Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics

Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 2015, 8, 28-49 © 2014 College Sport Research Institute 28 Examining the Influence of Gender on Athletes’ Levels of Moral Reasoning: A Comparison of Intercollegiate Athletes and Students __________________________________________________________ Vincent Lyons, Ph.D. Eastern Illinois University Brian A. Turner, Ph.D. The Ohio State University _________________________________________________________ The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of gender on levels of moral reasoning for intercollegiate athletes and college students. Moral reasoning for this research was defined through the insight and application of Kohlberg’s (1969) moral development theory. The sport specific measurement instrument utilized for this study was grounded in Kant’s (1968) deontological ethical framework, focusing on moral reasoning from an obligation perspective. Research questions were formulated to compare the levels of moral reasoning among intercollegiate athletes and college students on the gender variable. Study participants (N= 213) from a large, Midwestern university were administered the Hahm-Beller Values Choice Inventory (HBVCI), consisting of moral dilemma items common to sport (University of Idaho Center of ETHICS*, 2009). The results of this study indicated that female athletes morally reason at a higher level than male athletes, and that collegiate students who are non-athletes morally reason at a higher level than college athletes. Additionally, the data revealed that there was no significant interaction between gender and athlete status. Downloaded from ©2015 College Sport Research Institute. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Influence of Gender on Moral Reasoning S 29 port is so ubiquitous in American culture today that much of what occurs in its context is dissected by millions of people eager to comment on observable behaviors by athletes, coaches, and fans. Eitzen and Sage (2009) went so far as to say that sport plays an important role in imparting significant values on both those that participate, as well as on those that follow. Although debatable exactly which ethics are imparted through sport, scholars believe that many values found in the sporting arena can be thought of as either positive or negative in nature, such as prioritizing sportsmanship and fair play in youth sports or over emphasizing the corporate aspect of collegiate and professional sport (Simon, Torres, & Hager, 2014). To this end, Simon et al. think that most people’s adoption of a relativistic attitude leads to a general rejection of ethical and moral discourse in much of the Western world today, especially as it pertains to discussing behavior that might be perceived as unethical. Furthermore, Simon (2013) reported on data collected from college athletes that indicated less than 50% of men’s and women’s basketball players surveyed believe their coaches “define success by not only winning, but winning fairly” (p. 11). This is especially problematic since coaches often have the greatest influence on imparting the values Eitzen and Sage (2009) believe are being simultaneously taught and eroded in sport today. Other sport scholars have also noted that ethical coaching leadership is essential because athletes themselves not only learn to imitate behavior from their role model coaches, but also potentially develop sound ethical principles that govern all aspects of the athletes’ lives (Brown & Trevino, 2006; Burton & Peachey, 2014; Roby, 2014). When considering some of the other recent ethical issues in popular sport, such as the various allegations against the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) regarding match fixing in the lead up to World Cup and reports that thousands of workers will die in the process of building infrastructure for the 2022 Qatar event, it is apparent that some behaviors lack sound moral judgment (Morris, 2012). Also, when analyzing the ethical dimensions and implications for recent in contest equipment altering as a form of cheating (i.e., “Deflate Gate” in the 2014 NFL Playoffs), some players, coaches, and fans might conclude that although deflating footballs is an illegal act, it is accepted normative behavior that according to scholars might be “ignored or punished minimally” (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010, p.126). These ethical concerns regarding FIFA and the NFL are just a few of the headline grabbing issues present in popular sport today that present questions about the process of moral reasoning for virtual everyone involved in producing and consuming sport. But, instead of simply forgoing inquiry into the moral and ethical character of sport out of fear of relativistic exclusion from rationality, this research proposed an analysis into the process of moral reasoning by athletes. This type of moral reasoning analysis is necessary as a means for potentially predicting unethical behavior in the future (University of Idaho Center for ETHICS*, 2009), as the thought processes and motivations of athletes are illuminated through a careful quantitative research design. Therefore, this study is important as a means for illuminating levels of moral reasoning among collegiate athletes and students, including factors such as gender that influence this process. Measured gender differences in levels of moral reasoning have consistently been found in sport specific research in a variety of contexts (University of Idaho Center for ETHICS*, 2009), as well as in fields such as accounting (Ariail, Abdolmohammadi, & Smith, 2012; Bernardi & Arnold, 1997; Shaub, 1994), physical therapy (Swisher, 2010), law (White & Manolis, 1997) and teenage volunteerism (Goethem, van Hoff, van Aken, Raaijmakers, Boom & de Castro, 2012). Scholars have also noted that it is important to understand that men and Downloaded from ©2015 College Sport Research Institute. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Lyons & Turner 30 women sometimes use a different primary lens for moral reasoning, such as a “care” ethic for females and a more ego centered ethic for males (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010; Gilligan, 1982). This type of gender difference might find females orientating themselves in an ethic of care for others (i.e., balancing and protecting relationships with others), while men are positioning themselves to do what is personally best for them. Ultimately, the results of this study can be used by sport administrators, educators, and coaches to develop and implement curriculum that can improve not only levels of moral reasoning, but also a stronger knowledge and sense of ethical behavior. Review of Literature DeSensi and Rosenberg (2010) defined morality as a “set of authoritative ideals that guide behavior” and as such, they believe that morality is “concerned with others’ well-being” (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010, p. 37). Hence, any definition for morality must include a social component related to behavior that is in line with the established norms of behavior rooted in any particular culture (Bandura, 1991). Therefore, it is important to note that conversations involving morality in sport must take into consideration cultural and social norms and influences that are germane to those whose reasoning is in question. The earliest scholarly definitions for moral reasoning originated during the first half of the 20th century in the field of psychology, as an extension of Piaget’s stages of cognitive and moral development in children (Piaget, 1965) and dealt with a child’s mental ability to know the difference between “right” and “wrong” once of a particular age. More recently, psychologists who study moral reasoning have become fascinated with trying to comprehend how children respond to moral dilemmas at various stages of their development, as famously outlined by Kohlberg (1969). The most fundamental difference, though, between Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s definitions of moral reasoning relate to whether or not a person passes through each cognitive moral development stage in a fixed linear order as suggested by Piaget or in a more fluid, noncontinuous order as outlined by Kohlberg. Sport researchers Tod and Hodge (2001) utilized Kohlberg’s work in their own research within sport and have defined moral reasoning as “representing the cognitive process that an individual goes through in order to reach a moral decision based on her or his perceptions of reality” (p. 308). Due to the inherent gender bias present in Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s articulation of moral reasoning theory (their collective seminal research only involved male participants), further scholarly work that considered the feminine moral development and reasoning perspective was necessary (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010). Another issue with Kohlberg’s moral development research involves his articulation of the possible different levels of moral reasoning for males and females, (i.e., women are not capable of reasoning at as high of a level as men). As a response to this noted gender bias, Gilligan (1982) penned the book, In a Different Voice, which outlined key differences between the moral reasoning of males and females. For instance, Gilligan (1982) noted that females tend to solve moral conflict by considering how different decisions would affect relationships with other people, especially trying not to harm anyone else. Additionally, as various scholars have pointed out (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010; Proios et. al, 2011; Wright, 1988), Gilligan also believed that women struggle with the conflict of balancing their responsibility to others with their own internal selfishness. Finally, Gilligan (1982) proposed that women naturally possess a morality of care that inherently governs their ethical reasoning and decision making. Downloaded from ©2015 College Sport Research Institute. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Influence of Gender on Moral Reasoning 31 Moral reasoning is further defined as a cognitively learned thought process that takes into consideration the effect of a person’s past and present experiences, which include modeled behavior by influential others such as parents, peers, teachers, and clergy (Beller and Stoll, 1995) that are utilized in “reaching decisions that have moral implications” (Heilbrun & Georges, 1990, p. 183). To this end, Gibbs (2014) noted that parental approval and disappointment can be key factors that affect the moral reasoning and moral development of children in terms of young peoples’ moral socialization. Of special importance, though, is how these modeled behaviors from significant others might lead to a finer appreciation for how one’s actions and decisions possibly affect other people (Siegal & Francis, 1982). Within the sport domain, scholars have also discussed the process of moral reasoning as a cognitive development process, whereby there is no “one infallible process to follow” in understanding a person’s moral reasoning process (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010, p. 44). Sport ethics scholars Simon, Torres and Hager (2014) took it one step further in stating that although moral reasoning is useful as a tool to help determine the ethical value of an action or decision, a measurement of it must be impartial and able to identify the difference between poorly supported and well supported positions. Thus, in light of what sport scholars have discovered, the study of moral reasoning must begin with a clear indication of what types of sport situations involve moral considerations and what benchmarks should be followed by those engaged in sport. Morality in Sport Research The vast majority of extant literature related to moral issues in sport deals specifically with what Morgan (2007) called “the depressingly sorry moral state in which sports presently find themselves” (p. xi). As such, academic interest in the ethics of sport over the past 50 yearsamong other topics- has been concerned with articulating the various moral pitfalls in sport germane to concepts such as sportsmanship (Keating, 1964), fair play (Butcher & Schneider, 1998), winning (Dixon, 1999), intentional rules violations (Fraleigh, 2003), doping (Corlett, Brown & Kirkland, 2013; Hoberman, 1995; McNamee, 2012;), genetic enhancement (Culbertson, 2009; Tamburrini, 2002), gender and sexual equality (Francis, 1995; Tannsjo & Tamburrini, 2000), race/ethnicity (Crosset, Filo, & Berger, 2011; Harrison, 2013; Valentine, 1999), violence (Simon, Torres, & Hager 2014), exploitation of student-athletes (Corlett, 2013; Wertheimer, 1996), and disability rights of athletes (Mitten, 2010; Silvers & Wasserman, 1998). Within each one of these categories scholars have written about the various moral issues that exist at the participatory, leadership, and organizational levels. For example, Francis (1995) believed that Title IX and affirmative action at the collegiate level is a moral issue as long as schools have disproportionate representation of female athletes and sport programs, which includes non-biased selection criteria for females in coaching as well as athletic administration positions. Beyond identifying and discussing various actions, behaviors, or decisions in sport as being ethical or unethical, scholars have been interested in the moral reasoning of athletes and coaches that appear to influence the actions, behavior, and/or decisions that are in question. In fact, a 2006 qualitative study by Long, Pantaleon, Bruant, and d’Arripe-Loneuville revealed that elite male teenage athletes regularly engage in moral disengagement (a term used by Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli in 1996) as they compete in sport, at least due in part to the ego-centered competitive sport context. Long et al. believed this was noteworthy because these athletes appeared to morally reason at a level suggesting a cognitive ability to distinguish Downloaded from ©2015 College Sport Research Institute. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Lyons & Turner 32 between actions that are “right” or “wrong.” These athletes know the difference between “right” and “wrong”, yet due to the competitive sport context they choose to suspend higher moral reasoning in the heat of competition. Although not necessarily focusing on just athletic coaches, Rudd, Mullane, and Stoll (2010) sought to better understand the moral judgments of sport managers by developing a unique moral reasoning instrument for these types of leaders. Rudd et. al’s case studies provide evidence that sport specific contexts and scenarios can influence the moral reasoning of sport managers, especially if the leader is familiar with the particular scenario presented to him or her. Quantitative research into moral reasoning in sport has primarily been conducted the past several decades using a measurement instrument created by researchers at the University of Idaho Center for ETHICS* (2009). The Hahm-Beller Values Choice Inventory (HBVCI) was designed to assess moral reasoning in the sport domain by asking those being surveyed to respond to moral dilemmas common in sport. The HBVCI claims to be the only sport specific scale for measuring moral reasoning in scholarly circulation today (University of Idaho Center of ETHICS*, 2009). Deontological Ethics The theoretical lens for this research was grounded in deontology, a word of Greek origin that literally translated means “duty” or “obligation” (Beauchamp, 1991). Deontology is an ethical position that was originally articulated by the 18th century philosopher Kant in his 1785 seminal work, “Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals” (Kant, 1959). He thought that the “right” or “wrong” of an action is based on obeying one’s duty (Kant, 1968), apart from the outcome or consequences of any particular action (Kant, 1959). Additionally, Kant espoused a “categorical imperative” for judging morality in which there are no “ifs, and, or buts”, but instead a universal perspective to always be held when considering the ethicality of an action (Hartman & DesJardins, 2011, p. 138). It appears as though a person can receive their ethical and moral duties and obligations from a variety of sources, including God/Higher Power, personal intuition, or rational logic (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010). Still others believe that certain moral duties and obligations such as parents protecting their children are to be obeyed because they are naturally to be followed (Beauchamp, 1991). According to Noddings (2013), Kant’s deontological ethics is not particularly concerned about outcomes or motivations either. In her book, Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Noddings discussed that Kantian morality should be viewed from the position of what ethical principal someone is following in their actions and behaviors, not related to the intent of the agent. She further suggests that Kant’s deontological ethical insistence on adhering to obligation and duty above all else might lead to ignoring or foregoing behaviors or actions that demonstrate a desire to care for or care about someone in genuine need. Although not the emphasis of her work, Noddings does note that there is indeed positive value in caring for or about someone out of a sense of perceived duty or obligation because some “good” is being done. Scholars in sport today think that deontological ethics should be viewed from a normative position that recommends behaving in ways that honor one’s moral duty and responsibility, irrespective of the consequence of the noted behavior (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010; Holowchak, 2005). Since deontological ethics is inherently concerned with moral behavior (Morgan, 2007) based on following duties and obligations, Holowchak (2005) believed that any action in sport Downloaded from ©2015 College Sport Research Institute. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Influence of Gender on Moral Reasoning 33 that deprives a human of dignity or moral worth (internally or externally) ought to be reprehensible (i.e., treating competitors as you would want to be treated), specifically in terms of commitment to fair play and displays of good sportsmanship. Hence, in light of deontological ethical theory, there are expected and well-established moral standards related to fair play and sportsmanship that those who participate in sport ought to obey in any context (DeSensi & Rosenberg, 2010). Finally, DeSensi and Rosenberg (2010) noted that for strict deontologist, “one’s only duty is to adhere to” these cemented moral standards (p. 74). The scholars who created and established the HBVCI have pre-determined that honesty, responsibility, and justice ought to be obeyed as deontological moral standards in sport (University of Idaho Center of ETHICS*, 2009). In their inaugural testing of the HBVCI instrument, Beller and Stoll (1995) discussed morality as demonstrated “common decency to others” that inherently involves acting in a “respectful, honest, and fair” manner in our interactions with others (p. 353). To this end, they noted that moral reasoning measurement instruments ought to focus on determining whether or not individuals know “the difference between honest and dishonest, fair or unfair, and respectful and disrespectful behavior” (p. 354). Gender and Moral Reasoning Numerous scholars think that the issue of gender in the measurement of moral reasoning is especially important to consider in any context, including sport (Bredemeier, 1992; Gill, 2002; Gilligan & Attinucci, 1988; Proios, Athanailidis, Wilinksa, Vasilia, & Unierzyski,…
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