Science, Cynicism and Sport

Why is the sociological imagination replacing physical science as the current major common denominator of our cultural life?

Physical and biological science dominated as the major common denominator of cultural life over the last few hundred years. With a sense of wonder and discovery, men sought out the “truth” through the physical and biological sciences that could be supported through additional findings and experimentation. Religious doubts had been defeated and science could prove anything at this time, as people looked whole-heartedly toward science to find definitive meanings. The field advanced tremendously to the point that the question was no longer “can we do it?” but rather “should we do it?” The most recent major scientific developments have created more problems in the realm of social affairs than physical solutions.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, what were once personal problems become greater issues that affect others on a larger scale. The implications of our actions reach much further than they used to and we are held to a higher standard of responsibility to others. Because of how much we now know and how easily the present becomes recorded history, humankind has more to consider in decisions to act. The sociological imagination integrates the volumes of information made available during the age of science, and uses it to make sense of the human relations associated with this knowledge.

What is the relationship between the government and business ethics?

Business ethics evolved separately but alongside the law and government regulations. When there is little room to waver legally, the role of ethics in business is minimal because strict regulations guide decisions first. The Glass-Steagall Act passed by Congress separated commercial and investment banking institutions. By keeping these institutions separate, ethical dilemmas that would have arose because of conflicting business cultures were prevented. Government regulation reduced the legal space for business ethics to play into.

Let’s not be fooled though, it is not the full responsibility of the government to regulate ethical business practices. Legality and morality do not fall hand in hand and poor business ethics can still occur despite laws that are meant to deter certain actions. Government legislation and the legal system operate as backwards-looking institutions and inevitably lag behind current business decisions, so it is really up to everyone involved in the business to look down the line at the possible outcome of ethical questions. The government eventually sets a legal standard for business to abide by, but responsible businesses must develop their own stricter ethical code to follow and prevent catastrophes that result from legal but unethical practices.

Where have ethics and cynicism played a recent role in professional sports?

The latest NHL lockout in 2012 highlights the public cynicism towards professional sports and collective bargaining, as well as questions the ethics behind the third work stoppage in two decades of the league. Two days before the former collective bargaining agreement was to expire, he league announced the owners’ decision to lock players out if a new agreement was not reached by then. Fans have been through this before, as the NHL became the first professional sports league to lose an entire season to a work stoppage in 2004-05. There was some hope for a miracle, but the overwhelming attitude of fans toward the NHL lockout was that of cynicism and doubt. They took to twitter and youtube to express these feelings of displeasure and bond over the effect of this business decision on them:

University Humor Animated Video

Arun Lakra Parody Video

And it wasn’t just fans disappointed in the league, as players didn’t wait around long before joining leagues in Europe and Russia, as well as expressing their frustration surrounding negotiations on twitter and to the media.

After dozens of proposals from both sides were rebuffed and some not even considered, the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service became involved. Still, little progress in negotiations were made meeting with the mediators on two different occasions as neither side trusted the other and questioned their motives. The NHLPA membership voted to give the exec board the power to file a disclaimer of interest, which would dissolve the union and allow individual players to file antitrust suits against the NHL. The league alleged that this vote “constitutes bad-faith bargaining” in a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, in addition to filing a class-action complaint asking for a declaration on the legality of the lockout.

The biggest ethical question in this mess is whether the league owners and players were acting in the best interest of the sport. Attendance following the 2004-05 lockout skyrocketed as fans came running back to the game they love, but the same will not be said this time around. The league’s brand was severely damaged by this lockout and struggling markets that were gaining momentum in recent years will suffer significantly. Some terms of contracts hurriedly signed before the previous CBA expired are questionable at best but likely unethical, as Philadelphia offered Shea Weber $110 million over 14 years to leave Nashville if they didn’t match the offer. Nashville showed strong ethical consideration and commitment to its fans, the players, and the entire organization in this decision to bite the bullet and do what was right, though expensive.


4 thoughts on “Science, Cynicism and Sport

  1. 1) Mills describes his times as the age of fact, as overwhelming information that makes it more pressing to have SI. Do you think we have more “facts” now then his audience did then?

    2) Interesting point about the trade offs between regulation and ethics. However, Glass-Steagall was repealed at the end of the 1990s. Did you mean to integrate that into your answer?

    3) If fans flocked back, then did the prior experience lead to enough cynicism to change the economics of hockey? On a related note, why is it that Americans seem fine with organized labor in sports, but indifferent to hostile in an any other sector? To pick a random example, if auto workers in Michigan threatened to strike for better wages now that GM is doing better, I think most Americans would see them as either a) greedy or b) stupid (since GM will just outsource their jobs). But are they wrong to want the right to use the power of numbers to fight for a bigger slice of the profits their labor produces?

  2. From the viewpoint of a fan, I do not think that the league owners and players were acting in the best interest of the sport. A third big lockout in just two decades is very frustrating as a fan and it shows that the need to compromise is not apparent in owners and players minds. I think that top sports salaries are just ridiculous now. Players are literally getting paid millions and millions of dollars to play a sport that they love to do. People’s egos simply got in the way and no one is willing to settle for less than they deserve. I think more thought should be put on the negative impact this strike has on the fan base and having this many frequent lockouts is outlandish.

  3. I absolutely agree ltb006. While Bettman has made some very positive contributions to the league and the sport, they have been in less visible areas such as safety and style of play rather than in how the business is run.
    The value of entertainment today, whether it’s sports or music or film, is absolutely ridiculous, but is only possible because we are willing to pay for it as consumers. I think part of the answer to Jordi’s last question comes down to the age of information that we do live in and our need to be constantly stimulated and entertained (not sure if we have more “facts” than Mills audience, but definitely more information shared).

    We value these sources of entertainment so highly that we do not think of them on the same level as regular workers and turn a blind eye to a lot of what they do. We are so forgiving of celebrities and athletes involved in scandal and work stoppages because we idolize them and almost feel a sense of loyalty to them.

    As for the economics of sports, the Supreme Court actually ALLOWS professional sports leagues (or at least baseball) to exist as monopolies. I think the sentiment towards labor unions in sports is partly due to the camaraderie associated with team sports, as well as the nature of the business, in that players are literally owned by their teams instead of just employed by them. Although most employment does occur under contract in other sectors, athletes actually sign away their bodies to owners, so the employer-employee relationship is different there. I think we are supportive of players’ unions in order to protect our heroes from historically exploitative owners and because players’ strikes have been very rare, and short-lived when they did occur.

  4. I am really glad that I came across this post because I am actually doing an Econ Independent study this semester focusing on sports econ. My first project is to measure the economic impact of the NHL lockout and project how the league will recover the rest of the year based on the data thus far. Because the NBA just had a similar situation and is a league that spans the same time period, it can serve as a great comparison for the NHL’s current situation. While I know what you’re saying about the cynicism surrounding the NHL and it’s negative impact, you can only wonder what will happen now that the season is back.

    The NBA faced similar cynicism and backlash during it’s lockout leading up to its shortened season. However, the league itself did not seem to be harmed in the long run, as the demand for the NBA and the excitement surrounding its return were so great. So, while the NHL fans are saying these comments now, do you think they will be the same ones paying $10 per beer, $20 for parking, and $200 for 2 tickets to a game in a few weeks..or days?


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