Fair Ball?: Exploring the relationship between media sports and viewer morality
Musings about the relationship between sports and morality are not new. In the Academy, Plato insisted on the ultimate importance of both physical and moral education; in Greek mythology, victory and virtue were inextricably linked. The current International Olympic Charter celebrates “the joy of eﬀort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles” (International Olympic Committee, 2007, p. 11). Coaches and managers from Little League to Major League stress the parallels between sport and life, arguing that developing physical and moral excellence – most often in the form of sportsmanship – on the ﬁeld nurtures the same oﬀ the ﬁeld. But by and large these discussions have traditionally centered on the role of sports participation in the moral lives of individuals. The purpose of this chapter is to move the discussion beyond participation to spectatorship. More speciﬁcally, taking cues from entertainment scholarship on ﬁctional narratives, I will explore the role that subjective morality plays in the consumption of and reaction to live televised sports. The ultimate goal of the chapter is to oﬀer a framework from which scholars can begin examining the intersection between media sports and viewer morality. As highly dramatic events, sports share much in common with ﬁctional narratives.
Perhaps most importantly, the two share the centrality of characters and the ultimate importance of outcomes. For instance, two teams trading baskets in the waning seconds of a WNBA game is perfectly analogous to the back-and-forth, nonstop action in your typical adventure ﬁlm, or even romantic comedy for that matter. Of course, characters and outcomes alone mean little unless viewers are emotionally invested in them. Media enjoyment scholarship, as well as the daily lived experiences for nearly everyone, clearly demonstrates that viewers willingly make such investments – from Avatar to Zombieland, the Oakland A’s to the New Orleans Zephyrs – and that those emotional aﬃliations, in conjunction with hoped-for outcomes, are key to the enjoyment of media entertainment.