Sports, Ethics, Literature

The three terms that organize this course—Sports, Ethics, and Literature—are by no means stable. That is to say, we will never settle on a single definition to describe Sports or Ethics or Literature. And nor should we. Part of their great power is that they mean different things to different people.

In the case of “Sports,” for some of you, it might work as a mirror of society; for others, sports offer an escape from that very society. Perhaps you think of sports as simply entertainment, while others find sports to be a site that reflects social crises occurring around the world as well as at home. For most of us, we never fully establish one mode of understanding. We’re constantly renegotiating our relationship with sports and the role it plays in our lives and others’ lives too.

In terms of “Ethics,” again, we have a fraught term that means many different things to many different people. I must reiterate: there’s no objectively correct ethic or ethics—only a variety of shared senses about right and wrong. Moreover, sports themselves are not inherently ethical or unethical. Rather, sports can function as a sort of incubator for polarities. I mean that sports have the power to bring out both the best and the worst in all of us. As a former Division-I football player, I can attest to the highs and lows of my first college semester revolving around sports.

Lastly, “Literature” is perhaps the most unstable term of all. As you will see from the course schedule, we will engage with a variety of artefacts—novels, poems, letters, articles, podcasts, videos, etc. Through your class assignments, I will fully encourage you to push the boundaries of what we consider “Literature,” and what are considered “acceptable” forms of expression.

As much as possible, this course will be about your relationship to sports, as mediated by other medias. Some of the assigned “readings,” you will find familiar: you will identify with the author(s) and agree with what they have to say. Other “readings” might elicit the opposite response. You will find them challenging or you may vehemently disagree with the author(s). Or you might find yourself in deep internal conflict. This is good. This course is not designed to feed you only the things you like. This is a course aimed at making you and me broaden the way we think about sports, about ethics, and about literature.

In all honesty, I’m not so sure I think sports are or even should be a primary training ground for ethical behavior. If nothing else, however, I think that wrestling with the question of sports’ role in contemporary American society and your relationship to sports demands that you imagine ways in which sports, the rules and values of sports, sports media, and even your own identity might be otherwise. And I think that this imagining otherwise—which I consider the enlargement of your capacity to engage with the world and its challenges—is the most important step toward critical thought and, ideally, a spur to ethical action.


Last Chance U (Netflix documentary series)

At All Costs (documentary)

Pumping Iron (documentary)

Paul Beatty, White Boy Shuffle

Claudia Rankine, Citizen