Ethics in sport requires four key virtues: fairness, integrity, responsibility and respect.


  • Athletes and coaches must follow established rules and guidelines of their respective sport.
  • Teams that seek an unfair competitive advantage over their opponent create an uneven playing field which violates the integrity of the sport.
  • Athletes and coaches are not discriminated against or excluded from participating in a sport based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
  • Officials must apply the rules equally to both teams and cannot show bias or personal interest in the outcome of a game.


  • Similar to fairness, in that any athlete who seeks to gain an advantage over his or her opponent by means of a skill that a contest was not designed to test demonstrates a lack of personal integrity and violates the integrity of a sport.

For example, when a player fakes being injured or fouled, he is not acting in a sportsmanlike manner because sport is not designed to measure an athlete's acting ability. Faking is a way of intentionally deceiving an official, which only hurts the credibility of officiating and undermines the integrity of a game.


  • To be sportsmanlike requires players and coaches to take responsibility for their performance, actions and emotions.
  • Sometimes athletes and coaches make excuses as to why they lost a game. A popular excuse is to blame the officiating. The responsible thing to do instead is to focus only on the aspects of the game that you controlled, i.e. your performance, and to question yourself about where/how you could have done better coaching or playing.
  • Responsibility requires that players and coaches are up to date on the rules and regulations of their sport.
  • Responsibility demands that players and coaches conduct themselves honorably off the field, as well as on it.


  • All athletes should show respect for teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials.
  • All coaches should show respect for their players, opponents, and officials.
  • All fans, especially parents, should show respect for other fans, as well as both teams and officials.

The sportsmanship model is built on the idea that sport demonstrates and encourages character development which, in turn, influences the moral character of the greater community. How we compete on the lacrosse field has an effect on our personal, moral and ethical behavior outside of the competition.

Some argue for a "bracketed morality" within sports. This approach holds that sport and competition are set apart from real life, and occupy a realm where ethics and moral codes do not apply. Instead, some argue, sports serve as an outlet for primal aggression and a selfish need for recognition and respect through the conquering of an opponent. In this view, aggression and victory are the only virtues.

An ethical approach to sport rejects this bracketed morality and honors the game and one's opponent through tough but fair play. This means understanding both the letter and spirit of rules and their importance in encouraging respect for your opponent.

Excerpted from Kirk O. Hanson and Matt Savage (Kirk O. Hanson is the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Matt Savage was a Hackworth Fellow at the Center.)