Aristotle Knew Sports Stars Are Role Models; as the Off-Field Antics of Professional Sportsmen Continue to Dominate the Headlines, Sports Ethicist Dr Carwyn Jones Says It Is Vital That Sport and Its Biggest Stars Are Scrutinised and Evaluated from a Moral Perspective: The Wednesday Essay

Article excerpt

Byline: Dr Carwyn Jones

PROFESSIONAL sportsmen, particularly footballers and rugby players, have occupied the front pages as much as the back pages recently.

Andy Powell, John Terry and Ashley Cole in particular have received plenty of negative column inches relating to their offfield antics in the last few weeks. Public opinion seems divided on the matter. On the one hand is a view that so long as they perform their primary duty, playing well for their team, their misdemeanours are none of our business and we, the public, should keep our moralising noses out of it.

Another view, despite the strong current of post-modern, capitalist, individualistic rhetoric, attempts to hold on to some notion of moral standards in public life.

A third view is a problematic, mixed up and hypocritical amalgam of the first two exemplified by the incoherent ranting and gainsaying that passes as debate on radio and television phone-ins.

As a sports ethicist, it is vital that sport in general, and the behaviour of its biggest stars in particular, are scrutinised and evaluated from a moral perspective.

The main focus of argument (or, more often, uninformed opinion) in such cases is the "role model" status of these professionals and in particular the kind of example they set for those who may be influenced by them.

The concept of a role model is traceable to ancient Greek philosophy and to Aristotle in particular.

Aristotle argued that role models were vital in moral education. Good habits are developed by emulating those who exemplify excellence, be it in swordsmanship, playing musical instruments, or in displaying virtues like courage, honesty and justice.

This pedagogical psychology is as relevant today and most accept that much of what we learn, particularly at a young age, good and bad, is copied from parents and other influential adults.

There is no doubt that the behaviour of significant professional players has an effect on others, be it young players in their club, or impressionable youngsters who idolise them.

The exact nature and scope of this influence is not easily measurable, but companies like Adidas and Nike would not spend millions on player endorsements if they weren't confident that a significant number of consumers would be influenced. The more interesting and controversial issue relating to role models, however, is not so much this empirical or psychological question of the nature and scope of influence, but the moral question about duty. Why do elite sportsmen have a duty to behave in an exemplary way? Two reasons present themselves immediately. First, they are members of a moral community who should take seriously their responsibilities to uphold the moral values of the community. …