There are many amateur, semi-pro, and professional sports to be watched and played throughout the year, but if I had to lay down some cash to pay to watch one in an actual stadium, I’d spend my really-should-not-be-used-for-recreational-purposes cash to catch a game of professional football.
Wait – let me define my sport here. I meant to say American football.
The other kind of football is nice and all, but if I had to plunk down some money I’d pick this:
Let’s face it, American-style football is just danged entertaining.
That’s what keeps people watching.
Well, maybe this has a little bit to do with what keeps people watching…
No. Not that.
Whoops. I mean THE BIG GAME ads.
People, in America and abroad, watch football. Well, unless it’s Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead is on.
That show gets better ratings with the 18-49 year old demographic.
Yes, folks. That’s right.
The ratings for this:
Beats the ratings for this:
But I digress….
If you think about it, there’s a legit reason why American football (hereafter referred to as “football”) is so popular. After all, there just aren’t that many sports with a jingle as catchy as Hank Williams, jr’s “Are You Ready For Some Football?” or where one can base his or her fan loyalty based on the attractiveness/offensiveness of the team mascot and/or the color of the team jersey.
This explains why I hate the Cleveland Browns.
That uniform is fugly.
Now, you may be aware of recent criticism (rightfully so) of League apathy towards serious brain injury suffered by current and former players.
But what you may be even more aware of is the recent spate of legal troubles involving a few high-profile NFL players. In particular, legal troubles involving the illegal use of one’s hands against another human being.
To put it another way, a few have been busted for physically abusing someone.
Many of us are aware of Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson’s no contest plea on a misdemeanor child abuse charge for whipping his 4 year-old son with a switch.
I’m more than certain that anyone with a TV or an internet connection has either heard of or seen this video:
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for multiple murders.
Of course we all remember this guy:
Tales of abuse (and even worse) by rich and famous are, by no means, new. Before Chris Brown, fans of John Lennon, Miles Davis, and Ike Turner heard stories of (alleged and actual) domestic abuse. And on the professional sports side, well-known athletes like MMA fighters War Machine and Tito Ortiz, Mike Tyson, Hope Solo, and Rae Carruth have all been accused, charged, and/or convicted of committing acts of violence towards their mates.
Rumors (unsubstantiated) that Joe DiMaggio beat Marilyn Monroe have been around for decades.
Most of the fervor over celebrity abusers is based, in part, on the seemingly light sentences given to (celebrities and) professional athletes for their crimes.
Some think game suspensions aren’t enough punishment.
Let’s not forget that Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games.
What we want isn’t merely punishment – we want a just punishment. We want a punishment fitting of the crime.
… And when we say fitting of the crime, we want murderers and abusers no matter who they are to be punished. We want a person to receive the punishment the deserve regardless of their occupation, social status or the amount of money in their bank account.
Or what team they play for.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) says that moral rights and wrongs are not subject to opinion. The standard of a right and wrong act is not determined by popular opinion. Kant states that rightness and wrongness are eternal; universal and applicable to all people at all times.
Although Kant argues in favor of stern punishments, Kant states that punishments should also be proportional to the crime.
Punishment… must always be inflicted on him only because he has committed a crime…but what kind and what amount of punishment is it that public justice makes its principle and measure? None other than the principle of equality… accordingly, whatever undeserved evil you inflict on another… you inflict on yourself….But only the law of retribution jus falionis – it being understood… can specify definitively the quality and quantity of punishment (Metaphysics of Morals, 6:331-332)
So, according to Kant, we should not only be willing to punish abusers, but also be willing to treat Ray Rice with the same level of punishment (and presumably the same level of moral disdain) that we treat someone who isn’t famous or a female athlete . We can’t allow favoritism or double standards.
Especially if we want moral consistency.
…. And we should want moral consistency.
Ok, for the record, I think Kant is right. People who abuse people, no matter what they do for a living, should be punished. And we should be morally offended when people commit violent acts against other people and animals. But I can’t deny (despite my moral outrage) that I still enjoy this:
I still watch The Naked Gun movies and enjoy OJ Simpson’s performance as “Nordberg”.
Try as I might to hate every scene OJ Simpson is in, I still find this scene funny.
That Nordberg is a pretty funny guy.
And while we’re on that subject, someone riddle me this: how did Nordberg go from looking like this guy:
To looking like this guy:
Someone should call Robert Stack to get on this….
Now, when we think about famous actors, musicians or athletes, there’s the tendency to say that their private life is separate from their public life. What a person does behind closed doors should be distinct from what they do publicly – that what a man or woman does in their private lives shouldn’t affect how we think about what they do professionally. They say –
It shouldn’t matter what kind of guy John Lennon was, he was a great musician.
Ray Rice and his fiancée are married now.
Mike Tyson is now the star of a cartoon series
Everyone has their demons, we say.
Although punishment or proper punishment is a big issue in discussing domestic abuse, it’s not the only issue that should be discussed when dealing with domestic violence and famous people. Anyone who has thought about the role that actors, musicians and professional athletes play in our culture has probably wondered not only if we can separate a person’s private acts from their public persona, but also should we separate a person’s private and public lives?
The question we should ask is why do we look up to these people in the first place?
You see, some people think we should be consistent in how we act in public and in private.
We shouldn’t just admire a person just because they’re attractive or popular or a world-class athlete.
It’s about what kind of people we look up to.
We should want to look up to people because they’re the right kind of people to look up to.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle writes that the only people worth looking up to are virtuous.
Wait – let me back up for a minute. I have to explain something.
According to Aristotle, virtues like courage, temperance, and truthfulness are inborn traits. Virtues are acquired through habit. That is, we acquire virtue by behaving virtuously. That behavior, in turn, becomes habit. One must possess all the virtues (unity of virtues) to be (morally) virtuous.
Aristotle describes moral virtue as:
A settled disposition if the mind determining the choice of
actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the
observance of the mean relative us, this being determined by
principle that is, as the prudent man would determine it.
Therefore, once our behaviors become habit, our virtuous soul is manifested in how we act.
What I’m trying to say is Aristotle said if you act a certain way for a long time eventually that’s the way you will always act.
The virtues, then, come neither by nature nor against nature, but nature gives us the capacity for acquiring them, and this is developed by training….. But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.
Here’s a list of Aristotle’s virtues, by the way….
man, that’s small….
Aristotle wrote that a full realization of one’s virtuousness cannot be possible if our virtuous acts are limited to the public realm. To be truly virtuous, Aristotle argues, we are (also) required to act virtuously in our private life. Private behavior influences public behavior and vice versa. And – since Aristotle states that we realize the full meaning of our existence by functioning within the public sphere, and since virtue is acquired by the repetition of virtuous deeds, and to develop a habit requires consistent behavior in public and in private, the two spheres are necessarily connected; one must be virtuous in public but also in private.
And since the community is essential for human flourishing, our acts are ultimately connected the public (common) good.
A man who cheats on his wife or beats a woman in private cannot be trusted in his public acts. Someone who commits acts of domestic violence isn’t a good person. He (or she) isn’t virtuous. The kind of person who physically assaults another person lacks the kind of moral character of someone we should look up to. Therefore he is unworthy of our praise and should not be held as an example to follow.
Indeed, if he were not good, he could not be worthy of
honor; for honor is the prize of virtue, and is rendered to the
good as their due.
So what are to make of all this, then?
The moral of the story is that the problem with abuse in entertainment and professional sports isn’t just a question of how do we punish those who abuse their wives, girlfriends, strippers, occasionally a fan, or anyone else who ends up on the bad end of a famous person’s fist. We should first be careful who we venerate. What kind of people we hold as an example to follow. That’s what Aristotle tells us all about moral virtue. It isn’t enough that a person sings great songs or who holds the record for most career touchdowns.
We shouldn’t be concerned with how much a person makes, how many yards run, or how many hit songs they wrote. No one doubts that John Lennon was a great songwriter or that Ray Rice is (was) an exceptional football player. But we should, especially if we are to hold those in high regard, want who we look up to to be good men (people) as well.
What should matter to us is kind of character a person has. Is the person we admire a good person? Not just good in the sense that they are polite or file their taxes on time, but capital G-O-O-D in the sense that they embody the kind of qualities that we think makes someone a good person – a morally virtuous person. The kind of person who, just by watching them, makes us want to follow their example.
*for more information on head injuries in the NFL read:
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 . Trans. F.H. Peters. M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. xvii, 81.
Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 6:331-332