Finding Character and Ethics in Sports

Distinguish between winning and learning to play a sport, a safe environment and athletic pursuits, competition and integrity. KidsPost and Washington Post articles stimulate discussion of past and current professional athletes, their behavior and that of their coaches. Read, debate, write about people and animals who are engaged in sports as a business, a scholarship and career opportunity, and a measure of one’s respect for law, ethics and each other.
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

Whether reflecting on the Greek’s concept of ethics and the Hippocratic oath or good sportsmanship and a safe environment for athletic pursuits, certain expectations are clear: fair play, respect for self and others, and integrity.

Professionals, collegians and student-athletes display their character and ethics in sports. There are heroes, role models and earnest teammates, but there also tarnished athletes, coaches and physicians exhibiting questionable practices. Similarly, journalists who cover the sports are to be above reproach.

Activity sheets, discussion questions, vocabulary development and other resources provide many approaches to using The Washington Post articles that cover ethics and business practices in sports, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and a for-profit big-game farm.  


April 2013

Ethics and Character
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
Character Education, English, Physical Education, Reading
This curriculum guide’s Word Study focuses on ethics and its relationship to sportsmanship. Give students “Is That Ethical?” The etymology study includes questions to answer.

Vocabulary that is found in “A business model to save the black rhino?” is included in “When Animals Are a Business.”

Terms used by the authors of “Do No Harm” are listed in In the Know. Teachers may wish to review them before reading and discussing the article about medical ethics and athletes. Many of the terms could be used for a look at medical careers associated with sports.


Distinguish Heroes From Role Models
Character Education, English, Physical Education, Reading
Ask students to write a journal entry on the topic of heroes. Topics could include:
I do/do not have heroes. My hero is ____ because. ____ is no longer my hero because. A hero is …. This could be a homework assignment to be shared at the beginning of the next class or an in-class warm-up activity.

Share and discuss student responses. At the conclusion, ask students to list qualities that make someone a hero. For those who removed someone from their list of heroes, what actions or attitudes caused their fall from respect? How many of the heroes are musicians, movie stars, athletes or relatives?

Define “role model.” A working definition might be: a person whose behavior, success and attitudes are to be emulated; a person to be admired; individual to aspire to be like. After discussion, ask students to define "hero."

Give students Fred Bowen’s KidsPost article, “Are sports stars heroes?” Discuss how to distinguish a “hero” from a “role model.” Reading comprehension questions are provided in “Star Athletes as Heroes and Role Models.” The first question will indicate what students have understood of the class discussion of “hero” and “role model.”


Be Fred Bowen
English, Journalism, Physical Education
In March 2013 KidsPost and the Washington Wizards teamed to sponsor an essay contest. The topic: What does it mean to be a successful team? The winning student essay was published in place of the weekly commentary by KidsPost sports columnist Fred Bowen.

Have your students write on the same topic or write on this topic: What position does ethics play in sports?

Students could be asked to share their essays in small groups. After reading all essays, select one from each group to read aloud to the class. Discuss the ideas presented. Your students’ essays could be compared with the winning essays in the KidsPost contest.


Consider Endorsements and Character
Business, Character Education, History, Journalism, Physical Education
Discuss with students what an endorsement is. Ask students to give examples of products and the athletes who endorse the products. How can getting a contract to be a product endorser change an athlete’s circumstances? “Beyond the Games” is an activity to match an athlete with the product he or she endorses. Students might also research what foundations the individuals have founded, such as Cal Ripkins’ Cal Ripkin Sr. Foundation or Darrell Green’s Youth Life Foundation. All of the athletes pictured in this activity could endorse products based on their athletic achievement and their character. In the third column students are to list a product that they think each athlete could endorse successfully.
For older students and teachers with time to explore this topic further, the following suggested Washington Post articles focus on athletes who have excelled and been identified for their recognition value. What happens when the character of the athlete is tarnished, the accomplishments questioned and the ethical breach could carry over to the product they once endorsed? Liz Clark wrote “Steroid-era athletes confront how much they’ve hurt their legacies.” She uses the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s evidence against Lance Armstrong and the news peg of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s voting decisions on the 2013 inductees to write about tarnished heroes in many sports.
This article could be used to compare and contrast with Fred Bowen’s column or as in introduction to the theme of sports role models, Lance Armstrong’s deception, or the business ethics of endorsements. Cindy Boren wrote about the impact of one athlete’s behavior on his endorsements in  “Lance Armstrong doping allegations could leave lasting stain on Livestrong”  Liz Clark addresses Armstrong’s loss of an endorsement contract from a different angle in “Disgraced Armstrong dropped by Nike.” 
The allegations moved to a certainty when Armstrong admitted to Oprah Winfrey in a televised interviewed that he had used banned substances.
• What actions have been taken against him?
• What actions do students think should be taken against athletes who lie, cheat and use performance enhancing products? 
• Should their records stand? 
• Should they be disqualified for any Hall of Fame recognition?

Endorse Products, Establish Foundations
Business, Economics, Physical Education
Star athletes can earn extra income by endorsing products — wearing, using and promoting the brand. Other athletes focus on helping others by establishing foundations or giving their recognition power to established groups to encourage fans to donate to the cause. Give students "Beyond the Games" worksheet. All of the individuals pictured have received recognition for their athletic abilities. In the middle column, students are to put the products each endorses, the foundations they have founded or the ventures in which they are involved. This could begin by class discussion that is verified online or as an application of online search skills to find the information. In the right column, students are to suggest a product for each athlete to endorse. Students should explain why this is a good pairing.

Meet a Star Athlete
English, Health, History, Journalism, Physical Education
Washington Post Sports columnist Mike Wise introduces his readers to Redskins linebacker London Fletcher in "Redskins linebacker London Fletcher has grown from boy in peril to NFL elder statesman." Wise unveils more than Fletcher’s 15 years in the game, 240 straight games and countless hours dealing with pain that make him a professional and a man to model.
Read and discuss the profile. Give students “Role Models — Ethics in Motion.” Fletcher’s life is part of this activity, but the aim is to annotate Wise’s writing to understand how readers get to know the man. Just as a short story writer, the journalist writing a profile brings his character/subject to life by
• What the character does (actions related, observation)
• What the character says (quotations, interview)
• What the character thinks (quotations, interview, diaries and other writings)
• What others think about the character (interviews)
• How the character relates to others (observation, interview)

Students are asked to read profiles of area athletes. This will give students the opportunity to learn more about the student athletes and the techniques to bring them to life on the page. Teachers may ask students to consider how the reporters got the information they included. Possible profiles of student-athletes include:
• "An immigrant's transition gets a boost with help from the game of baseball," Josh Barr 
• "'She is so strong' — Cystic fibrosis can't slow Stone Bridge's Tiernan," James Wagner
• "Separating the myth from DeMatha," Rick Maese and Brandon Parker 

The third part of this activity is to write about a student athlete. The interview may be done in the form of a class press conference/interview, in groups or individually.

Sportsmanship in Fred Bowen's Works for Youth

Avoid Mistakes of the Past
Career Education, Health, U.S. History, Physical Education
In “A mission that truly counts: Avoiding another Penn State” Post Sports columnist Mike Wise introduces an initiative supported by Cal Ripkin Jr., Joe Ehrmann and Sheldon Kennedy. The three athletes want parents, bystanders and the kids who play sports better able to “expose the sick people who prey on children.”

Read Wise’s column. Points to be discussed include
• Why was the venue of the meeting and day of the meeting significant to relate to readers?
• Whom did the three men address? Why were they appropriate for this unveiling of the initiative?
• In what ways does Mike Wise distinguish the three men who share a common goal?
• In addition to the personal stories, what sources of background information did Wise include?

Wise includes the URL of the initiative in his article. Visit Safe to Compete: Protecting Child Athletes from Sexual Abuse. Which organizations worked together to hold the summit? Review the statement of purpose and information that is currently provided. What content would you suggest be added for parents, young athletes and citizens? Compile your class’s suggestions. Send the best ideas to the website’s webmaster.

Think Like a Journalist 
Character Education, English, Journalism, Reading
The role of an ombudsman is to be the liaison between readers and the newspaper’s publishers, reporters and editors. When readers questioned the ethics of Sally Jenkins as a sports columnist because she remained supportive of Lance Armstrong and had co-written books with him, Ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton sought answers. Read “Sally Jenkins’s steadfast support of Lance Armstrong.”

This curriculum guide’s Think Like a Reporter focuses on “The Ethics of Reporting.” The activity provides background on The Washington Post’s Standards and Ethics document and has questions to guide reading and discussion of the ombudman's column. The three essential questions could be used for debate as well as discussion.

Journalism and scholastic media students should consider what guidelines they should have for covering student-athletes and all sports in your school.  

Relate the Influence of Coaches
Career Education, Character Education, Health, Physical Education 
Student-athletes spend a good part of their after-school time with coaches. The physical and emotional well being of these youngsters are entrusted to their care. Liz Clark covers a coach-team relationship that took place on the campus of Rutgers University with college students. Read "Who protects the players? Rutgers incident reveals power that coaches wield over scholarship athletes." Discussion could include:
• Summarize the actions of the Rutgers' basketball coach.
• In what way can "profane verbal assaults" be damaging?
• Should ESPN's Outside the Lines have broadcast the video of team practices?
• Coaches play an important role in building character as well as skills. How is this best done? What is the place for "tough love"? How should a coach "balance criticism with encouragement"? 
• “If you’re the student-athlete, how much of this abuse do you tolerate when you have such a disparity between the coach who is paid millions of dollars and the player who is told you get a scholarship and nothing else?” McMillen asked. Discuss the power that coaches have over scholarships.

Do No Harm
Biology, Career Education, Health, Physical Education

Do No Harm,” a Sunday, March 17, 2013, A1 article by Sally Jenkins and Rick Maese, focuses on medical ethics and the decisions made concerning the health of athletes on and off the field. Teachers may wish to review terms found in In the Know before reading and discussing the article.

After reading the article, ask students to discuss Professor Gostin's comment: "Therein lies the dilemma facing NFL physicians. 'To say there’s no conflict there, from an ethical point of view, is to have your head in the sand,' said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University." Give examples from the article and more current incidents. Do they agree, disagree or have a qualified response to his point of view?

In “Do No Harm in Action” Washington Post's Educational Services Representative Christoper L. Janson suggests many approaches to using the content of the “Do No Harm” article. They range from the Hippocratic Oath to sports journalism to following a sports story in the pages of The Washington Post.

The suggested activities in "Do No Harm in Action" apply also to the second in the series of articles about sports, medicine and ethics. Students may read and discuss "In the NFL culture, pain and drugs are the norm" by Sally Jenkins and Rick Maese. In what ways does the Sunday, April 14, 2013, article and the first article compare and contrast?

Read About Athletes

Race the Iditarod
English, Geography, U.S. History, Physical Education
Introduce students to the Iditarod dog sled race through a Washington Post gallery and video.

Tim Dahlberg’s March column focuses on this engrained part of the Alaskan culture and its history. “Iditarod gets its oldest winner, who says he’s not finished with dog sled racing yet” reports on the March 2013 race. 

Iditarod mushers can be several generations of one family (Seavey, Mackey or twins). They can be winners like Rick Swenson who have won five times and never finished lower than tenth in his 20 races. They can be Libby Riddles, the first women to win in 1985, and four-time winner Susan Butcher

Scholastic provides a number of “Historic Iditarod” student activities. Read short profiles of young mushers. What has competing in the Iditarod meant to them and revealed of their character? Listen to an interview with Danny Seavey, the youngest of three generations in his family to race in Iditarods, and interviews with two female mushers, Hannah Moderow and Calie King. 

During the more than 1,000-mile race man and dogs form a team that depends on each other. It is not without controversy. Read Dahlberg’s column. Give students “Iditarod Decisions,” questions to guide reading and case studies to apply ethical considerations to the race.


Learn About the History of the Iditarod Trail
Business, Economy, Health, U.S. History
Alaskan history is American history. Conduct research to learn about the Tanaina and Ingalik Indians and the Inupiaq and Yupik Eskimos who blazed the trails that would be used by traders and miners. Discover the gold rush and settlement of Nome, expansion and the Iditarod Mining District. The introduction of airplanes, the diphtheria epidemic of 1925 and Balto. 

Be sure to include a map of Alaska in this look at Alaskan history. If teachers wish to summarize, the early history of this land, more time could be spent focused on the original Iditarod settlement, the race to get medicines to Nome to save lives and the current Iditarod race that reconstructs the freight route to Nome and commemorates the part that sled dogs played in the settlement of Alaska. The mushers travel from checkpoint to checkpoint much as the freight mushers did eighty years ago.

The Bureau of Land Management introduces students to Alaska Public Lands and the Iditarod National Historic Trail. The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance’s online resources include a “Mushing Forum” and illustrated historic overview

Today, kennels at Denali National Park house sled dogs that actively help protect the park, wildlife, and wilderness. Puppy Paws videos show the Denali Alaskan husky puppies. 

Set up your e-Replica account to notify you when “Alaska,” “Iditarod” and “sled dogs” appear in the news.


Draw on the Iditarod
Art, Reading, English
Having gotten acquainted with mushers and their dogs, students might paint, sketch or make paper maché sled dog(s). A Red and Rover cartoon strip is included in this guide. After reading the panels, discuss the ideas that are presented. Give students "Red and Rover: Draw on Current Events." Answering and discussing the questions will help students to see that a innocent-enough question may have deeper meaning. "Draw on Your Own Perspective" is provided for students to draw their own cartoon panel. This may be in response to the Iditarod Dog Sled Race articles and event, the use of for-profit, game reserves, or another topic.

Debate Using Animals as a Business
Business, Debate, Economics, Government, Journalism
Locate South Africa on a map. The Mauricedale Game Ranch is located in northeastern South Africa south of Kruger National Park

Give students “A business model to save the black rhino?” This Business article is set up as a case study. By examining the specific situation, you and your students can discuss its benefits and drawbacks and also consider businesses of this type.

Give students “When Animals Are a Business” to complete as they read the column. Note that the first question includes ten vocabulary words to define. All of the terms are used in the article.  The second question is a map-reading exercise that teachers could do with their students as a warm-up activity.

Monetary incentive may be defined as a money-based reward that can be given when an employee meets or exceeds expectations, a reason to do well in athletic competitions (think endorsements) or financial incentive to improve behavior. Be sure students understand this concept as it applies to Hume’s business venture.

Discussion could also include:
• What are the business and economics questions involved in the Mauricedale Game Ranch venture?
• What are the ethical questions?
• What are the legal ramifications of Hume’s approach?
• What guidelines should be in place to cover the use of animals in a business? For competitive purposes?

After discussing John Hume’s vision of sustainable business and the discussion questions, you might compare and contrast Mauricedale Game Ranch with the nearby Kruger National Park. A graphic April 3, 2013, news release could also be shared with older students so they understand the reality of poaching and rhino horn harvesting.

If your students are to debate or write on conservation, rhino poaching and other related issues, begin research by reviewing the Kruger National Park Media & News section, Humane Society International and the WWF. What is the role of domestic governments and international agencies in regulating businesses that involve animals, conservation and care?


In The Know 
Anterior cruciate Internist
Arbitration Ligament
Athletic trainer Medical ethicist
Concussion Neurologist
Conflicted Orthopedist
DEA Problematic
Detrimental Recrimination
Disability Rehabilitation
Emergency medical specialist Second opinion
Hippocratic oath Surgeon

ANSWERS. Iditarod Decisions
1. Answers will include that the dogs are bred and conditioned to race. There are veterinarians and rest stops along the race course. The race is an ingrained part of Alaska’s culture and it commemorates those who used the trail before planes. For the mushers, it is a tribute to the dogs who carry them along the trail. 2. Answers will include concerns about dogs in harness racing in inclement weather. Some mushers do not know when to rest their dogs. The length of the race is arduous, depleting dogs’ energy. Adequate care of animals left at checkpoints along the trail. 3. Answers will vary. Mushers need to be healthy for the sake of the dog sled team and others who might have to come to their rescue. Much success depends on training the dogs to work together as a team and to build their stamina. 4. Musher DeeDee tells her Iditarod story of dealing with ice on the trail and crossing the Post River section of the race. 5. There are a number of stories of mushers stopping to come to the aide of other mushers. Susan Butcher, winner of four Iditirod races, “halted to help Rick Swenson fix a burned out headlamp during a potentially deadly blizzard on the final run to Nome in 1991, a race Swenson ultimately won.” Read “Danger rides along the trail” for other examples (Daily News Reporter, Doug O’Harra, Feb. 23, 1997).

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Reading. Identify and analyze the author’s stated purpose, main ideas, supporting ideas, and supporting evidence (Expository Text, 6.IT-E.1)


Reading. Recognize arguments for and against an issue. (Argument and Persuasive Text, 6.IT-A.6)


Social Studies. Describe the reciprocity between rights and obligations, that is, why enjoyment of one’s rights entails for the rights of others. (Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens, 12.8.5)


 Learning Standards for DCPS are found online at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Physical Education. Students will demonstrate the ability to use skills essential for developing self-efficacy, fostering a sense of community, and working effectively with others in physical activity settings. (Standard 6.0 Social Psychological Principles)


Physical Education. Discuss and use problem-solving techniques which build and maintain healthy relationships and promote good sportsmanship. (6.0, C.b. Grade 5)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at


Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Physical Education. The student will work independently and with others in cooperative and competitive physical activity settings.

a) Exhibit fair play and act responsibly in physical activity settings.

b) Identify positive and negative effects of peer influence.

c) Exhibit respect for the unique characteristics, diverse backgrounds, and varying abilities of peers. (Responsible Behaviors, 8.5)


Health. The student will analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the protective factors related to achieving and maintaining a sound mind and healthy body throughout life. Key concepts/skills include

b)     the impact of involvement in school and community activities;

c)     the value of exercising self-control;

e)     the influence of emotions and peer approval on personal decision-making;

g)     family health habits and behaviors as they relate to promotion of health and wellness;

h)    the importance of support and encouragement from positive role models. (10.2)


Standards of Learning currently in effect for Virginia Public Schools can be found online at


Common Core Standards 

Reading Informational Text. Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RI.6.2)


Reading Informational Text. Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes). (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.3)


Reading informational Text. Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.9)


English Language Arts, Writing. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2


Common Core Standards may be found at