The dialogue went on for more than two hours, yet ended without any of the panelists drawing a clear conclusion about the impact of sports on society.
The first International Conference on Ethical Issues in Sport concluded Friday at the University of South Florida, with organizers hoping to spark a continuing debate."The sessions weren't intended so much for resolution as they were to get the conversation started," said Peter French, director of USF's Ethics Center. "It went better than anybody could have expected for the first time."
Panels featured ethicists, educators, coaches, administrators, journalists and former pro athletes who explored subjects ranging from gambling, violence and unsporting behavior among athletes, the economics of pro sports and regulation of performance-enhancing substances.
Keynote speakers included NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former speedskater Bonnie Blair and pro football Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Alan Page.
Page isn't enamored by the images projected on or off the field by many of today's athletes. Citing greed and rampant poor sportsmanship as part of the ethical problem that exists in athletics, he said the current generation of players has taken inappropriate behavior like taunting and trash talk to a new level.
"Anybody ever figure out what that dancing is all about when you're down by 20 and you're in the fourth quarter? For the life of me, I don't get it," said Page, an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court since 1993. "If you don't understand anything else, you'd think you'd understand the scoreboard. Some of these folks don't."
And while far too many athletes are running afoul of the law off the field, he said, they represent only a small part of the problem in society as a whole.
"If only the athletes were the problem, we'd be in pretty good shape. Unfortunately that's not the case," Page said.
Author Jeff Benedict was part of the panel discussing violence among athletes. He favors prohibiting college coaches from recruiting athletes convicted of a felony.
Abdul-Jabbar spoke of the need to clean up recruiting, make changes in the NCAA and instill the "morality of sportsmanship" in children.