Social Contracts and Professional Sports

The social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau describe the state and laws of nature and analyze how people and governments interact and function together. Each theory provides a different interpretation and view of what is morally correct and how government should be constructed. The teachings of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau go beyond organized government and relate well within any type of social or political structure. In fact, the structure and state of professional sports can be interpreted as a blend between these three theories. Hobbes’ brutality, Locke’s protection of property, and the general will of Roseau’s teachings help to explain the general rules that are followed by all of the major professional sports organizations.


Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau

Governing bodies are just as crucial in athletics as they are in everyday life. Professional athletes are Hobbesian, testosterone induced, grown men that look out for their own self-interests and can be savages. Hobbes’ Leviathan depicts the state of nature of professional athletes. While not all, many professional athletes tend to make horrendous decisions that benefit themselves and completely disregard the interest of the team or the fans. Floyd Mayweather makes 105 million for 2-3 fights gloydx-largeper year, without endorsements, yet decides to make outrageous bets and gambles millions of dollars away. Adrian Peterson was one of the most prominent running backs in the National Football League, but is now sidelined for child abuse. The Twin Cities Newspaper now suggests that the Vikings should cut Adrian Peterson, the man who had carried the team the past few seasons. While not all are selfish and egocentric, like Derek Jeter, many professional athletes and their agents are focused on what is best for them. And due to this selfish perspective on life professional sports leagues need a governing body to control them. The structure of professional athletics is best defined by John Locke’s theory.

In order to control this naturally chaotic state, there must be a central government superior to the people. According to Locke, government is supposed to maintain each individual’s freedom of property and “his life, liberty and property.” Locke’s point of view is very similar to the current infrastructure in sports. Each professional sport has a commissioner that governs over its players. The goal of the commissioner is not to be an authoritarian monarch, like Hobbes suggests, or to be a general democracy, like Rousseau suggests, but it is to maintain the balance between the two. All commissioners are voted into power and are selected to represent what is best for the sport and the population. Sports commissioners give their players the freedom and natural rights; however, they are responsible for regulating and protecting their respective leagues by keeping the sanctity and prowess of the leagues.


Jackie Moon: Player, Manager, Owner

Professional sports leave an indelible mark on the lives of millions of people while producing billions of revenue yearly. In order to maintain prosperity, the respected commissioners protect the general will by punishing individuals who harm and disregard the rules of the league. Just like in government, athletes are governed under a predetermined rulebook. If an athlete does something immoral or unjust, they will be punished. For example, athletes like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson who broke the law were severely punished for their actions. If professional sports were managed as in the fictitious manner depicted in the movie Semi-Pro, where Jackie Moon (Will Ferrel) was the star player, coach and owner, the leagues would collapse. Although this is not necessarily the most valid comparison, a lack of discipline and accountability in a professional league would create an irreversible blend of corruption and unprofitability that would never be sustainable. In today’s society, professional sports are strong, thriving industries that need a clear and strong central government to hold the players and owners accountable while managing in a strategic and fiscally responsible manner.

Like in government, there can be issues between the sovereign and the people. The flaws with Locke’s contract and the current setup of the professional sports leagues are that they are susceptible to revolt. Rosseau’s theory suggests that governments should represent the “general will” of the people and should be a true democracy. The controversies that exist between the commissioner and the player unions of their respective leagues illustrate that point. Often, the representation of the people’s best interest conflicts with the general will of the government, which ultimately results in issues between the two sides. This conflict has been apparent lately in sports. We all remember the notorious sports lockouts: when the NFL had a 136 day lockout in 2011 and when the NBA season started on Christmas day of that year due to the lockout. Not to forget when the entire 2004-2005 NHL urlseason was cancelled due to the lockouts. Professional athletes are representing their general will, while sports owners and commissioners are attempting to govern. In the case of the NFL, the inability between its owners and players to determine and allocate billions of dollars of revenue often leads to controversy and labor unrest. 

The theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau depict the social impact that rules, regulations, and accountability of governing organizations have on the individuals within a society. Professional sports is a microcosm within our society and the foundation of the sports industry carries many similarities to the governing tactics that are implemented today.


Section 8, Blog 3