Sports and Ethics

Brian LePort asks if it’s ethical to watch football or MMA. The answer is obviously yes. It’s perfectly ethical, which is why I have no problem doing both. Having said that, I fear that the attitudes in some of the comments to his post, and certainly that of the main guy quoted (Malcolm Gladwell), could lead to potentially every fun thing in the world being considered unethical.

What’s next; banning tag from schools? Too late.



15 thoughts on “Sports and Ethics

  1. When you frame the question by stating that these sports are part of a “culture of violence,” or refer to MMA as “bloodsport and savagery.” then you have already assumed something you need to prove. I don’t think physical competitions are inherently violent or necessarily promote a violent lifestyle. Furthermore, I don’t think the vast majority of the athletes involved see this as an opportunity to hurt or injure someone else.

    I think most MMA athletes pride themselves in their physical abilities and want to display their superiority in this regard through fighting. There is a small possibility of injury, and an even smaller possibility of death, but those are rarely the aim of the athletes and in no way define the culture of the sports.

  2. Kyle: You’re absolutely correct!

    A few things that I’ll say here that I didn’t feel like saying at Brian’s blog (since ultimately, unless one becomes a vegan and pledges to no longer harm insects, they’ll never get anywhere):

    1. There has never been a death in professional MMA competition, at least not to my knowledge. Amateurs are a different story but there’s a reason that MMA isn’t a backyard no-holds-barred brawl. There are rules and regulations in place to prevent mishaps.

    2. The goal of MMA, indeed any competition, is to win. No more, no less, which is to say that the goal is not inherently to do your opponent harm. The vast majority of fights end with both fighters having sustained very minor or no injuries at all (believe it or not, most injuries occur in the training leading up to the fight!). And I know this because I read the lists of medical suspensions meted out after big events. Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t individuals who would like nothing more than to hurt somebody; but they’re the minority in the sport.

    3. There’s an aesthetic quality to combat sports, especially MMA, that makes it worth watching. I’m a firm believer that beauty points to God, and if you’ve ever seen two skilled fighters battle for position, then you’ve seen poetry in motion. It’s far from what I’d call barbaric or savage.

    4. I think the bottom line is that people like to set themselves and their tastes as the standards by which to judge everyone/thing else. A couple of commenters on Brian’s blog stated their affinity for baseball. Why not ask if that’s ethical? Because they like it (I personally find baseball to be the most boring sport known to man).

  3. As a die-hard baseball fan, I can say that the pitcher inflicts a great amount of damage to his body every time he pitches. He’s risking that a wild pitch that will go upwards of 90mph and might even injure a batter. Furthermore, the batter will hit the ball with nearly 10,000 pounds of force and send it flying towards players in the field with little time to respond. Injuries occur all the time from batters losing control of their bat, players running into the wall and all other sorts of things. Is this a “culture of violence?” Not in the least. These are athletes attempting to best display their athletic ability and win.

  4. 1.) Do the intentions of the 2 fighters have any bearing on whether it’s ethical for a Christian to enjoy watching the fight? I mean if their intentions are similar to two guys who don’t like each other and wanting to hurt each other getting into a street fighter (that has someone to break it up at some point), is it ethical to enjoy both? Does the fact that mma has rankings and titles change that?

    2.) The other question is whether it’s ok to physically hurt someone if they don’t want to be hurt (or even if they do)? I don’t think you can say mma fighters want to be hurt even if they’re competing in a fight.

    3.) I personally don’t care whether people think it’s ok or not to watch mma. I catch it sometimes though not often and enjoy it when I do. It does feel different than watching a regular fight which I don’t like to see.

  5. I would have a much different opinion of competitive sports if their sole purpose were to maim or otherwise seriously injure an opponent; gladiatorial contests, for example. But as it is, at least with popular American sports, I can’t see any issue, save for one’s own devotion to a sport that may lead them to a conflict of loyalties to God. Sports that are played for the purpose of pitting competitors against one another in order to demonstrate “a very particular set of skills” are quite ok and downright enjoyable!

  6. Bryan: (1) I’d say the fact that MMA is a sport with rules and regulations renders the fighters’ intentions irrelevant for the viewer. It’s those rules and regulations that separates it from being a street fight. No one has to break it up; they know to stop fighting when the bell rings.

    (2) I think you’re right. The vast majority of fighters don’t want to really hurt each other. They want to win. And the fighters know the risks involved in their sport. But again, MMA has rules, and those rules are meant to prevent people from being hurt against their will. If someone taps out then you stop fighting. If the bell rings then you stop fighting. Otherwise there are consequences. To give one example; Paul Daley fought Josh Koscheck a couple of years ago and lost. After the bell Daley hit Koscheck in the face as he was walking to his corner. He was immediately fired from the UFC and has never returned.

    (3) Exactly.

    Jason: Agreed.

    CarolJean: (1) It could be, and (2) no.

  7. 1.) So it must be run by an “official” organization to be ok (rules and regulations)? That’s what makes punching someone in the face repeatedly, and making them bleed, give up because they can’t stand the pain, or knock out unconscious, ok?

    2.) But some mma fighters definitely want to hurt each other, especially if there is a grudge, and the thing is they get to do so. But again you seem to be saying it is ok to hurt someone physically by punching, kicking or whatever if you are doing it supervised by an official organization and are calling it a sport. Is doing it under an official organization what makes doing something ethically ok which might not be outside of it?

  8. Bryan: No to the “official organization” bit. It’s just as legitimate for a Christian to watch an unsanctioned backyard brawl that has rules and regulations in place for the safety of the fighters as it is for them to watch sanctioned UFC or Strikeforce bouts. The rules & regulations are the key. It’s what separates sport from something else. And yes, the rules make punching someone in the face repeatedly okay, because the persons getting punched in the face signed up for exactly that, and as soon as they want to stop getting punched in the face they can. A street fight doesn’t always have that luxury.

    (2) I believe I answered that above. I’ll add that a fighter can show up with the worst of intentions and want to literally kill their opponent. The chances of them actually doing so are slim to none. Why? Because rules exist to prevent that. Officials are in the cage to prevent that. Penalties are in place to deter that. And if it actually happened, the spectators would likely be horrified. They’d know that something went horribly wrong.

    Most folks I know don’t watch MMA to see people get hurt. Every once in a while you’ll see a couple of hits that land after someone is knocked out and it’s always unsettling. Why? Because they weren’t competitive hits. They weren’t necessary. But usually those extra hits are just heat of the moment punches that were never intended to hit an unconscious opponent. In the case where people cross the line and try to do damage after the fact it’s even worse. I can remember Royce Gracie breaking Jason DeLucia’s arm after DeLucia tapped out (this was before there were even unified rules for MMA) in UFC 2 (way back in 1994). I was mortified. Even thinking about it now I get a little queasy. Why? Because he crossed the line. He broke the rules. But not too long ago Frank Mir broke Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm and while it looked pretty gross, I wasn’t bothered. Why? Because Nogueira didn’t tap until after his arm broke. Those rules make all the difference in the world.

  9. 1.) So then you think it’s ok for Christians to participate in and be entertained by fight clubs? They have rules.

    2.) Would you be ok with churches running fight clubs for their members?

  10. BTW, something weird is going on when you comment. I’m getting two emails for each comment. That’s never happened before. You ever encounter that?

  11. That’s never happened to me but since I rarely get comments on my blog anymore I’m probably not the best person to go by. ; )

    At once I’m surprised to see you say you’d be ok with Christian fight clubs (like in the book or the movie, minus Project Mayhem) but knowing you I’m not all that surprised. ; )

    Like I said I personally don’t care whether Christians think mma is or isn’t ok for Christians beyond looking at the reasoning behind the beliefs on the subject… sort of a detached analyzing of the arguments.

    I do find mma to be different from other sports that have contact in that, although the goal is to win, the sport can’t be reduced to that since that would make all sports the same. Instead it’s the manner of playing and winning that are central to sports and make each sport distinct from others. To win in mma means you either knock your opponent unconscious, choke them unconscious, cause them enough pain so that they give up or just outlast them in the pain you can handle and look better while doing it (did I leave anything out). Sure they’re trying to win and there are rules and people to keep things from going too far but I’m not sure why intentionally inflicting pain on another person is not considered already too far. I don’t think mma can just be considered the same as football or basketball or hockey.

    I feel like fighting is bad because you are intentionally trying to harm or inflict pain on someone else and I think it’s wrong to intentionally inflict pain on others unless you can find a context where it’s necessary (e.g. saving a life, protecting your life).

    I’ll still watch it when I see it on but that’s more because I don’t care whether it’s considered ok for Christians or not. : ) If I did, I might have to really rethink watching it.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  12. Bryan: Maybe you’d get comments if you blogged! ;-)

    I never read the book but I’ll be honest and say that the movie didn’t even cross my mind when you said “fight clubs.” I was thinking more along the lines of amateur MMA leagues. They were allowed to fight dirty in Fight Club, weren’t they? Biting and eye gouging and that type of stuff? That seems excessive to me but all the guys ended up being friends after the fights if I remember correctly, right? When I was a kid I used to box with my cousins and their friends. It was never an issue. It didn’t matter if someone got a bloody nose, fat lip, or black eye; all that was part of competition. When it was all said and done we’d hang out and do something else. I’m sure that has plenty to do with my view on the ethics of contact/combat sports.

    I can’t really see a major difference between MMA and other contact sports (and certainly not other combat sports). Football and hockey are both hard hitting sports. Checking someone into the boards or tackling someone is “intentionally inflicting pain,” don’t you think? I guess I’d need a good reason to think that there was something wrong with intentionally inflicting pain in the context of sports. I can’t think of any. Now intentionally inflicting pain in other contexts can be wrong but that’s really got nothing to do with sports so far as I can see.

    In any event, tune into the UFC on FOX tonight. It promises to be a good card!

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