Liberal arts course to examine societal, ethical impact of sports in America

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — How does being an athlete define a person’s identity? How can celebrity athletes use their public status to be positive role models and influence positive societal changes? Should they even be viewed as role models? Do contact sports like football promote a culture of violence, or do they provide an emotional and physical outlet that may actually help reduce the risk of violence? Can they do both? Should college athletes be paid?

These are just some of the questions to be addressed in “Is Football Immoral and Other Questions in Sports Ethics,” a course being offered this spring by the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts. According to Paul C. Taylor, the college’s associate dean of undergraduate studies, “Sports Ethics” is the latest course in the college designed to take a timely and topical issue and look at it from various perspectives. The first course examined public reaction to, and issues raised following, the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014; the second course discussed the impact of Donald Trump’s presidential bid on future political campaigns and examined his campaign from different cultural perspectives.

“The liberal arts have always provided a powerful way to analyze and comprehend events taking place in our world — historically, socially, philosophically, economically, and through the lenses of diverse populations and cultures,” Taylor said. “By examining current events and issues through this unique window, we hope courses such as these will encourage students to analyze issues critically and engage in resolving those issues ethically and productively.”

With its latest offering, the college gives students the opportunity to explore one of America’s most popular cultural phenomena — “big-time” sports — from a unique critical perspective. Football is a natural place to start this exploration because it is both enormously popular and profoundly controversial. Some view the sport as a welcome escape and even a uniting force for communities; others, meanwhile, view the sport and its dominance over cultural activities with alarm and trepidation.

The eight-session “Sports Ethics” (Liberal Arts 297) course will take place on Tuesday evenings beginning Feb. 21. Students will be expected to read one or two articles before each class and participate in group discussions centered on a “challenge question.” Faculty from various disciplines — communication arts and sciences; labor and employment relations; women’s, gender, and sexuality studies; African American studies; English; philosophy; and law, to name a few — will provide students with an array of insights and perspectives that allow students to analyze and discuss the impact of sports on society. Some sessions will also include interviews with previous athletes and other sports representatives.

Students interested in registering for the one-credit course can visit to submit a statement of interest. Enrollment will be limited to 30 students; those accepted will receive notification via email.

Contact Jamie Brenner, director of academic advising in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, at 814-863-2112 or with any questions or to learn more about the course.

Last Updated January 20, 2017