Kirkland Hall at Vanderbilt.
Image via Wikipedia

Modern times have called for college athletics to be competitive spectacles that provide for a “win-at-all-costs” mentality. Unfortunately, sometimes this compassion to win compromises an athlete’s character; it is important for athletes to not succumb to this way of life in college and preserve their character. In order to understand why character matters in college sports, one must look at the definition of character and why college coaches want their athletes to possess strong character.

To begin with, defining character leads most experts into separating this quality into two categories: Social and moral. Attempting to define character has come under much criticism because the word is vague and experimental procedures have been poorly conducted. However, it is important to at least attempt to gain a relative understanding of what character is if one wants to understand why it matters in college sports. Fundamental opinions of character’s definition are different but a good general definition of character seems to be, “an attempt to continually improve; a willingness to give all up for a cause; and sacrificing without expectation.” (Rudd, 2006). This particular definition encompasses both moral and social aspects of character. Coaches in particular enjoy this definition of character as it specifically relates to the demands of a student-athlete.

With this being said, moral character is an individual’s ability to act independently of normative expectations. Whether this means being compassionate, honest, or fair, moral character speaks to an athlete’s personal value’s. A person of strong moral character will not adhere to every social norm or societal pressure simply because it is what everyone else is doing. An example of this would be choosing to not do drugs, alcohol, or performance enhancing supplements despite the rampant (and unfortunate) popularity of these items among young athletes today. Individual’s with sound moral character at times must even sacrifice social character or their contribution to the greater cause.

Further, social character emphasizes sacrificing personal attributes for a more important cause. An individual displays character in this way by putting in effort for the team, sometimes disregarding his own personal values or beliefs. The good of the team is greater than that of the individual in this case. Basically, a lot of times one must choose between social and moral character as the two are sometimes at odds with each other.

Moving forward, college coaches are looking for intangible character qualities that come through both on and off the field. Since social character accentuates teamwork and togetherness, college coaches are prone to praise this type of character on the field. Studies and articles suggest that character is just below talent on the list of items coaches are interested in when recruiting a player. The same can be said once a player is on the team and fighting for a position and starting spot. Athletes who display a role playing mentality and that are willing to make personal sacrifices for the team based on the coaches decisions are likely to be favored by coaches for starting positions. With winning being so important to their livelihood, coaches will look first to talent; however, once this group of talent is ostracized from the rest of the ordinary athletes, coaches will look at social character values like teamwork and coachability.

The exact opposite is likely said as to a student-athlete’s actions off of the field. This is because moral character is based on one’s personal actions of on their own beliefs and goals. Acting with moral character outside the athletic arena can reflect the university in a positive or negative way; coaches look for players who exhibit sound moral character in order to improve the image of their institutions. Gordon Gee, former president of Brown University, Ohio State, University of Colorado, and West Virginia, has seen many issues relating to character and the negative affects poor character can have on a University. He says, “it starts with the University exhibiting character and then having expectations for students, no matter who they are.” (Eberhardt, 2006). With administrative officials accenting moral character as a high priority, coaches are going to demand this from their athletes in order to preserve their jobs. When players act as outstanding citizens or even fail to display any negative moral character actions outside the sporting arena, college coaches receive praise and are thus please with their athletes. Obtaining moral character is an important off the field quality college coaches prefer their athletes to demonstrate.

Conclusively, the important lesson to take away from this article is that ALL character counts. It is not enough to display either character and it is just as important to find a balance between social and moral character. By doing this, an athlete can display his/herself in the best possible way for their coaches and their university while still feeling good about how they have acted upon each value. According to many scholars,the recent negative character association with college sports has only been brought to light because of the intense media coverage, which leads to higher public expectations and views of athletes’ actions. A simple definition of character is who you are when no body is watching; today, character in college sports is part of what everyone is examining. Hopefully, this provides motivation for anyone who believes they can sacrifice character today in athletics.

 

 

REFERENCES

Bierer, Lee. “What Coaches Want.” College Admission Strategies (2011). College Admissions Strategies – Empowering Students for College Admissions Success. The Charlotte Observer, 24 May 2011. Web. 26 July 2011. <http://www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com/2011/05/what-college-coaches-want/>.

Eberhardt, David. ““Athletic Reform Is Key to Character Development”: An Interview with Chancellor Gordon Gee of Vanderbilt University.” Journal of College & Character April 7.3 (2006): 1-2. Web. 26 July 2011. <http://journals.naspa.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1523&context=jcc&sei-redir=1#search=%22college%20athletes%20character%22>.

Lawlor, Christopher. “Life Goes beyond the Field for Service Academy Recruits.” College Football Recruiting. ESPN, 3 July 2008. Web. 26 July 2011. <http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/recruiting/football/columns/story?columnist=lawlor_christopher&id=3450865>.

Parham, Alan. “College Coaches Are Watching Ever More Closely for Character.” National Scouting Report July (2011). National Scouting Report. 7 July 2011. Web. 26 July 2011. <http://blog.nsr-inc.com/college-coaches-are-watching-ever-more-closely-for-character/>.

Rudd, Andy, and Michael J. Mondello. “How Do College Coaches Define Character? A Qualitative Study with Division IA Head Coaches.” Journal of College & Character April 7.3 (2006): 1-10. Web. 26 July 2011. <http://journals.naspa.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1524&context=jcc>.