Textbook on leadership ethics more suitable for sport management classes than sport ethics classes

Shawn E. Klein[1]
Arizona State University

Jack Bowen, Ronald S. Katz, Jeffrey R. Mitchell, Donald J. Polden & Richard Walden
Sport, Ethics and Leadership
252 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2017
ISBN 978-1-138-73847-8

One of the most important characteristics of a good textbook is that its tone, style, and approach fits with its target audience. Sports, Ethics and Leadership meets this benchmark. It is readable, avoids getting bogged down in overly technical concerns or jargonistic language, and is organized to be well-suited for an undergraduate class. In particular, this is a good textbook for a course within sport management or sport law programs. I am, for reasons discussed below, less enthusiastic about recommending this book for courses that take a more philosophical approach to sports ethics.

General Strengths


One of the book’s strengths is its breadth. It covers a wide range of topics within sports ethics, from issues involving race and gender, to questions about the nature of sports, to legal concerns about gambling, intellectual property, and violence.

Historical Context

Most chapters provide a good overview of the history and development of the particular focus of the chapter. For example, the chapter on gender discrimination has a history of Title IX and the chapter on amateurism looks at the development of the NCAA. A possible criticism across the book on this front, though, is that this history does not include much beyond the US.

Legal Framework

Three of the five co-authors are lawyers and that shows throughout the book. Most chapters discuss landmark legal cases as well as the current status of the relevant legal framework. The chapter on gambling, for example, discusses the recent legal issues around daily fantasy sports.

Thematic Integration of Leadership and of Ethics

Given the book’s title, this is not surprising. Each chapter focuses on the issues and questions of leadership; exemplars of leadership are highlighted as well as cases of failures of leadership. The authors also carry forward the use of the ethical approaches they explain in the introductory chapters. For example, they discuss how one might apply utilitarianism, virtue ethics, or an ethics of care to questions regarding performance-enhancing drugs.

Pedagogical Elements

Each chapter has several case studies, student learning exercises, and further questions. These are, for the most part, well-crafted. A few case studies were a little too on the nose: that is, the real-world case they represented was too obvious. But most of these cases and exercises should be helpful at deepening student learning.

General Weaknesses

There is really just one general weakness, though it could be a significant one for many. Most of the chapters just do not engage the rich philosophy of sport literature enough or at all. In general, the authors favored a discussion of legal questions rather than more in-depth philosophical analysis. Below I point to a few chapters where I think the failure to discuss this literature undermined or weakened the discussion.

Chapter 4 on amateurism does not include influential works like Peter French’s Ethics and College Sports or the late NCAA president (and philosopher) Myles Brand’s publications on the role and value of college athletics (or the criticisms and responses to Brand’s work). These works would have helped to provide more analytical and critical discussion of amateurism and the NCAA.

Chapter 7 on performance enhancements did not include or reference any of the extensive literature in the philosophy of sport that addresses the ethics of PED in sport. This leads to the surprising claim in the book that “…there is little controversy about their use. Virtually everyone opposes them on ethical grounds…” (113). This may be true of the general public, but I am skeptical such a claim would apply as universally to philosophers of sport.

And, along with Chapter 11 on gambling in sport, the exposition begs the question. That is, the discussion of the ethical issues of PED use or gambling start with an assumption of their wrongness. But from the philosophical point of view, the interesting question is whether they are wrong. Once we know they are wrong, the issues are fairly straightforward: if it is wrong, don’t do it. But we can’t start here philosophically—and the philosophy of sport literature has much to offer on this question and its inclusion would have improved these chapters.

Chapter 10 discusses violence in sport and has a nod to the philosophy of sport arguments regarding consent to violence in sports (though no philosopher or article is mentioned or referenced). But it would have been much better grounded if it had developed and discussed some of the arguments for and against violence in sport.

Analysis of Leadership

Leadership is in the title of the book and every chapter discusses leadership in the context of sport. So, a chapter explaining what leadership is and how it applies to sport is essential. And Chapter 3 explains the theories of leadership, provides examples of leadership, and discusses how these theories apply to sport. Nonetheless, this chapter misses an opportunity to critically engage and analyze the concept of leadership.

The chapter focuses on providing a description of what is taken to be leadership–the qualities of those individuals in charge of organizations that seem to work well for organizational success. But it lacks a thorough philosophical analysis of what leadership is and why (other than apparent success) these characteristics might mark a good leader. We cannot start with the assumption that because one is the head of a successful organization, it is his or her leadership that is the explanation of the success. It might be, after all, that institutional incentives and other influences on organizations play a much bigger role in the organization’s success than actual leadership. While a treatise on leadership was not necessary, a little more philosophical analysis of the concepts here would have provided a firmer and more rigorous foundation for one of the central ideas of the book.


In the end, I stand by the blurb I wrote for the book. It is an approachable and readable text with great tools for learning. And even though I have several concerns about the depth of the philosophy in the textbook, it provides enough of a framework and base to be used in a sports ethics class. The instructor will, however, need to supplement with additional readings to get a deeper appreciation of the issues within sports ethics.

Copyright © Shawn E. Klein 2018


[1] Disclosure: I reviewed for the publisher an earlier version of several of the chapters of this book. I also contributed a positive blurb recommending this book.


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