Heard on Campus: Joel Litvin, formerly of the NBA, at Penn State Law

October 27, 2016

“So, to our definition of ethics: Rules of conduct in respect to a particular class of human actions. It’s hard to imagine a class of human actions that is subject to more rules of conduct than professional sports.

“There are several threads through these myriad of rules and procedures, but by far the most important to me is the principle of fairness, and specifically, competitive fairness. The assurance we provide to fans is that the competition we present on the floor is fair in two respects: number one, that each game is won or lost on its merits based on the performance of players conducting themselves within the rules; and number two, that each team has the opportunity to win a championship, to compete for a championship, regardless of its market size or the wealth of its owner.

“Nothing is more important to the integrity of a sport, and in turn the success of a sport, than the ability to present a fair competition to your fans, in terms of what happens both on and off the court. So the principle role of ethics in sports, I submit, is to preserve this essential competitive fairness.”

--Joel Litvin, former president of League Operations for the National Basketball Association, presenting an address, “The Role of Ethics in Sports,” at Penn State Law on Oct. 26 in the Sutliff Auditorium of the Lewis Katz Building.

“One way to look at the issue of ethics in sports is through the lens of business ethics, which you may think sounds like an oxymoron, but concerns itself with, among other things, the responsibility companies have to consumers. Think about marketing ethics and the obligation to advertise fairly and honestly, and think about ethics manufacturers have to be truthful about the ingredients in what they sell you. Well, what a sports league sells, and what our business is, is competition. That’s what our consumers, our customers, and TV partners pay for. That’s what our sponsors are paying for, and it is our ethical obligation to deliver competition that is transparent and fair.”

Litvin, who stepped down from the NBA last fall, is serving this semester as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Penn State Law, where he will be guest lecturing in Professor Stephen F. Ross’ Sports Law class, as well as meeting undergraduates and law students informally. His presentation at Penn State Law was part of the Penn State Roundtable on Sports and Society’s 2016-17 theme, Ethics in Sports.

The roundtable is a cross-campus collaboration bringing together faculty and administrators from a variety of disciplines at Penn State whose professional work involves sports. The group includes about 30 faculty members and also serves as a means of collaboration between the University’s sports-related research centers: the Center for Sports Business & Research at the Smeal College of Business, the Curley Center for Sports Journalism at the College of Communications, and Penn State Law’s Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research, which is directed by Ross.

Last Updated October 27, 2016