America at Large: Should US sport be concerned by evils of online porn?

Spring training in Arizona includes a lecture from lobby group ‘Fight The New Drug’

Some commentators in the American media are questioning whether any club should be getting into what is essentially a moral judgement for the individuals involved.

Some commentators in the American media are questioning whether any club should be getting into what is essentially a moral judgement for the individuals involved.

 

Nearly half a century ago, former New York Yankees’ pitcher Jim Bouton published a ground-breaking autobiography that shocked America.

In Ball Four, a warts-and-all account of his sporting life, he described teammates drilling holes in the dugout walls so they could look directly up the skirts of female fans in the stands during games, and racing around the rooftops of hotels so they could peek in windows at women undressing below.

Bouton exposed a sordid demi-monde where some of the country’s most beloved icons were pathetic peeping Toms, hormonal adolescent voyeurs questing for the merest glimpse of naked flesh.

In a conference room at the Kansas City Royals’ spring training facility in Arizona earlier this month, 200 players, coaches and staff sat through a lecture about the damage that internet pornography is doing.

In a sport where 81 away games ensure half of every season is spent in hotel rooms in cities far from home, the intention was to educate about the perils of this peculiarly 21st century addiction.

“There’s scientific evidence of the harmful effects of what pornography does to the brain,” said Moore.

“We know what the issues are with relationships. There’s been countless numbers of relationships that have been destroyed and families have been divided because of it. And it’s my experience, as a college coach and in my 25th year in professional baseball, in dealing with 16- to 25-year-olds my entire life, this is a major issue that exists.”

The Royals are the first baseball club to try to treat pornography, like alcohol or recreational drugs, as a potential menace that young players, in particular, need to be counselled about. However, the issue has been lurking in the background of sport for a while.

Dayton Moore: general manager of the Kansas City Royals.
Dayton Moore: general manager of the Kansas City Royals.

As far back as 2011, several high-profile NFL players, past and present, participated in a video, talking about their own issues with porn addiction. That was part of one Texan church’s initiative to try to force a national conversation on the topic. While that didn’t quite pan out, more athletes are fessing up to having issues with it.

“If day turns into night and you’re still watching it and if your clock has gone around a couple of times then you might have a problem,” said Terry Crews, former NFL player turned Hollywood actor.

“When you’re watching porn it’s one of those things you do alone if you know what I mean, so you’re not communicating with people and you’re not doing what you should be doing. It really messes your brain up and I knew it was messing my brain up, and I just decided it was just messing my life up and I thought I gotta get rid of this and I did, I cleaned my head up.”

Moral judgement

Crews had it so bad it threatened his marriage and he ended up in rehab. Austin Womack, the Kansas City Royals’ strength and conditioning coach, took to Instagram last week to explain he has enrolled in a programme called JoinFortify to try win his personal battle with addiction. For all those willing to testify openly about the damage pornography has wrought on their lives, there has been criticism of the Royals’ initiative too.

Some commentators in the American media are questioning whether any club should be getting into what is essentially a moral judgement for the individuals involved. A couple have even wondered aloud whether this sort of attempted re-education may impinge on the players’ First Amendment rights. There is an uneasy sense too that the Royals’ general manager could be accused of foisting his own deep faith on grown men old enough to make decisions of their own. Not to mention clues that he’s a little obsessed with the issue.

Following the arrest of pitcher Danny Duffy on a drink driving charge last summer, Moore offered the press an unprompted soliloquy on the evils of porn and how it’s a cause of domestic abuse. Given that the topic had nothing to do with the case in question that day, it’s not surprising that he personally invited Fight the New Drug (FTND) into pre-season training. Or that he parrots some of their more outlandish rhetoric about “scientific proof” even though doctors beg to differ on that score.

“Based on our expertise in neuroscience and clinical psychology, we find that FTND is systematically misrepresenting science,” wrote Dr Nicole Prause and seven other neuroscientists in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune questioning the group’s work.

“The FTND suggests that (a) there has been rigorous testing seeking to disprove the hypothesis that pornography is addictive or harmful, (b) this testing has consistently failed to disprove this hypothesis, and (c) no contradictory evidence has been found. None of these claims is true. The studies described by FTND are not rigorous. The assessment of possible positive effects was not included in any of the studies cited.”

Regardless of that devastating critique, FTND appear buoyed by the reception they received in their first excursion into baseball. Aside from garnering national publicity for their cause, every Royals’ player interviewed by the media sounded positive about what they had heard about this scourge and thankful for the important lesson. What else did anybody expect them to say?

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