Monday, January 25, 2010

Measuring the Moral Reasoning of Athletes

The University of Idaho's Center for ETHICS (Ethical Theory and Honor in Competition and Sport) is the home for a great deal of both theoretical and action research about moral and ethical reasoning and development in sport. The center's Hahm-Beller Values Choice Inventory (HBVCI) measures moral reasoning in athletes and they have assessed over 80,000 individuals (ranging from high school students through adults) using this instrument and the findings are compelling (more on the findings later).

But one of the items on this survey stood out to me because of its uncanny similarity to the now-famous "hand ball" incident that occurred in the World Cup qualifier game between France and Ireland late last year. Thierry's hand ball led directly to a France score which tied the game and effectively eliminated Ireland from the World Cup. The item on the HBVCI reads as follows:

"Question 1: Male soccer players are allowed to play the ball with any part of their body except the hands or outstretched arms. A soccer player receives a chest high pass and taps the ball to the ground with his hand. The referee does not see this action and the play continues, Because it is the referee's job to see these actions, the player is not obligated to report his foul."

Survey participants are asked to indicate their level of agreement with the last two sentences by noting whether they "Strongly Agree," "Agree," are "Neutral," "Disagree," or "Strongly Disagree." If I am not mistaken, those who strongly agree are demonstrating a lower level of moral reasoning than those who strongly disagree. I think what makes this a worthy point of discussion is that the focus is squarely on the direct connection between decisions made in an athletic setting and the moral development of the athlete making those decisions. This is not about what is "practical" in the game of sport or what behavior seems to best fit in the context of sport as we know it. It's a question that directly accesses someone's moral decision making in an athletic setting.

Overall, their findings (summarized here) show that males in team sports demonstrate the lowest moral reasoning scores. Athletes in individual sports demonstrate higher levels of moral reasoning than those in team sports. And the longer that women are involved in team sport competition, the more their moral reasoning appears to erode.

OK, there are so many directions to move in here and I'll stop for now. Food for thought and a future posting.

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