What Type of Character Do Athletes Possess?

Abstract

The purpose of this study was two-fold: (1) to develop a paper and pencil
instrument that measures two types of character: moral versus social;
(2) to determine if college athletes, particularly team sport athletes
support social character over moral character as a result of the way character
may be defined and fostered by many coaches, parents, and general society.
To test our hypothesis that athletes support the practice of social character
over moral character we developed a paper and pencil instrument called
the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory. Participants in the study were N=595
college students from a variety of colleges/universities (National Collegiate
Athletic Association Division I, II, III and National Association for
Intercollegiate Athletics). More specifically, there were n=293 team sport
athletes, n= 76 individual sport athletes and n=225 non athletes (and
1 subject that did not indicate their status). College athletes were compared
to college non athletes in order to understand the effects of sport participation
on moral and social character.

Saliently, results showed that on average, team sport athletes’ social
character index scores were higher than their moral character index scores.
Also of salience, non-athletes scored significantly higher than team sport
athletes on the moral character index whereas team sport athletes scored
significantly higher than non-athletes on the social character index.
Reasons for why there were differences between team sport athletes and
non-athletes on the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory are discussed as well
as other findings.

Introduction

Since the early part of the 20th century, participation in American sport
has been widely and strongly viewed as a vehicle for developing character
(Armstrong, 1984; Ogilvie & Tutko, 1971; Sage, 1988, 1998; Shields
& Bredemeier, 1995). In response to this claim, researchers from a
variety of disciplines have empirically tested the popular notion that
sport builds character (see for example, Beller & Stoll, 1992, 1995;
Hodge, 1989; Kleiber & Roberts, 1981; Ogilvie & Tutko, 1971; Penny
& Priest, 1990; Rudd, Stoll & Beller, 1997; Shields & Bredemeier,
1995). Contrary to what many may believe, results from these studies have
suggested that sport does not build character.

From the numerous studies, character development research that has used
an instrument called the Hahm-Beller Values Choice Inventory (HBVCI) may
be the most profound because of the sizeable, accumulative database and
replication (Belier & Stoll, 1992, 1995; Hahm, Beller, & Stoll,
1989; Penny & Priest, 1990; Rudd, Stoll, & Beller, 1997). With
a database of over 60,000 athletes and non-athletes and over 250 university
studies, the HBVCI has consistently found that the majority of athletes
will not support the moral ideal in competition, i.e., moral character.
However, despite the well-published and disseminated research, we have
continued to hear from coaches, parents, and the media that sport builds
character or that athletes frequently display character (Browit, 1999;
Docheff, 1997; Herman, 2000; Zimmerman, 2001). As a result, we began to
wonder if there is another way to define character, which might explain
why athletes do not support the notion of moral character.

From the character development literature, newspapers, media, and personal
communications with coaches, parents, and the general populace we discovered
that many individuals appear to define character from a social perspective
rather than a moral perspective. Thus, many define character in terms
of social values such as teamwork, loyalty, self-sacrifice, work ethic,
and perseverance which may be considered as “social character” as
opposed to “moral character” which has been denoted by moral values
such as honesty, fairness, and responsibility (see for example, Arnold,
1999; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). The purpose of this study then
was two-fold: (1) to develop a paper and pencil instrument that measures
two types of character in the sport context: moral versus social; (2)
to determine if college athletes, particularly team sport athletes support
social character over moral character as a result of the way character
may be defined and fostered by many coaches, parents, and general society.
To test our hypothesis that athletes support the practice of social character
over moral character we developed a paper and pencil instrument called
the Rudd-Stoll-Beller-Hahm Value Judgment Inventory. This article will
present the findings from our instrument and general study.

Method

Participants

A sample of N=595 college students from a variety of colleges/universities
(National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I, II, III and National
Association for Intercollegiate Athletics) participated in the study.
More specifically, there were n=223 non-athletes, n=290 team sport athletes,
and n=76 individual sport athletes that responded to all of the questions
on the social character index (first 10 questions of RSBH Value Judgment
Inventory). There were also n=296 males and n=293 females that responded
to all of the questions on the social character index. The number of subjects
that responded to all of the questions on the moral character index (last
10 questions of RSBH Value Judgment Inventory) were n=221 non-athletes,
n=289 team sport athletes, and n=76 individual sport athletes. Lastly,
there were n=294 females and n=292 males that responded to all of the
questions on the moral character index.

Definition of the Non Athlete

For the purpose of this study, non-athletes were defined as any student
who was not currently participating in college athletics at the time of
the administration of the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory. In most cases
this means that a non-athlete was someone who had never been involved
in athletics or someone who had been involved in athletics but not at
the college level. There was also the possibility that there could have
been non-athletes in the sample who were collegiate competitors at one
time.

Although there may be non athletes in the sample that in the past competed
at one level or another, because they no longer compete at a high level,
we hypothesized that their competitive values that relate to character
in the sport context would not be the same as the sample of athletes that
currently compete. Thus, we would have some indication of how sport participation
affects athletes who compete versus those that do not in terms of moral
and social character.

Procedure

College non-athletes were administered the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory
while in their respective academic classes. College team sport athletes
and college individual sport athletes were administered the RSBH Value
Judgment Inventory also in academic classes or at practice or in an athletic
training room. With every administration of the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory,
both college athletes and college non-athletes were told that their participation
in the study was anonymous and that there participation was voluntary.

Design

A retrospective causal-comparative design in which college athletes were
compared to college non-athletes was used to understand the effects of
sport participation on moral and social character (see Gay & Airasian,
2002 for causal-comparative designs).

Instrumentation

In 1998, the Rudd-Stoll-Beller-Hahm (RSBH) Value Judgment Inventory was
developed to measure moral and social character (Rudd, 1998). To do so,
the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory is comprised of two indices: a social
character index and a moral character index. The social character index
consists of ten sport context scenarios that mostly take place outside
the lines of competition. Concomitantly, these scenarios are infused with
the social values of teamwork, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. Subjects are
asked to respond to each scenario via a 5-point Likert scale (Strongly
Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree).

The moral character index is comprised of ten gamesmanship scenarios
that were selected from the Hahm-Beller Values Choice Inventory (HBVCI).
These 10 questions were selected based on their high internal reliability
ranging from .81 to .88 over six different studies (see for example, Beller
& Stoll, 1992, 1995; Beller, Stoll, Bunnell, & Cole, 1996; Hahm,
Beller, & Stoll, 1989). In sum, subjects receive two scores: a social
character index score and a moral character index score.

The more frequently subjects agree with the social character scenarios,
the higher one scores on the social character index. The higher the score,
the more it is suggested that individuals are believed to support social
values and more generally social character in the sport milieu. Concurrently,
for the moral character index, the more frequently subjects “disagree”
with the various gamesmanship practices, the higher one’s score and the
more one is believed to support moral character in sport.

Four pilot studies were conducted to establish the reliability and validity
of the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory. Specifically, for the fourth pilot
study, the sample contained n=149 non-athletes, n=169 team sport athletes
and n=36 individual sport athletes. There were also n=182 males and n=172
females. An internal reliability analysis indicated a Cronbach alpha of
.72 for the social character index and a Cronbach alpha of .86 for the
moral character index. The internal reliability for the current sample
used in this study showed a Cronbach Alpha of .87 for the moral character
index and a Cronbach Alpha of .73 for the social character index.

As part of establishing the validity of the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory,
an exploratory factor analysis was conducted during the fourth pilot study
to seek evidence of construct validity. Results from the factor analysis
are somewhat difficult to interpret, however, the first factor does suggest
that there is a distinct contrast between social character (questions
1-10) and moral character (questions 11-20). Thus, there is evidence to
suggest that our instrument is measuring two distinct constructs; moral
character versus social character (see Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1: Total Variance Explained

Total Variance Explained
Initial Eigenvalues Extraction Sums of Squared Loadings Rotation
Factor Total % Variance Cumulative % Total % Variance Cumulative % Total
1 6.28 31.40 31.40 5.76 28.84 28.84 4.08
2 1.57 7.86 39.27 1.04 5.22 34.05 2.70
3 1.30 6.52 45.79 0.69 3.46 37.52 3.25
4 1.09 5.43 51.22 0.46 2.32 39.83 2.57
5 1.06 5.32 56.53 0.36 1.82 41.65 1.38
6 0.96 4.78 61.33
7 0.81 4.05 65.37
8 0.79 3.93 69.30
9 0.77 3.86 73.16
10 0.66 3.28 76.44
11 0.62 3.09 79.52
12 0.60 3.01 82.53
13 0.58 2.89 85.41
14 0.52 2.59 88.00
15 0.47 2.37 90.37
16 0.43 2.15 92.52
17 0.43 2.13 94.65
18 0.40 2.00 96.64
19 0.36 1.81 98.45
20 0.31 1.55 100.00

 

Table 2: Factor Matrix

Factors
1
2
3
4
5
Quest. 1 -0.23 0.15 0.19 -5.04E-02 0.26
Quest. 2 -0.55 0.31 0.19 -5.71 2.01E-03
Quest. 3 -0.53 0.39 -8.95E-02 -7.61E-02 -0.12
Quest. 4 -0.15 2.55E-02 0.17 0.15 -6.51E-02
Quest. 5 -0.49 0.35 0.22 0.10 0.20
Quest. 6 -0.46 0.24 0.17 6.74E-02 -0.28
Quest. 7 -0.38 0.28 -2.00 9.03E-02 7.40E-02
Quest. 8 -0.64 0.22 -0.16 0.15 -4.85E-02
Quest. 9 -0.24 8.21E-02 -0.13 0.14 0.24
Quest. 10 -0.34 1.56E-02 0.22 0.13 -0.09
Quest. 11 0.61 -7.83E-02 .6.14E-02 9.52E-02 0.14
Quest. 12 0.65 0.31 -9.39E-02 -0.25 2.19E-02
Quest. 13 0.61 9.18 0.31 9.12E-02 -1.19E-02
Quest. 14 0.61 0.15 0.27 -0.14 -0.18
Quest. 15 0.60 1.79E-02 0.31 0.15 8.08E-02
Quest. 16 0.62 0.41 -9.56E-02 -0.21 9.48E-02
Quest. 17 0.72 0.20 6.90E-02 2.10E-02 -0.10
Quest. 18 0.55 0.23 -0.38 0.28 -7.11
Quest. 19 0.67 0.26 -8.50E-02 0.14 3.07E-02
Quest. 20 0.61 1.19E-02 1.89E-02 0.30 8.04

 

Analysis

A 3×2 (teams sport athletes, individual sport athletes, and college non
athletes) x (males and females) univariate factorial analysis of variance
was used to compare differences between college team sport athletes, college
individual sport athletes, and college non athletes and to also compare
males and females on the moral and social character index. A Tukey Post
hoc test was used to detect specific group differences after a significant
F test was found.

For clarification, although comparing differences between gender on the
RSBH Value Judgment Inventory was not the focus of this study, gender
was introduced into the analysis as a result of previous studies with
the HBVCI that have shown that overall females score significantly higher
than males (Belier & Stoll, 1992, 1995., Penny & Priest, 1990;
Rudd, Stoll, & Beller, 1997). As well, a previous study by Rudd (1998)
showed that overall, males scored significantly higher than females on
the social character index part of the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory.
Thus, we were concerned with interaction effects.

Results

Results from the univariate factorial analysis of variance revealed that
there was a significant difference between team sport athletes, individual
sport athletes, and non athletes on the moral character index F (2, 580)
= 31.04, p<. 05. There was also a significant difference between team
sport athletes, individual sport athletes, and non athletes on the social
character index F (2, 583) = 22.86, p<. 05.

A significant difference between males and females on the moral character
index F (1, 580) = 87.23, p<. 05 was also found. There was also a significant
difference between males and females on the social character index F (1,
583) = 68.33, p<. 05 There was no gender interaction for either of
the two univariate analyses.

More specifically, a Tukey’s post hoc indicated that non-athletes scored
significantly higher (M=27.51, SD=7.13) than team sport athletes (M=20.75,
SD=6.41) on the moral character index. Further, individual sport athletes
scored significantly higher (M=26.02,

SD=6.87) than team sport athletes (M=20.75, SD=6.41) on the moral character
index. And non-athletes (M=27.51, SD=7.13) scored only slightly higher
than individual sport athletes (M=26.02, SD=6.87) on the moral character
index. Finally, overall there was a significant difference between males
and females in which females scored significantly higher (M=27.56, SD=6.81)
than males (M=20.42, SD=6.36) on the moral character index.

Dissimilarly, a Tukey’s post hoc test indicated that team sport athletes
scored significantly higher (M=28.47, SD=5.92) than non-athletes (M=23.30,
SD=5.35) on the social character index. Team sport athletes (M=28.47,
SD=5.92) also scored significantly higher than individual sport athletes
(M=25.46, SD=5.59) on the social character index.

And individual sport athletes (M=25.46, SD=5.59) scored significantly
higher than non-athletes (M=23.30, SD=5.35). Also on the social character
index, males scored significantly higher (M=28.87, SD=6.18) than females
(M=23.35, SD=4.72).

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to develop an instrument that could measure
two types of character: moral versus social and to then determine if college
athletes, team sport athletes in particular, support social character
over moral character. Concurrently, this study was aimed towards ascertaining
the effect of sport participation on moral and social character and therefore
we compared college athletes (team sport athletes and individual sport
athletes) to college non-athletes.

Team sport athletes scored significantly higher than non-athletes and
individual sport athletes on the social character index. And individual
sport athletes scored significantly higher than non-athletes on the social
character index. In contrast, team sport athletes scored significantly
lower than non-athletes and individual sport athletes on the moral character
index. Lastly, non-athletes scored only slightly higher than individual
sport athletes on the moral character index. All group differences on
moral and social character are consistent with previous studies using
the HBVCI to measure moral character (for example, Beller & Stoll,
1995, Beller, Stoll & Rudd, 1997; Rudd, Stoll & Beller, 1997)
or a previous study using the RSBH Value Judgment Inventory to measure
moral and social character (Rudd, Stoll & Beller, 1999).

As for explanations of the group differences, page limitations do not
allow for a full explication of all the various differences. Instead,
we will briefly address differences between team sport athletes and non-athletes
given those were the comparisons of most interest.

The reason why team sport athletes scored significantly higher than non
athletes on the social character index may be as a result of the emphasis
that coaches, parents, and general society place on values such as teamwork,
loyalty, self-sacrifice, perseverance, and work ethic in team sports.
Why such values are emphasized may be related to our American ideology
that emphasizes capitalism and corporation. Those such as (Berlage, 1982;
Coakley, 1998; O’Hanlon, 1980; Sage, 1988, 1998) have maintained that
sport is used as a vehicle to instill the types of values among sport
participants that will allow them to go out into society and contribute
to corporate America.

As for why team sport athletes scored significantly lower than non athletes
on the moral character index, the reason may relate to the socialization
process in the sport milieu in which many team sport athletes learn that
winning takes precedence over the moral ideal (see for example, Dreyfuss,
2001; Eitzen, 1999; Hawes, 1998; “A Purpose,” 1999). Therefore,
many athletes have not been taught to appreciate moral idealism or the
notion of moral character in competition.

In conclusion, there is evidence from our study to suggest that sport
may build social character, e.g., teamwork, loyalty, and self-sacrifice
as a possible result of the emphasis that is placed on social character.
In opposition, there is little evidence to suggest sport builds moral
character when defining character from a moral idealistic standpoint.

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Footnotes

1. A study by Stoll, Beller, Cole, and Burwell (1995) revealed that there
was not a significant difference between Division I and Division III athletes
on the HBVCI.

Results suggest that athletes have similar competitive values regardless
of the competitive level of the university. Therefore, researchers felt
it was acceptable to use a sample of athletes from various university
levels and to then compare an aggregation of the athletes to the sample
of non-athletes.