Hobbes and Locke in Sports

While Hobbes and Locke were not sports guys, their social contracts and states of nature theories can undoubtedly be related to social and political structures in modern sports. All three theories are seen in one way or another in the realm of athletics, and I am here to discuss their respective roles. Let’s start with Hobbes. In Leviathan, Hobbes describes the human race in a state of nature. In this state of nature, humans are evil and self-indulgent, doing what is in their best interest and what will bring them success. Many professional athletes today can be seen as living in a Hobbesian state of nature.

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau

Alex Rodriguez, Floyd Mayweather, and Ray Rice come immediately to mind, but there are countless examples of players who have seemed to allow their own personal pursuits control their reputation and play. Alex Rodriguez has been on the hot seat for years over his use of steroids throughout his career. Is he living in fear? Is he just selfish? His underlying motive is uncertain, but it is assumed that he was trying to get a leg up on the competition. Without endorsements, Floyd Mayweather makes around $105 million a year for only a few fights, but foolishly gambles and bets his money away. While there are clearly exceptions, many professional athletes live in a Hobbesian state of nature, where they focus on themselves and their best interests.

Alex Rodriguez

In order to control individuals in the state of nature, John Locke proposes his social contract, in which a central government remains superior to the people. This government maintains each individual’s life, liberty, and property. Locke’s ideas are most definitely seen in sports today. Each professional league has its own commissioner, who regulates and protects the league. Theses individuals are voted into power and are expected to do what is best for the sport and for the players. Each commissioner is presumed to be a perfect balance between a monarch and a democracy, where they are controlling but not over-demanding. In order to maintain the integrity and prosperity of their respective leagues, commissioners punish those who break the rules or harm the further establishment of the league. Professional sports need these strong leaders and strong governments to hold the players accountable for their mistakes and create a competitive, safe environment.

However, in the world of sports, it can also be seen that a single governing body can become corrupted and impact the integrity of the sport. An example lies in recent allegations of corruption against FIFA. Numerous inside sources have leaked information about bribery and match fixing, such as during the selection period for the 2022 World Cup, which was chosen to be played in Qatar. It was found later on that Qatar FIFA officials paid millions under the table to have their country selected. This being the first and most famous of several instances of corruption, one can note how because the power is centralized, it was easy for Qatar representatives to walk around the room full of voters and simply offer sums of cash in return for a vote. While life, liberty, and property of the players are being protected, they are being lied to and not given equal opportunity.

Man on the right is holding up the winning ballot, which turned out to be Qatar, giving them the right to host the 2022 World Cup