The question of ethics and sportsmanship in athletic competition and physical education is a subject that has been approached throughout the ages by several philosophers and scholars. But perhaps none put it better than the idealistic philosopher Immanuel Kant, who once said, "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only." In essence, Kant was trying to emphasize what some have come to know as the "Golden Rule," that is, "Do onto others as you would have them do onto you." When applied to sports, Kant's statement serves as the foundation upon which what we view as "good sportsmanship" is based.
In modern sport, it can be said that we sometimes forget this simple rule. We have become prone to cheating, showboating and competing more with the intent of humiliating our opponents than providing friendly competition, all in the name of victory (Fraleigh, 1984, pp. 124). In the eyes of Kant, and those who side with him, this type of behavior goes against the very tenets that make up "friendly" competition. This behavior can serve two purposes. On the one hand, it can drive our opponent to play harder in an attempt to overcome our obvious disdain for sportsmanship, in effect increasing the level of competition and therefore, providing a positive byproduct of an otherwise negative act. Or, as is more often the case in modern sport, this behavior can serve to frustrate our opponent, resulting in even poorer performance or, in extreme cases, a physical or verbal altercation (Hyland, 1978, pp. 27).
Kant's statement, though not originally intended to apply to athletics or physical education, is actually quite fitting when applied to sport, especially in a competitive atmosphere. In so many cases we hear of athletes who want to win at all costs, regardless of the means by which they gain victory. All regards for the opponent, or sportsmanship itself, are thrown away when the win is on the line.