Friday, May 2, 2008

Sport and Children's Rights

Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that University of Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie has offered a scholarship to a California basketball player named Michael Avery. The surprising element of this is that Avery is an 8th grader, and has committed to play for UK beginning with the 2012-2013 season. Several uncertainties are in play here, as mentioned in the article: Avery, a 6'4" guard, has perhaps peaked athletically; he may suffer a serious injury; and who knows where Gillispie might be coaching in 2012?

Many ethical issues are raised by this turn of events, but I'd like to focus on one contained in several articles within a recent section of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport devoted to children and philosophy of sport, namely, the right of children to an open future. Joel Feinberg describes this right as consisting of a child being entitled to having as many options open to her as possible upon becoming an adult, so that she will be able to exercise autonomy maximally as a competent adult. It is not clear to me that Avery's right to an open future is undermined by his commitment to Kentucky, given that he can opt out of the commitment in the future. However, I would argue that it is safe to say that such a development is troubling. Should 8th graders be making such commitments, and moreover should college coaches be seeking them? While this might not, strictly speaking, unduly limit Avery's present and future autonomy, it does seem to tighten the openness of his future in significant ways. The pressure to excel in basketball might cause him to forego other options that should still be live options at his age: other sports, music, art, scholastics, and free time to just be a kid, to name a few. Even if these factors do not obtain in this specific case, they could and likely would in other cases if this practice becomes more widespread. Is this a cause for concern, or am I merely making much ado about nothing?

If anyone has thoughts on this, please post them in the comments link below.


Carl Thomen said...

Mike, I think you are right to be concerned. Suddenly this kid has an enormous amount of expectation and pressure in his life, not to mention the associated publicity...When his focus should be on developing his mind and his character along with his interests outside of sport, suddenly the balance isn't healthy anymore. Like you say, when does he get time to just be a kid? I think we need to sit back and ask what exactly we are trying to turn talented children such as this into. Are we looking after the best interests of a child who (as well as being a good sportsman) might have other talents or interests, or are we looking at our win/loss record and considering cost-effective ways of improving it in the future? In other words, is this child someone to take pride in and nurture like we would any other child, or is he a means to an end?

thinklings said...

I agree, Mike. We already come at children from both sides..."grow up!" pushing them into regimented sports at young ages at the front end and now from the back end (or middle) we have their potential future schools clawing to gain a recruiting competitive advantage. Without much reflection, I'd say some recruiting restrictions should not allow recruiting for children below high school. I already hear the claims to arbitrariness and that restrictions don't work and increase the red tape, but these are just initial thoughts. I'd rather have some space reserved in children's lives to relax and be a kid. If only we could get parents to do the same.