Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Keeping Sports in their Proper Place

Life, Death, Sports, and What Really Matters

This past weekend, I was on Twitter after my favorite soccer club, Arsenal, lost 2-0 at home to Swansea. As I read through the tweets of fans expressing frustration about being in 10th place at this point in the season, I felt it too. The team is underperforming, and as a passionate fan it is frustrating. As someone who grew up in Kansas City, and as a devoted Chiefs fan, I am in tune with another fan base and their frustration with a difficult and disappointing season on the field.

As most readers probably know, this past Saturday morning Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, murdered his girlfried Kasandra Perkins (for her story, go here) and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide. The game on Sunday went on as scheduled, and the Chiefs won for the second time this season.

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In the hours and now days following these horrible events, commentators have talked about how this "puts football in its proper place" and I found myself thinking this is a reminder of the perspective we should take on sports. We are passionate about sports. We love our teams, we complain about our teams, and we follow them in good times and bad. It is one thing to be passionate about our teams, but some of us can go too far and put sports above other things that matter more. My fear and belief, however, is that as the days and weeks go by, as this tragedy fades from our collective memory, all of the platitudes about keeping sports in proper perspective will fade as well.

Perhaps the best and most useful thing I've heard in the past few days are comments from Chiefs QB Brady Quinn:

The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people. I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.

As I've talked about before, I deleted my Facebook account. And though I use Twitter, I plan on spending less time there in the days to come. Social networks have their place, but face-to-face human contact is irreplaceable. So instead of combing through tweets from frustrated or jubilant fans and bloggers related to your favorite team, or subjecting yourself to the minute and often misleading details of the lives of others via Facebook, let's follow Brady Quinn's advice: put the smart phone down and engage the people in our daily lives, cultivating our face-to-face relationships. It is one of the most human things we can do.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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