Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Do sports build character or damage it?

Just ran across this essay by Mark Edmundson in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  An excerpt:
All too often, the players who go all out on the field but can't readily turn it off elsewhere are the best players. They're the most headlong, the most fearless, the most dedicated. And when they encounter a modulated, more controlled antagonist in a game, often they, the more brutal players, win.
Lawrence Taylor was one of the best players ever to appear in the National Football League. With his speed and ferocity, and his ability to run down the opposing quarterback, he made football into a different, more violent game. But he was often as much in a fury off the field as on. By his own account, Taylor led the life of a beast—drunk, brawling, high on coke, speeding in his car: He was a peril to anyone who came near him.
His coach, Bill Parcells, allowed him to cultivate this off-field character, knowing that it contributed to his prowess when he played. If the best players are the ones who are the least controlled, the ones in whom passion for pre-eminence trumps reason, then it is not entirely clear that one can say what American coaches and boosters love to say, that sports builds character. If having a good character means having a coherent, flexible internal structure, where the best part rules over the most dangerous, then sports may not always be conducive to true virtue.
Read the entire essay here