Irreconcilable Differences: The Growing Moral Conflict of Watching Sports

There is a sense of mysticism in all sports, from international events like the Olympics and the World Cup, to more common, everyday games like little league baseball or high school football. I admit I’ve become obsessed with fandom since joining Dat Winning, and I’ve written about it more than once. But as a seemingly endless amount of dirt is revealed from the corporate underbelly of our favorite sports, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a morally responsible fan. Whether it’s cheating, physical and mental abuse, or outright corruption; clearing the dirt from the purity of sport appears to be a losing game.

When news of the FIFA arrests came down last month, with Sepp Blatter’s subsequent resignation, I was faced with a sort of existential crisis. For decades, the viewing public had suspicions of corruption to some degree, and as my colleagues pointed out shortly after Blatter’s resignation, the information that was beginning to be uncovered seemed to confirm their worst fears. The Washington Post reports, the most egregious example with “real world ramifications” is in Qatar, site of the 2022 World Cup.

The article quotes a haunting stat by the International Trade Union Confederation that estimates that nearly 4,000 migrant workers will die by 2022, many in the name of building stadiums that will likely be nothing more than parking lots after the World Cup.

FIFA may only be the most international example. Our FIFA is the National Football League, with scandals perhaps as egregious, if not as far-reaching. It goes beyond bad sportsmanship and deflated footballs. Between the NFL’s reluctance to truly acknowledge a concussion problem, and Ray Rice’s physical assault on his now wife Janay Rice, all of football’s skeletons seem to be falling out of an overfilled closet. Granted, the NFL has kind of, sort of made some strides in instituting a proper concussion protocol, but their personal conduct policy related to domestic abuse is still in question.

Which brings it back to FIFA and our very own women’s soccer star Hope Solo. Although the circumstances and allegations are vastly different, no one, regardless of gender or race, should get a pass on domestic violence. Wanda Sykes poignantly skewers this in this HBO Real Sports commentary

The allegations against Hope Solo have made headlines in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup and some debate has ensued over the leniency of U.S. Soccer to allow her to continue playing. None of this has kept her from being spectacular on the field as the U.S. side keeps winning. And it hasn’t kept us from watching her do it. To be fair, the charges against Solo were dropped prior to the WWC. No one, however, denies that a physical altercation occurred.

Everyday, non-athletes make the same mistakes and commit the same crimes that these star athletes have, but does the average person have access to the advocates and resources of a sports star to deflect their misdeeds? No. And moreover, we let them off the hook.

We as fans need to start acknowledging that there is a growing moral conflict to watching professional sports, and it should feel uncomfortable. We have the right to watch what we see fit, but when does just watching cross the line to enabling toxic behavior? It is the moral center within us, as individuals, to know all this, to have the push and pull of emotions, and find a way to reconcile the difference.

Cover photo by AP Photo/Alex Brandon via Huffington Post.

thumb_Lata-PandyaLATA PANDYA | @LataPandya

Lata Pandya is an award-winning TV and radio journalist. Currently she works as a producer on the Los Angeles-based public television news magazine show SoCal Connected. She notorious for watching sports while researching public policy stories. Lata is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.

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