Do We Learn More From Evil When It Happens in Sports?

ESPN executive John Walsh cites the Jerry Sandusky case as an argument in favor of that proposition.

Here's John Walsh, executive vice-president of ESPN and chairman of its editorial board, explaining his attitude toward sports in America, including the less savory side of professional athletics:

I see sports as a metaphor for American life... I put sports into three buckets. One bucket is what we all agree upon are good things to talk about - the success of good sportsmanship, the evolution of Title IX, people being courteous to one another... players bonding with one another and integrating society.

The second bucket is the evil bucket. And that is Sandusky, or the Malice at the Palace. Fortunately we can teach a lot more through the media by concentrating and focusing on the bad stories happening. You get Americans in sports and out of sports that understand what they are. Whether it's Magic Johnson being HIV positive, or Mike Tyson with his rape trial, you take the opportunity to teach... using sports to teach America how to behave.

The third bucket is hardest one that I have a problem with, I think we all have a problem with it, because it's up in the air, whether it's trash talking, or a generation of athletes who celebrate [excessively]... they're not honoring the pure meaning and joy of their athletic feat, but looking to be the 'I - Me' generation. But there's a body of thinking... that says, that's kind of a reflection of where they came from, their background... and this is their statement of, 'Hey, I got this.'
Notes from the Aspen Ideas Festival -- See full coverage

As someone who came up in an era when spiking the football and fist-pumping on the tennis court were ubiquitous, I'm a lot less bothered by the practice than Walsh, though I take his point.

During the same panel discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he went on to make an even more provocative argument: as he sees it, the Catholic Church molestation scandal did less to spur understanding and reform than the Jerry Sandusky case will do because there are fewer taboos in the realm of sports.

As he put it:

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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