Inside the Moral Kiosk

Sorry I haven't been as prolific of late as I want to be; fighting the man by day has been sapping some of the creative juices. Thankfully Ty's done a solid job keeping shit humming in my absence, but hopefully you'll be hearing much more from me in the coming weeks. One thing my daytime duties as a class warrior have helped me realize, however, is that there is a gigantic disconnect between my ethics when sports are involved and my personal beliefs in non-sports-related daily life. While I don't think I can fully come to terms with this dilemma in the course of one late-night post, I at least want to get the conversation rolling on the topic with some of initial thoughts.

At the risk of sounding excessively douchey, when we first started this blog I had (and continue to have) aspirations of using sports as a prism for addressing some of society's more significant issues. What sports can tell us about life's controversies interests me greatly, yet the controversies of sports generally do nothing for me. To put it another way, in a perfect world, I'd want the interaction between sports and society to be almost purely metaphor. When the literal creeps up, I tend to shut off. I've had conspicuously little to say about the Donaghy situation, and never bothered touching the Marbury/Vick dust-up. For someone fascinated by corruption and greed in America, you'd think that when these issues directly intersect with what we cover here I'd be anxious to weigh in, but, when it comes to sports, my moral compass rarely get too agitated.

A couple different recent conversations helped bring my indifference to sports-related wrongdoings into focus. The first was an introductory conversation with a co-worker who happened to be a University of Oregon alum. Searching for topics of conversation, I was curious if she had any interest in their basketball or football teams. She was, she responded, to the extent that she had spent her four years ardently protesting the school's Nike ties. During my time in college I saw similar efforts to make Stanford athletics sweat-free, efforts that I never backed out of the fear that losing our Nike affiliation would affect the profitability and competitiveness of our basketball program. Now, normally I would fully support any effort to encourage economic justice in the developing world -- my co-worker and I probably see eye-to-eye on 90% of political issues -- but when my team becomes involved, my politics stop considerably short of my standard ideals.

A couple weeks later, the topic of Michael Vick came up during a conversation among friends. One person expressed that, in the entire debate, his predominant concern was losing the ability to watch Vick play. As someone with very little interest in the NFL, I needed to translate this sentiment into something I could relate to. The closest I could come was that, if Kobe had gone to trial, and I was on the jury and became totally convinced of his guilt, would I be more concerned with enforcing justice or ruining my home team's season? In the end, I have to believe I'd do the right thing, but I have to imagine I'd be at least a little conflicted. The fact that there would be any inner debate at all makes me worried about the amorality with which I treat sports.

Clearly, things are not as black-and-white for me as I might seem to be implying. My moral and political judgments do cross into the world of athletics fairly often. For example, I think LeBron unquestionably should have signed Newble's Sudan letter. Generally, I wish MJ had had a political conscience (at least vocally). I still think Tim Hardaway is a jackass. But I nonetheless have a willingness to look the other way, especially in the cases where the success of the team I root for is at stake, a tendency I have to find somewhat troubling. Perhaps I'm scrambling too many dissimilar things here. The moral question might be entirely distinct from the political one. Furthermore, not letting someone's off-court actions color your on-court view of them is one thing, while legitimately not caring about a person's transgressions simply because of their athletic ability is something else entirely. I think what I'm actually feeling is the former, but what I'm afraid I'm expressing at times here is the latter. I have no ambitions of completely resolving this personal conflict tonight, so I am legitimately interested in hearing whether this is a common struggle shared by other progressively-minded (or conservative-minded) sports enthusiasts. Can you hope to use sports as a tool to inform your world-view without letting your world-view influence how you watch sports?

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