic value of treating his teammates and opponents with respect, the same respect that he would show his fellow classmates or professors. If he realizes that, he will gain much more value from his participation in college sports than he would otherwise. - Like - 3 people like this.
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Tags: athletics, character, ethics, sports