Hating an Opposing Sports Team Develops a Moral Sense

The intensity of sports rivalry is justified if it helps us develop morally praiseworthy attitudes that transfer from the sporting arena into real life.

The New York Yankees are the 1 percent. The Boston Bruins are uncouth ruffians. The Dallas Cowboys are spoiled brats. Depending on your own sporting allegiances, you may or may not agree. But there's no disagreeing that passionate sports fans often develop a seething dislike for their rivals, sometimes descending into outright hatred.


But the intensity of sports rivalry is justified, says Oxford University ethics professor Joshua Shepherd, if it helps develop morally praiseworthy attitudes that transfer from the sporting arena into real life:

"Sometimes there exist moralized conflicts in life in which hatred of the opposing side is morally justified, and in which hatred plausibly motivates morally praiseworthy actions (exhibitions of courage, for example)."

Having attended a university in the Big Ten conference, I experienced this culture firsthand: the way it crept into my outlook even though I had no conscious proclivity toward one team or another. When we lost to a rival, I'd get a little blue. I suppose it helped me bond with others around me.

Dr. Shepherd argues that beyond developing a strong moral sense, sporting rivalries help us coexist with those who have different viewpoints. Indulging a rivalry to extreme emotional conclusions, however, may result in dehumanizing another team, or another team's players, and that has seriously negative moral consequences.

"[I]n hating archrivals, we give in to darker motivations to paint the world into obviously good and obviously bad, and to dehumanize those who fall on the wrong side. (And dehumanization is a real problem for human beings. It sits behind a wide range of societal and personal failings. We should practice overriding the natural tendency to dehumanize those who are strange to us.)"

That means practicing good sports etiquette, i.e., sportsmanship. When we do, we learn another essential life lesson: It's essential to work together with people who hold opinions different from our own to achieve common goals like friendship (we hope Congress is listening).

Treating sports as a training round for life was especially important as the National Basketball Association came into being. For years, says three-decade NBA commissioner David Stern, the league was viewed as "too black" for a majority white nation to support. But valuing diversity ultimately triumphed:

Read more at Practical Ethics.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system

When these companies compete, the people lose.

Top Video Splash
  • When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
  • When this phenomenon happens in the pharmaceutical world, companies quickly apply for broad protection of their patents, which can last up to 20 years, and fence off research areas for others. The result of this? They stay at the top of the ladder, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
  • Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation the same as product invention. Companies should still receive an incentive for coming up with new products, he says, but not 20 years if the product is the result of "tweaking" an existing one.