Sports and Character, Redux

February 24, 2011

My friend and colleague Vince Punzo (a Psychologist and a Faculty Athletic Representative at Earlham) responds to my post yesterday about sports and character — disagreeing in an important way with Anthony Bradley’s formulation:

“You are right that the link between sports participation and character development is an empirically tenuous one.  There is even data to suggest that athletes are somewhat more deficient in moral reasoning skills than non-athletes.  That being said, to assert (as the [Bradley] passage does) that character is “bestowed” on others (like a job title or an honor)  is a claim that would make Aristotle turn over in his grave.
“Here is my take on it: sports lead young people to encounter hard work, failure, success, competition, frustration, pain, etc.  At some point, they ask themselves: ‘How do I frame these experiences?’  Coaches can offer, not bestow, a framework: ‘The victory is not on the scoreboard, it is in the effort’ etc) .  To the extent that athletes buy into that framework, internalize it, and make it a part of the way they perceive and act on the world, character begins to take shape.  But buying into, or rejecting that framework, is a daily act of agency and cannot simply be bestowed.  Hope that makes sense.”
I agree: I think that puts it much better.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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