Monthly Archives: July 2012

Lack of Munich Memorial Undermines Olympic Spirit

One of the story-lines going into the London Olympics is the refusal of the International Olympic Committee(IOC) to include, in the Olympic Opening Ceremony, any kind of tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. Moreover, the IOC has refused for 40 years to include a memorial within the official ceremonies.

To be fair, IOC officials, including current IOC president Jacques Rogge, have participated in various tributes and memorials that have taken place in London and at previous Olympic sites. Many, including myself, do not think this is sufficient.

The reasons given for the refusal have focused on two claims. First, the IOC says it does not want to politicize the games. Second, the IOC says the Opening Ceremony “is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

On the surface, the first point seems valid. Who wants the games politicized? But, then, that ship has sailed, has it not? The games have long been political. The host countries and politicians use the games for political gamesmanship. This is not new; the Nazis used the games as political propaganda. The IOC itself has used the power of the games for political reasons. Apartheid South Africa was, rightly I think, banned from participating in the games until 1992.

But more to the point, it is simply not a political act to honor and remember Olympic athletes who were killed at the Olympics. As ADL’s Abraham Foxman says: “It is an act of common human decency, not politics, to take a moment to commemorate those who died as Olympic athletes.” The refusal to include in the opening ceremonies a memorial of the Munich Massacre is what seems to be politically motivated. The IOC seems more concerned about how Arab countries would respond to such an official recognition than honoring fallen Olympic athletes. Maybe the IOC fears a boycott by Arab or Muslim countries. Maybe they worry athletes from a country, like say Iran, would refuse to compete against Israeli athletes. (Oh wait! Iran already does this.)

Maybe the issue is just, as Rogge has said, that the Opening Ceremony is not the proper place for a memorial. That would be more convincing if the IOC hadn’t included memorials and tributes in previous opening ceremonies. As Foxman notes in his article, the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 had tributes to the victims of 9/11 and the 2010 Vancouver Games held a moment of silence for the Georgian luger who was killed while practicing prior to the games. It quickly becomes unclear what makes the inclusion of a memorial of the Munich Massacre so inappropriate.

The refusal to honor, in its biggest forum, these slain Israeli athletes and coaches is shameful and hypocritical. This is not about the Israeli-Arab conflict. This is not about giving sanction to either Israelis or Palestinians. It is about honoring athletes who came to participate in the Olympics and sought to embody the spirit and hope of the Olympic movement. What are the Olympics about if not peaceful, fair competition among the best athletes from all over the world? Like all athletes who compete at the Olympics, these were the goals of the Israeli athletes. They were savagely cut down by those who did not wish to seek peace, by those who did not believe in the values of fair play, mutual respect, and justice that underpin the Olympic movement. In shirking a tribute in the Opening Ceremony, the IOC undermines its own commitment to these values.

Foxman makes this point nicely:

The IOC’s failure to commemorate the Munich Massacre on this 40th anniversary would be hypocrisy and politicization enough just looking at these double-standard examples. But the hypocrisy is hugely magnified by virtue of the fact that the Munich terrorist event was by far the greatest assault ever on the Olympics themselves. The cold-blooded murder of Olympians at the hands of Palestinian terrorists completely undermined the competitive spirit of the Olympics, and one would think that the organizers, without prodding, would have long ago seen the need to commemorate this unique event, upholding the deep integrity of the games.

The terror attacks did not end the Munich games in 1972, and have not brought an end to the Olympic movement. Indeed, the Olympics are as strong as ever. Instead of cowardly avoiding a memorial, the IOC ought to embrace this as an opportunity to show how the Olympics have triumphed over hatred and violence.

Nizkor (We Will Remember):

The names of the Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in 1972 at the Munich Olympic Games:

  • David Mark Berger.
  • Ze’ev Friedman.
  • Yossef Gutfreund
  • Eliezer Halfin
  • Yossef Romano
  • Amitzur Shapira
  • Kehat Shorr
  • Mark Slavin
  • Andre Spitzer
  • Yakov Springer
  • Moshe Weinberg.


Filed under Munich Massacre, Olympics

The Evasion of Joe Paterno

There is a lot of commentary out there about Penn State and Joe Paterno. I don’t have much to add, but with today’s announcement that Penn State has taken down the Joe Paterno statue, I thought some comments were necessary.

Obviously, Sandusky can rot in whatever very special level of hell is reserved for him. I do not think there is any controversy about that. Moreover, that part of the story is not about sports, so, qua Sports Ethicist, there is nothing more to say.

There is enough evidence now to show that leading Penn State authorities acted improperly and immorally (if not illegally in some cases). Many are calling for the so-called Death Penalty (where the NCAA shuts down the program completely for at least a year if not more). Others, Yahoo Sports, say that the NCAA is more likely to cut scholarships and bowl eligibility. Both punishments end up hurting a lot of innocent people (current students and athletes, supporting businesses) who had nothing to do with the abuse or the cover up. Nevertheless, the problems at Penn State, according to the Freeh report, are deep and led to tragic consequences. The Death Penalty seems overly harsh to me, especially since all the principals are dead, out of a job, or facing criminal charges. I guess we will see a multi-year loss of bowl eligibility and severe cuts to athletic scholarships.

Not surprisingly, former Head Coach Joe Paterno has been the focus of a lot of the commentaries and arguments about Penn State. To steal a phrase from another time, “What did he know and when did he know it?”

The Freeh report concludes that Paterno knew all about the investigations and abuse and knew it early on. If these conclusions are warranted, then Paterno ought to be morally condemned in the strongest possible way. If he knew what Sandusky was up to and either did nothing or worse acted positively to cover it up, he is nearly as evil as Sandusky. However, the evidence cited by the Freeh report (mainly emails between AD Curley and VP Schultz) does not conclusively show that Paterno knew anything or say what he knew. The evidence is consistent with other hypotheses of how things went down: for example, Curley and Schultz could have been working to keep Paterno out of the loop. (To be clear: I am not saying that this is the case one way or the other, only that, regarding Paterno, the evidence in the report does not conclusively support the stated conclusions of the report. Other criticisms of the Freeh Report)

Nevertheless, Paterno is not off the hook by any stretch. At best, this happened on his watch and under his nose. But more than that, even if not privy to what Curley and Schultz knew, he chose not to look. He closed his eyes and let others handle it.

Illustrative is the following quote:

“… his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment…” (Rand, Atlas Shrugged).

Rand’s description of the moral vice of evasion seems to fit Paterno’s response perfectly. What I’ve seen of his grand jury testimony and public comments indicate to me that he didn’t want to know about any of this, he didn’t want to deal with any of it. After McQueary’s report, Paterno passed the information on to others, hoping they would take care of it. Paterno seemingly closed his mind, hoping that it would all go away and he wouldn’t have to deal with it. He was in a position to know and in a position to know that there was something to know (and then certainly in a position to do something about it). Paterno’s willful blindness and blanking out, where he could have reasonably discovered the truth and acted on it, made possible the evil that Sandusky did. For that, Paterno is morally blameworthy. For that, it is right that the statute come down. For that, it is right that Paterno’s legacy will forever be damaged and marked by the abuse he could have and should have prevented.

Update 7/23/12:

The NCAA announced its sanctions of Penn State this morning. Penn State was handed a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban, a five-year probation period, a stiff reduction of scholarships, and the vacation of all wins (112 including bowl wins and championships) from 1998 through 2011.(ESPN story) These are severe penalties. I was surprised by the win vacation and the size of the fine, though it all seems about right to me. The punishment seems to balance the need for punitive measures while taking into account the current players and students. They will get to play regular season football and students will get to see games. Ancillary businesses will not be as badly harmed as under total suspension. Players will also be able to transfer without loss of eligibility (though it is most likely too late for this fall). It sends a strong and loud signal that institutions need to be more responsible. In terms of the future of Penn State football, this is probably much worse than the Death Penalty for one or even two years. I doubt Penn State will ever recover as a major national football program. Maybe that is as it should be.


Filed under Joe Paterno, Penn State

The Fastest Man on No Legs

The 2012 Summer Olympics start July 27. Like most sports fans, I always get excited about the Olympics: the pageantry, the athleticism, and the glory of achievement. But this year, there is something else that will be amazing to see. The Fastest Man on No Legs will be racing in London.

Oscar PistoriusThis is the nickname of South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius had both his legs amputated as a baby because of a birth defect that left him with no fibula bones. Instead of legs like the rest of the Olympic field, Pistorius will be running on prosthetic devices called “Cheetahs.”

I am just fascinated by this story. It raises so many interesting issues!

There is the obvious ethical and legal question: should an athlete that requires a technical device to compete be allowed to compete against athletes that do not?

But it suggests several other philosophic issues as well:

  • Is Pistorius actually running? That is, does the movement that he engages in count as a kind of running or is it something else?
  • What is and ought to be our relationship to technology? Does it enhance our humanity or undermine it? Is Pistorius less human by needing technology to compete or is this a deeper expression of his humanity?
  • What is the nature of an advantage and when is it to be counted as being an unfair advantage?

These are not questions with easy or uncontroversial answers. They also bear on other ethical issues; for example, the issue of unfair advantage is relevant for the arguments regarding PEDs—and also for political and economic arguments more generally (how should we deal with unfair advantages in the market?).

A quick search on Google or an academic database will turn up many articles tackling aspects of these issues. I am not going to get into them here in this post. I just want to highlight the issues raised by the Pistorius case. But more than that, I want to call attention to the fact that Pistorius will be in London for the Olympics.

It is such a great story. Pistorius has overcome challenges and obstacles with which no other Olympiad as ever had to deal. There is the obvious challenge of not having legs and running on prosthetics. The challenge of using prosthetics just to walk is probably hard enough for most people, let alone running, let alone running at times that qualify for the Olympics!

But Oscar also had to fight a legal battle just to get the opportunity to compete in London. Initially banned from competing in the Beijing Olympics by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), Pistorius fought a legal battle to overturn the ruling. Oscar won the battle for Beijing, but was not able to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. On July 4, South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) announced that Pistorius would be included in its Olympic squad. He will run in 4×400 meter relay and the Men’s 400-meter.

Pistorius is to be admired and lauded for his ability and perseverance. He is a role model not just for disabled-athletes and individuals, but everyone. Through hard work, discipline, and training, he has made his dream come true. He has not let ignorance or prejudice stand in his way. He has not let his lack of legs keep him from pursuing his dreams or living the life he chooses.

For these reasons alone, I will be rooting hard to see Pistorius upon his blades standing proud on the medal podium.


Filed under Achievement, Olympics, Oscar Pistorius

Welcome to The Sports Ethicist

Whether one is a participant, a casual spectator, a die-hard fan, or a critic, sport, in all its varieties and forms, play a significant role in the lives of most people through out the world. Sports and competitions have long been a part of human civilization and raise a wide range of important philosophical and ethical issues. This blog will examine these issues and explore both the ethical implications of sport and the ways sport can teach us about ethics and human life.


Filed under Site Announcements