Sports and Society
PANELISTS: Jeff Benedict, Richard Lapchick, Michael McNamee, Diana Nyad, Don Sabo
My name is Mike McNamee. I'm a philosopher. I live in Wales, though I work in England, for those of you who know the geography of Great Britain. Ethics in Sport have represented the main research interests for me over the last few years. I've confined my true love to sport and philosophy. I've written various things, but am most interested in virtue theory and applying the ethics of character into sports and sport situations. I'm very interested in professional ethics and how we might come to think of the ethics of sport coaching as a profession and what might guide conduct by coaches as well as athletes, phys-ed teachers, and others. I have a particular interest in concepts like trust, courage, care, and compassion and how they might translate into sporting contexts. At the moment among my Ph.D. students I have three people working solely on sports ethics: on feminist ethics and the ethos of women's sports, on children's rights and the abuse of them within elite sports, and on the moral psychology of sport and the kinds of character that we develop through sport. Those are my particular interests but I'm sure the panel will range through a diverse set of disciplinary interests. This discussion is not going to be straight philosophy; it's going to be journalistic insights, sociological insights, political insights, and educational insights.
Good morning. It's nice to see a great turnout for our particular session. My name is Diana Nyad. My particular claim to fame as an athlete was as a long-distance swimmer. Not too far from here, I landed on the shore of Florida in Jupiter and completed the longest swim in history by either men or women to settle a gender issue. I swam 102.5 miles non-stop from the island of Bimini. For the last twenty years, I have been working on television. I also do a column, which is my favorite job, on National Public Radio.
Even though I wanted to make one large point, I have a couple of tangential issues to bring up. One of them, which is always brought up as it was during the key-note address, is: why do all of us (journalists) only report the sordid events? First of all, it's just simply not true, if you're going to take an accurate account of reporting. I see Robert Lipsyte from the New York Times with us in the front row. I've read countless, countless inspiring, heartwarming stories by Robert. I, myself, take pride in doing inspiring stories about people who have done great things and overcome great odds. It's just human nature.
We in the 1990s in America have become very confessional. We all have our therapists and we all talk about everything that's happened to us. Our childhood is supposed to be an open book. It's only human nature, only normal, that if we see what happened at the Yankee game last night, we are all interested. We all think: "My God, how could things have gone this far? Let's watch the video and let's talk about it. Let's open it up." We are interested more so than if someone had donated some money to muscular dystrophy. But I don't think that the press goes out and looks for it.
I have worked now for ABC Sports and for NBC, and I've worked for Fox Television and National Public Radio, and I've have never ever honestly ever sat in a group of producers or executive producers where journalists have been pushed to get the dirtiest, roughest or rudest story -- not ever. We're just going out to get the true story. There has probably never been a case that's been more indicative of this than the Sprewell case. We don't make these things up.
That brings me to my larger issue. I personally am not that interested in whether -- and it's almost impossible to discern -- there is more violence and more aggression in the world of sports than there is in the population at large or why that has become true. I'm more interested in why the rules have been so expanded and have alternated so egregiously for the crimes of violence on behalf of athletes than they have for the population at large. Take an action like Latrell Sprewell's and look at it in any other occupation within our society. For instance if I were to become so infuriated with my executive producer one day that I threw him on the ground and choked the wind from his windpipe, I can guarantee you that not only would I never work in that establishment again but I would be out of the profession entirely -- and the truth is, I should be.
What are children supposed to understand when they read that Latrell Sprewell, twice in one forty-five minute period, tried to strangulate and choke his coach? Then a scant couple of weeks later they pick up the paper and read that Sprewell is going to be let go for awhile, but only temporarily, and he's going to lose a season's worth of money. Then another couple of weeks go by and they read that Latrell is reinstated and that Coach Carlesimo is forced to accept him back on his team, to deal with him every day, to show him a certain amount of respect just by coaching him, to allow him back on the floor, and to talk strategy and physical conditioning with him. A couple of months go by and they pick up the paper and read that Latrell Sprewell is suing the NBA for racist behavior. The point here is that we have come to a point in sports where there is nothing that is intolerable anymore. Nothing!
I'm doing a story at the moment on what lengths our universities go to in this country to protect young men who have raped. I'm not talking about a one-night incident on a `he said, she said' date. I am talking about repeated offenses by people like Christian Peter who has a long, long record and has even been convicted now. We could perhaps give some credit to the New England Patriots for letting him go. This happened after Mrs. Kraft, the owner's wife finds out three days after Christian Peter comes on board that there is a litany of offenses against Christian at the University of Nebraska for raping, molesting and sexual assault against young women. Mrs. Kraft voiced her concern to her husband, saying something like, `we just can't put someone like that in a New England Patriots uniform. Are we really going to have this guy on our team? Surely, there is someone just as fast and just as strong and just as big who will play for the New England Patriots.' So maybe we can give the Patriots some credit. But a very short time afterwards, Christian Peter signed to a very nice pot of gold with the New York Giants. When are we going to come to the point that sports institutions reinstate the moral and ethical code that we once played by in this country rather than place the money and championships first?
First of all, I just want to say that I'm appreciative to the organizers of the conference to give me an opportunity to be here. I don't have a career in sports journalism, I've never been on a beat or covered a team before. I guess the reason I'm here is that for the last couple of years I've had an opportunity to do quite a bit of research in a very narrow area: crime and its relationship to athletes. The video that we're going to see is a collage of some of the more notorious violent scenes of more high profile athletes that have been repeated on television in recent years. But I really want to focus my remarks in another area because I think things like the Latrell Sprewell incident, Mike Tyson bitingEvander Holyfield's ear, and things of that nature have gotten more than their fair share of play. We've all seen those scenes so many times, we've got them memorized. They seem to get a lot more attention than they deserve and they certainly get a lot more attention than what I think is a much more serious issue, which is the crime and the violence that goes on off the field.
People get quite worked up when a boxer bites somebody's ear because it's not fair; it's outside the bounds of the rules, and we like our sports to be fair. But there seems to be much less attention or outcry when these same athletes commit crimes that involve violence against their spouses, against their neighbors, or against property; when they are in possession of an illegal narcotic; when they're carrying a gun they don't have a license for and when they use that same gun in the commission of a crime. I think that it really raises a question that needs to be asked more. Instead of asking what should be done when these athletes commit crimes, perhaps we should be asking why are these athletes athletes at all? Why are they recruited in the first place?
The players who commit these kinds of crimes at the professional level don't become criminals when they sign pro contracts. These are men who have typically had involvement with crime long before they became pros. Some of the guys we're going to see in this video have criminal records that long precede their stardom, often going back before the recruiting stage. Which makes you wonder who is making the decisions to bring these guys to campus and giving them a four year ride to go to school and be so-called student athletes.
Nebraska was mentioned a minute ago and Nebraska's been mentioned a lot in the last couple of years, but Nebraska is by no means alone in the kinds of things that have gone on. It's just that they happen to be number one and they got a lot of attention because of that. You can look up and down the line-ups of the top twenty schools, and beyond, and see players who have had serious involvement with criminal behavior before they received their scholarships. While there are and should be things that can be done when a player commits a crime once he's on a scholarship or in the pros, I also think there is something that can be done long before that -- not offer a scholarship in the first place to someone who's been convicted of a felony crime.
I think we all know that coaches go into the neighborhoods where these student athletes live and know more about their backgrounds than any of the sports writers do. They know more about them by the time they're done than most law enforcement communities do because of the extensive research they do before they make a decision to do a recruitment. There's no question that the professional leagues know even more because of the amount of money that they're investing in these players. They go to great lengths to learn everything about the kids they're bringing in.
I think it's about time, frankly, that young men who have a record that includes a felony -- particularly felonies that involve violence or drugs -- simply should not get a scholarship to go to a four-year institution. I'm not saying that they shouldn't have an opportunity to go to college. I think they should have an opportunity like anybody else. But I don't think they should get a free ride. I say this because the environment that exists in a Division I sports atmosphere doesn't do anything to curtail this behavior. If anything, it makes the behavior worse.
We see the constant caterwauling that goes on with players who get in trouble when they get to college. Rarely do we see an instance where a player is removed for committing a crime in college. There is an excuse. There may only be a very short time when he's allowed to play. But ultimately, he's there. He's there over and over again until he gets to the pro level and by then it's too late to do anything about it.
Why is this important? I think it's important because whether we like it or not, whether it's wise or not, these guys have become the heroes for the younger generation. I happen to think that's not a great idea, but it is a reality. It is the world we live in. These athletes are perceived as having super-hero qualities and they dominate the stage of a child's imagination. Because of that, their misdeeds have just as great an impact as their good deeds do. Unfortunately, the nature of the business is that the misdeeds get more attention than the good deeds get.
I had an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to spend the day in Washington with some of our nation's leaders to discuss the issue of athletes as role models and the problem with athletes' crimes getting a lot more headlines these days. After leaving that meeting, I took a walk to the Vietnam Memorial, a place I've visited before. Many of you probably have, too. While I was there, I stopped at the three soldiers statue sculpted by Frederick Hart. I watched a lot of tourists come and go. Just before I was about to leave, three young kids not more than ten years old walked up to the statue, climbed over the little chain fence, and started to climb on the three men. Two of the boys were wearing typical sports tee-shirts. They were caressing the bullets and guns that were strapped across the very muscular Vietnam soldiers. Then a woman came over, probably their teacher or chaperone, and gave them a very brief history lesson. She ended with "Children, these are your true heroes.". When she said that, the three kids stopped for the first time to really listen. I don't know if they listened to anything else she said. They looked up at the soldiers and I was pretty confident they probably didn't know a whole lot about Vietnam or what these soldiers stood for. But they certainly respected the kind of physical stature, the masculinity, and the artillery that these guys had. When their teacher told them that these were the really true heroes, I was struck by that because I don't think that kids think those are the true heroes anymore.
I agree with the opening remarks of our ethicist that words like truth, character, trust, honor, and bravery are no longer the credentials for our heroes. What they have become are celebrity, status, fame, wealth and visibility. That is what our professional and, to some extent, college athletes are. They are on a stage. That's what makes it imperative that the incidence of criminal behavior and violence be addressed, and it can be addressed and significantly reduced if those in positions of power are willing to do something about it.
I'm a pro-feminist intellectual. This means, among other things, that I pursue social justice and nurturing relationships between men and women. I'm also a social scientist who seeks to try to explain how society works in ways that reflect evidence, not ideology. A portion of my work for many years now has dealt with male athlete violence, aggression and unsporting behavior -- a focus of this panel. The panelists were asked to think about where to draw the line in relation to sport violence.
I think it is misleading to think about male athlete violence as though it starts or ends inside sport. We can't simply draw ethical lines in the sand-traps of a golf course, the confines of a basketball league, or the sub-culture of a particular sport like hockey or football. Male athlete violence flows through and out of historical forces, and the construction of ethical codes within sport is fed by cultural transformations outside of sport; concomitantly, conduct and codes within sport help to constitute morality in other institutional sectors.
I was recently interviewed about male athlete violence by Tom Harrington, who is with the CBC News World. We sat in the sunshine in front of D'Youville College within walking distance of the Peace Bridge to Canada. At one point he asked me what I thought about the Canadian government's decision to make an exception in its immigration laws byallowi ng Jose Canseco, a twice convicted criminal, to legally enter Canada and work for the Toronto Blue Jays. My thoughts raced between ethical and sociological responses to this question. Finally I observed that, if this was indeed the case, professional men's sports appear to be defining the standards of community conduct rather than the community retaining it's own collective ethics. Put another way, community ethics seem to be compromised by the profit seeking agendas of a private corporation. For Ontario boys, there was a new role model in town and I bet that at least some Ontario women shuddered at the recognition that another batterer had gotten red carpet treatment from the men in charge of the legal system. Sociologically, the Canseco border crossing shows how the forces of post-industrial capitalism are fragmenting and eroding community while echoing vestigial remnants of patriotic power and its privileging of men's violence.
So I'm arguing today that men's violence in sport cannot be de-contextualized -- that is, pulled out of it's larger historical, social and cultural context. Furthermore, I argue that male athlete violence is, to an extent, `gendered' and that it must be seen against the backdrop of patriarchal traditions and institutions. There has been some fascinating work the last few years that looks at the connection between the emergence of the institution of war as a central experience in Western patriarchy and its connection to the origin and evolution of sport. So, how does the patriarchal legacy of sport, masculinity and male aggression manifest itself in our lives?
I've done a study recently. We interviewed eighteen women who were severely beaten by men during televised athletic events or shortly thereafter. We listened to what the women had to say. Did the sports on the television cause the domestic violence? No, but it was part of a cultural setting which acted as a trigger -- among other triggers -- for these particular men. So sport here, in terms of the role that it played in these women's individual biographies, was part of the social chemistry that led to the domestic violence.
Another thing to consider is the fact that so many men are beating each other in pursuit of athletic dreams and excellence. In some ways, when I think about the National Football League, I see it as institutionalized inter-male battery. To illustrate this, just consider that 90% of people as old or older than Joe Namath could beat him in a foot race -- and that's true about most former athletes. In some ways I see men's violence in relationship to women, but we men have been beating ourselves up in the name of heroism for centuries. There are aspects of our sportive cultural practices that recapitulate those kinds of dynamics and I think it's interesting to have a look at them, but the lines can't be drawn between sport and the rest of society.
My name is Richard Lapchick and I'm the director of The Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, an organization that works with athletes and sports imagery to try and counter-act violence in society, particularly men's violence against women. I agree with Jeff that I'm deeply disturbed when I see the most heavily sanctioned athletes being -- Tyson outside the world of sports for raping a woman, Tonya Harding doing something inside the world of sports, or Latrell's crossing a sport's line. I think there have to be serious consequences for athletes who do cross the lines Jeff referenced.
Every time an athlete gets in trouble, we get calls from people who ask, "Is it really right to put athletes in front of young people? Shouldn't we be afraid as principals or parents that the behavior of these athletes will influence our young people to use drugs, to be violent against women, to do poorly in school, and to participate in all kinds of anti-social acts?" My answer is always that you have to be careful who you put in front of young people. There are some bad people playing in the world of sport today, maybe more than ever before, but I firmly believe that they are being spawned in a society where young people are faced by more crises and problems than at any time in my lifetime. We have to place those athletes in that context and I think that Don was alluding to that.
Adults don't look up to athletes in the way young people do. Young people see them in schools. They don't worry about their salaries as much as older people do. They don't paint athletes with the same brush when one athlete gets in trouble. They don't make the conclusion that all athletes fall into that category.
In this era of political correctness in the United States, athletes are often used as a racial battering ram. A lot of white people in this country still hold the stereotypical views about black people. Racial surveys show that many white people still think black people are less intelligent, less hard-working, more inclined to use drugs, more inclined to be violent and more inclined to be gender violent. Because of political correctness people can't say these things anymore even if they happen to believe them, but these things are definitely being said about athletes. When a single athlete gets in trouble or a group of athletes gets in trouble, we tend to paint all athletes with that same brush.
In 1995, I was at the NBA rookies transition program in Orlando since we do the degree completion program for the NBA. There was a session on family violence. The head of the Family Violence Unit of the New York City Police was addressing the group. There were 66 rookies in the room, 56 of them were African-Americans. His opening statement was, "I can go out and pick any other 66 men on any other street in Orlando or any other city of America and there are more potential rapists in this room than any other group of 66 I could find." I was, needless to say, very disturbed by what he said and have tried to use the Center to put some of these things in context over the years.
Two years ago I spoke at Harvard University to a group of international diplomats, who all held the rank of ambassador or higher and had spent one year in the United States in a very prestigious international fellows program at Harvard. Before we started, I asked them to each write down five adjectives that they would use to describe America's athletes. They all used the words that we normally use to describe athletes with athletic ability, but in addition every single one of them chose words such as: dumb, violent, rapist, or drug user -- images gleaned from reading about American athletes over the course of a single year.
I lived in Boston for the last fifteen years. Last year alone, Will Cordera, Jose Canseco, and most recently David Meggett were arrested on charges of violence against a woman. It's important that we realize as a society, as Don said, that this doesn't come out of some blind context of the world of sports. On the day that any one of these athletes was arrested -- if it was a typical day in America -- 8,200 American women were battered and 2,345 American women were raped. When Meggett was arrested, the Boston Globe's top columnist had this as his second paragraph: "It's easy to believe that Meggett is guilty because he is a professional athlete and events of the last few years tell us that professional athletes are the worst group of louts and scoundrels produced by twentieth century American society".
If you read about 100 athletes being convicted or accused of assaulting a woman over the course of the past year, which is about the case, it means you read about such things every two weeks. I want you to understand that in the same year that you read about 100 athletes' violence against women, 3 million American women were battered and a million American women were raped. This is a deeply rooted problem in our society. According to this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, 1,161 women were sexually assaulted on their college campuses last year. News of college student athletes charged with sexual assault occur about once a week. Obviously, 1,111 college women were assaulted by non-athletes. How do you feel about them? Fifty-two cases of sexual assault on our college campuses every week.
This year we read regularly about Allen Iverson, Marcus Cambia, Jose Rider, Chris Webber, among other athletes, who are using drugs frequently. I think we need to worry about those particular athletes and any other athlete we read about in that context. But, nonetheless, there were 50 athletes so accused in the past year. That means that once a week we're reading about it -- once again a mind-set is put in place. We have to understand that 1.9 million Americans use cocaine every month, that 2.1 million Americans use heroin every month, and that 13 million Americans use an illicit drug every month. This is, again, a deeply rooted problem in American society.
I was as disappointed as anyone else that the Miami Heat/New York Knicks series ended with a brawl that determined the outcome of the series. Latrell Sprewell obviously raised the bar of violence in this country in the context of sport. It seems as if we have more athletes today than ever before have fights in games and in bars and in the society that they go home to after the games are over. But is it the sport that is making them more violent? Are those sports any different today in terms of the violence of the game than they were twenty years ago, forty years ago, one hundred years ago?
About twenty years ago, some of you may remember, Kermit Washington fractured the Houston coach's jaw and eye socket with one of the most vicious assaults in the context of the game that I can ever remember. There was Chicago Bears, Dick Butkus, who said, "I would never set out to hurt anyone deliberately unless it was, you know, important, like in a league game." There was Calvin Murphy, the little guy who said, "my theory on fighting is, don't fight fair, surprise them and get them when they're coming out of the church." Recently I was showing my daughter a video of my father, who used to be the coach of the New York Knickerbockers, a game that was played in 1956. In the two minute clip that I played, Carl Braun hauled off and hit Dolph Shayes in the face with a sucker punch. Dolph Shayes, for those of you who don't remember, has a son who is a nineteen year veteran in the NBA. That's how far back the fighting goes. And it's certainly not just forty years; Teddy Roosevelt stepped in because of violence in sports at the turn of the century.
What is certainly different now are the streets that these athletes are coming from -- and it's not just an urban/suburban issue. When I go into a high school in America today, I don't look around twice when I walk through a metal detector. But I do notice when I see signs for burial funds in elementary schools to raise money for the burial of a child who was lost violently, whose parents couldn't afford the funeral costs. I do notice when I see greeting rooms in schools set aside so that young people can mourn the loss of a fellow child who has been killed during the year. If you still think it's an urban phenomena, think about the events in Paducah, Ky., Pearl, Mi., Jonesboro, Ark., and Edinborough, Pa. This is a national problem of enormous dimensions.
Jeff talked about the issue of
handguns. Allen Iverson was certainly very prominently in the news,
as well as other athletes in this last year. But in the same week
that Allen Iverson was arrested last summer for the possession of a
handgun, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that a million
high school and college students carry a weapon to school every day.
Again, these are not problems that are limited to the world of sport.
I want to conclude with two thoughts. One, I firmly believe that any athlete who crosses the social norm, who hurts another person whether it be a woman or any one else, who is driving under the influence and hurts somebody, or who is using drugs and hurts somebody, should be banned from the game. They should have no part in the games that we play. Two years ago the National Consortium for Academics in Sport, of which I am the director, became the first sports organization that put in place among its members the following rule: if a male athlete on a college campus is convicted of an act of sexual assault, he is automatically banned from that sport at the university. I credit the work of Jeff Benedict and Don Sabo in leading us to understand that we had to move in this direction, to make these consequences. The second thought I want to leave you with is to please remember that when an individual athlete or a hundred athletes commit anti-social acts, they do not represent all athletes. There are men and women who can really have an impact on young peoples' lives in the desperate times that they are facing. To rule out the possibility of using any athlete because of the one or two or a hundred athletes who get in trouble would have serious consequences for our country.
Thanks, Richard. One thing that makes me think that some of you are sitting on opposite sides of the fence, although you're all saying ` yes, the context counts here, let's put it all in context.' You seem to be putting it into different context. If I take one thing from you, Richard, it's that you're saying `well, nostalgia ain't what it used to be. We're looking back on a golden age of sports which never actually occurred. Just maybe it wasn't reported.' And, so I wonder if you've got an interest in discussing with Diana what fills the back pages of the sports and how easy it is to write about the violence and not about the other kinds of stories. But I also get the feeling that Jeff and Don, at least, are saying that the problem is greater despite how you conceptualize, the problem is greater in sports than you're prepared to acknowledge here. It may be a particular problem about young males; it may be a problem about young males in particular sports. Maybe you want to come back and say, no, no, that's just the way it's reported. But, I wonder if Don would start. Is it really just a young or senior adolescent male problem?
There seem to be several questions on the minds of the American public and they are shared by many researchers. Question one is: are most or all athletes a bunch of women-hating, women-battering thugs? The answer is, of course not. The second question is more subtle, more difficult to pin down empirically. Is the incidence of men's violence against women greater in sport than it is in other institutional sectors. Or put another way: are male athletes more likely to commit violence toward women than their non-athletic counterparts? That's a subtle kind of question.
However, there are some empirical studies on this subject. One study tracked the number of sexual assaults on big-time college campuses, documented the athletic or non-athletic status of the perpetrators, conducted an appropriate statistical test to see whether or not there weres significant differences in ability between the athlete and the non-athlete perpetrators, and concluded that the athletes were more likely to be involved than the general non-athlete group.
There has also been quite a bit of qualitative research that looks at these issues in inter-collegiate populations. What's interesting here is that qualitative research points toward similarities between athletes' sub-cultures and fraternity sub-cultures. So the question becomes: what are the similarities here? Well, there's the fact they are both homo-social groups in which guys get together and hang out with one another. They are both hallmarked by sex segregation generally, which we know from anthropological and other sociological studies is correlated with a higher prevalence of violence against women -- cultural assumption about male superiority, etc. What begins to emerge is an answer that I really do believe. There is a greater probability for male athletes, as a discernible sub-group, to enact violence against women, both physically and sexually. But I have similar suspicions about similar subgroups, such as the military or fraternities.
This is where I respect Richard and his guardian posture when it comes to protecting athletes from stereotyping. If you look at the perpetrators within sport, you have to understand that the majority of the guys in athletic sub-cultures aren't culpable. Some go along with the ugliness, but they aren't culpable. So it's a complicated phenomenon.
I prefer to just cut to the chase on this. I think we are wasting a lot of time debating whether athletes do this more or not. It's a moot point and it really doesn't mean anything. It misses the point. Who cares if they do it more? The fact is, they are not everybody else.
The 250,000 men who commit rape every year in this country are not earning seven figure salaries; they are not getting scholarships to go to school; they are not promoting cereal; they aren't role models for kids; and their posters aren't on people's walls. So what difference does it make whether athletes do it more than everybody else? The fact of the matter is, most criminals aren't held up and adored by the public.
It's not an appropriate comparison statistically to try to say whether athletes do it more. Look at it this way. There are over 250 million Americans; there are 300 NBA players. Obviously, you are going to get an infantile statistical comparison if you look at the number of assaults committed by 300 NBA players as opposed to the 150 million men in this country. You shouldn't compare them. It's totally inappropriate. What is appropriate is to compare them to men to whom they are similarly situated. If you do that, the statistics look a little different. If you start factoring in things like degree of education obtained, neighborhood lived in, salary earned, peer group associated with, these guys who are in the pro ranks and are committing crime are clearly unusual. You don't need a statistical survey to establish that.
But again, even if you could prove or disprove whether they do it more or not, I'm frankly not interested in that. I don't care if somebody does the `tell-all' study that proves they're not more involved in these crimes. It goes back to this. How many guys that commit sex crimes can be cheered for? How many guys that beat their wives are going to put on a uniform, go out on a football field and have kids say, "I want to be like that." Not many! I think we ought to get off the question of whether athletes commit violent acts more because I think it's the wrong question. It misses the point.
I wonder if I might ask you three to respond to two potential resolutions going on at the moment. Are they going to do any good or is it just P.R. talk by these organizations?
One is in the NFL to institute a policy whereby they are not just going to wait for criminal findings in cases. When they see something against their own codes of conduct, they are going to go in and get counseling done and issue their own sort of punishments. In speaking with Jeff Pash, who is one of the legal counsels of the NFL, he certainly seemed very sincere that this is not just a P.R. move and that they are very concerned about the morality and the level of ethics going on in the NFL.
There is another program that the Green Bay Packers have been using for 4 years now. Coach Holmgren thinks it is directly connected to the success of the Green Bay Packers. It was started by an ex-agent named Bob LaMont who used to represent a number of San Francisco 49ers. Bob wasn't representing the Joe Montana's; he was representing the guys who only played for 2.4 years, which is most of the guys in the NFL. Most of them wind up broke, several times divorced, very angry at people around them. They are frustrated that they never did get an education because they were pushed through those schools so quickly. They are often the ones who wind up battering and doing other types of crimes.
Bob LaMont was so frustrated that these men, children really, at the age of twenty-four and twenty-five had nowhere to go that he started something called `Invest Yourself.' He went to the Green Bay Packers and said, "I will provide you with counselors and all kinds of people for your players to talk with about who they are." Most of them didn't have mentors, teachers or parents even. Every single guy on the Green Bay Packers last year signed up and this is a totally voluntary program. They wanted some sort of help and some sort of mentoring, not just the play book. I'm wondering if you guys are thinking this is way too late, that this is ridiculous bandaging of the problems, or if there's some merit in giving some counseling and helping people get to the bottom of their emotional problems before it erupts later on.
Well, just to point out a factual piece of information on that NFL policy. That policy was actually put in a year before. It would seem to be a new policy this year after the league meetings, but it was put in a year ago and was never enforced. So, I think it's pretty much we have to wait and see if they are going to start enforcing it now. But it's actually been there and has been a nothing policy up to this point. I think it would be great if it was, but the jury's out on it.
The Bob Lamont program is an incredible program; Keith Lee from our center has been a consultant for it. The problem with Bob LaMont's program is that it's not practical to bring it down to the levels that I think we would all agree it needs to be. It costs $350,000 to have it for the Green Bay Packers for a single year, but it's not at the pro level that you need to start this. It's good to do something there but it has to be used much earlier than that, with high school and even middle school kids.
Not to sound overly cynical, but the word morality in connection with the NFL is a little strange to me. The policy hasn't even been there a year; it doesn't go into effect until July. What remains to be seen is whether they are actually going to have the morality, the wherewithal, to stand up to guys who are committing crimes on a regular basis. We all know this is going on on a regular basis in the NFL -- players convicted while still playing. Whether the NFL really will stand up to players who are star players is something we will have to wait and see. The NFL in its history has never ever banned a player for criminal violence. There's been one player that I'm aware of, who has been denied readmission to the NFL. It was kind of easy to do since he had just spent 33 months in prison and hadn't played in 3 years. Chances are he wasn't going to make it into the league anyway. That player was Kevin Allen and the commissioner denied him readmission -- big deal.
The fact is that just this off-season there have been guys in and out of jail for crimes they committed last season. The policy doesn't touch them. So it's been sitting there for a year and all the guys doing their time in the off-season for things they did last year will play this fall. The policy doesn't touch them. It remains to be seen whether they will do anything. I think in the fall the NFL is going to be tested. Just because they announce a policy doesn't mean the players in the league are going to change their behavior. I am very doubtful that they will enforce the policy the way it's being portrayed in the press.
I tend to be rather cynical about the NFL and I wonder how much of its decision making around educational interventions is motivated by public relations rather than a genuine concern for the men and their families. But the word is out on that. We can watch these developments unfold.
I think it's helpful, at least for me every once in a while, to remind myself as an epidemiologist that violence is a major public health problem in the United States and men are by far the main perpetratorsof the problem of violence in American society. So I like to put a gender on it as well as a public health label. What this means in terms of interventions is that there have to be multiple strategies to deal with a highly nuanced, complex problem and they have to be layered and developmental in their overall approach. We need to reach kids and young males wherever they may be.
I remember my first few weeks as a university scholarship athlete. We had to get there for double sessions and they ran our tails off and that was a major journey in and of itself. But then the students started coming out. There were guys hanging out the windows of the dorms yelling, while the mothers and dads -- and I've been in this position -- are walking in with their girls, their Freshmen. The guys are yelling, "Bring on the pussy!" and "Hey Baby, Nice Ass." I found that really offensive, but I didn't do anything. I remember a 285 pound tackle grabbing the beanie off a Freshman in front of the student union and throwing it down on the ground, stepping on it and then smacking the kid in the face. Pow, Pow, Pow! I didn't do anything about it! I was an onlooker. I went along in silence. It wasn't until I was a Junior when I began to be able to speak out against those kinds of actions and buffoon-like behaviors.
My point is this. I believe most men are onlookers. We can really reach a lot of guys who go along with the tide rather than stepping up and swimming against the tide. Educational programs that reach guys at the high school level and at the college level, where they are really given a chance to talk through some of the issues of intimacy, dating, anger, rage, etc., can lead in the right direction. Is there a miracle cure? Of course not.
Open it to the floor since a number of people are showing an interest in engaging in the conversation.
Could I ask you to first say who you are, second to keep your comment or question concise and direct it to a specific person, if appropriate.
I have a couple of problems here. When we talk about athletes in this room in the last hour or two, we're not talking about athletes. We are talking about male contact game sports. I think for the most part, that needs to be defined. When we start talking about violence in sports, who are we really talking about? Don just made some comments about guys hanging out of dorm windows, who probably weren't athletes, but I will bet they grew up in North America and that they played little league baseball and corner football, and they learned certain behaviors about being guys.
These guys were the athletes. They were my teammates.
We're talking about males in team sports and contact sports. They learn this behavior as little boys. They have coaches who yell at them, who verbally abuse them and we now know sexually abuse them as well. They get it from their coaches. You do what the coach says, you respond to what the coach says. They have been setting almost all the examples. What about the arrested moral development of male athletes on these teams. We've got coaches who are not trained to be coaches. When we bring the professional model down into youth sport, not at eleven or twelve years of age, but at six or seven years of age where these little kids, and now girls, too -- who absolutely do not think for themselves, do not have any independent thought, do not do anything to break from the team coherence -- how can we possibly expect them to behave any differently than the examples set by their early coaches when they get to junior high school, college and beyond?
First of all, I'm going to say, I think it's a little unfair to categorize all coaches of kids that way. Very few coaches are sexually molesting their players and verbally abusing them. Certainly that happens, but I just don't think it's as wide spread as the person just made it sound like. I think we've had thousands and thousands of kids inyouth sports for decades and we still do. Frankly, you're right in a sense that that's a long ways from what we're talking about up here and I for one, do not think that that is the cause of why we're seeing high profile athletes committing the kinds of acts that we're talking about. Frankly, there have been far, far too many people who have been exposed to whatever this youth sport thing is and they are not committing these kinds of acts and the reason is because most kids who play sports at the youth level do not get treated like the blue chip athletes do. There are basically no boundaries and no lines for these guys and there is always someone there to excuse their behavior. I think that is far more the cause of why we see the high profile athletes getting in trouble or committing the kinds of acts we are discussing here today. Not because they've been subjected to poor coaching as kids or maybe mis-spoken toI'm not totally suggesting that there's no role there, but I don't think it's as big a role as the questioner presented it to be.
I suspect there is some credibility to the generalization that we can expect to find a greater disposition toward violent behavior among competitors in contact sportsalthough I really question it. I would really like to see some evidence for that contention. We don't have it. I thought about Steve Harvey's work where an ethnographic researcher spent a year or so hanging out, but also very systematically studying a male volleyball team subculture. He discovered a lot of really assaultive, sexually predatory behavior as normative, within the subculture. I don't ordinarily think of volleyball as a he-man sport. But, so that's one question. I think it may be related to particular subcultures in athletes that endure certain kinds of gender expectations and/or models of masculinity. That's the culprit that I look toward.
Rules of procedure. I'm going to take the next three or four questions directly in the order in which they make themselves available to me, so it's going to be Claudia first, Jim Harry second, the gentleman with the baseball cap third, Rob Butcher at the front fourth, and then there is a line at the back.
Claudia Card, University of Wisconsin. This question is primarily for Don. All of you have talked about violence perpetrated by male athletes. I am interested, but really quite ignorant about this. Have there been studies about violence perpetrated by female athletes? Females who commit violence generally do not get as much attention in society at large? But they don't happen. Do you know anything about this in athletic context other than Tonya Harding?
It may be unresearched, but more probably under-researched. A common sense explanation is that women athletes may adopt more violent kinds of strategies and actions and cultural practices as they become more assimilated into the male model for sport. The male model that comes to my mind includes the attitude that you win at all costs and that not only is it acceptable but it's heroic to attack and destroy an opponent in order to win, or that to get ahead within the hierarchy in a more self effacing way you somehow view your own body as something that is expendable. You control your body and surmount injury and pain in order to succeed and to win at all costs. The hyper-competitive hierarchical model is not about health and body affirmation.
I'm Jim Parry. I'd like to ask a question about American sports in the American society. How do your major national sports reflect or not reflect what we are told are the basic values of American society and how does the violence fit in this picture?
I'm the son of a coach and I can tell you there was never a democracy on any of the teams that my Dad coached. I don't think it's any different in basketball, football, baseball or hockey. The coach, at certain levels at least, runs the show. I think it changes sometimes when star playersare involved in getting coaches fired; we've seen that happen a couple of times. But whether or not that's unique to American sports, I don't feel qualified to answer. It is a part of American sports. I don't think there's any doubt about that.
I wonder if Jeff might clarify his recommendation, that athletes who are convicted of a felony should not be given scholarships.
My policy suggestion is that if a young man has been convicted of a felony crime, he should not receive a scholarship to a Division I school to play sports. All that does is put him on equal footing with every other person who's applying to go to college. All it really does is take away the free ride aspect. I'm not saying that such a person does not deserve an opportunity to get an education. I am saying that such a person should not have his books and room and boarding and tuition paid for. For the simple fact is that there are far too many kids who deserve to go college and get a scholarship and can't get one. I don't think it is wise to give a scholarship to felons and do nothing to change that behavior, if anything it usually gets worse while they're there.
Regarding how that may shake down unfairly in the African-American community, I think the issue here is: are these colleges and particularly these coaches sincerely interested in the betterment of these young men who are convicted criminals who they bring to school? Is their motive to reform and better them as individuals or is it to use them as athletes? I think that is really where the issue lies. These players are being pulled out of environments where they have been involved in and associated with crime. I just believe from my observation and experience and research that the reason they are being given a "opportunity" or "second chance" isn't because these coaches have deep love or compassion and a desire to genuinely improve their quality of life. These young men are given this "opportunity" because they are damn good athletes and they can run up and down the field better than anybody else. As long as they can do that, they'll get a scholarship. I really think that is what it is about.
Would you mind if I jumped in on the coaches issue for just a moment? Pat Riley built such a great friendship with Magic Johnson and there are a few other cases like that. But most coaches -- Don Shula was famous for stating his views on this -- agree that the degree of professionalism is so heavy now that they barely get to know their players. A lot of them will tell you, "that guy (meaning one of his players), I talked to him for five minutes once." Often there's not a tremendous personal, nurturing, mentoring relationship between the professional coaches and the players. The largest number of coaches in this country are coaches of youth, as would be normal given the number of the population of youth.
I've shared this with Don on a personal level before and I've shared this professionally, but I only say it because it represents an epidemic. Sexual abuse by coaches, and women are included in this group, has become epidemic in this country. I was a very young strong teenager who was going to be the best swimmer in the world. I had total control over my whole life. I was like many youngsters at the age of puberty who stray away from their parents looking for some other voice of authority to admire and even worship. My coach was certainly a possibility. I was first raped violently by this man who supposedly loved me and cared about my future and my person as a leader in the world. Then I was coerced in an egregious crime to participate in a sexual, I hate to call it a relationship, but a sexual aberration with him over the course of my young high school years. At the age of forty-eight I'm pretty happy, pretty together, pretty successful. Yet I still sit on a damn psychiatrist's couch every week to figure out that deep scar and that imprinting, trying to get it off of me. So, I'm sorry to be so emotional about it, there are some tremendous abuses of power going on by coaches in this country. I am trying my hardest now to stop it and to put some punishment onto those people, but the protection by the good old boys network is very, very far reaching. My former coach has become an Olympic coach, after I and several other girls on my team were abused in this way. He has become Man of the Year at his Church in his community, the head of the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. I just pick him out as one example, but girls in gymnastics and swimming and ice skating will tell you story, after story, after story. To me these coaches are truly criminals to the youth of our country.
I just completed a year long study for the Women's Sports Foundation that looked at the relationship between athletic participation, adolescent sexual behavior, and team pregnancy risk. There are some interesting findings for girls. One of them is that female athletes have lower risks for pregnancies than non-athletes. There is a positive kind of story there.
One of our policy recommendations is that coaches need to get more involved in educating their athletes around issues of dating, sexual responsibility, etc.. However we need a lot more education and accreditation as far as coaches are concerned so that we don't have the kind of horrific events that marked Diana's life. I tend to think of coaches as a potential solution to these problems, without turning my back on the fact that we have a lot of education to do to bring them up to standards.
Just to hammer home how
important this could be, I mentioned how many coaches there are for
soccer, soccer is one of forty-five sports venues under the Olympic
umbrella. With the number of sports venues we're talking about, there
could be tremendous impact on the character problem of the young
people of this country if we could persuade our coaches to accept
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