Do sports build character? For those of us who claim to be educators, it’s important to know. Physical-education teachers, coaches, boosters, most trustees, and the balance of alumni seem sure that they do. And so they push sports, sports, and more sports. As for professors, they often see sports as a diversion from the real business of education–empty, time-wasting, and claiming far too much of students’ attention. It often seems that neither the boosters nor the bashers want to go too far in examining their assumptions about sports.
But in fact, sports are a complex issue, and it’s clear that we as a culture don’t really know how to think about them. Public confusion about performance-enhancing drugs, the dangers of concussions in football and of fighting in hockey, and the recent molestation scandal at Penn State suggest that it might be good to pull back and consider the question of athletics and education–of sports and character-building–a bit more closely than we generally do.