Friday, April 24, 2009

The Hypocrisy of the Hit-and-Giggle

And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends, stol’n forth of holy writ;
And seem a saint,
when most I play the devil.
- Richard III

SkySports News reports that IPL Chairman Lalit Modi has warned Bangalore Royal Challengers’ skipper Kevin Pietersen about his on-field “dissent” in Monday’s game against the Chennai Super Kings. The following from Modi is worth quoting in its entirety:

“Every incident in the DLF Indian Premier League is being closely monitored and appropriate action being dispensed with almost immediately. We have a zero-tolerance policy on player indiscipline and will take all necessary steps to ensure that the game is played in the true spirit of cricket. As I have said earlier, cricketers need to realise and quickly that they are huge role models for an entire generation of youth and it is crucial for youngsters all over the world to learn straight away the values of this great game and the spirit in which it should be played. The eyes of the world are on the DLF Indian Premier League and we want to see cricket, and the spirit of cricket, at its best.”

Modi is right about one thing. Dissent should not be tolerated. But what are more interesting are his claims about 20/20 cricket more generally. Some might argue that the IPL is the last place phrases like “the true spirit of cricket” and “the spirit of cricket at its best” should be thrown about. Modi is, after all, the Godfather of a shamelessly mercenary economic operation, and here he is, speaking about the true spirit of a game the original version of which looks nothing like the hit-and-giggle circus he has helped sire.

20/20 cricket is a coin-toss. The varied intricacies of test cricket are absent: a batsman does not need to concentrate for hours, contend with a changing pitch, worry about short balls etc. “Just throw the bat at it, mate, and hope you come off.” Captains worry about containment, and only containment. Bowlers…well, if they go for under eight per over, they get a pat on the back. And that’s just the game itself. What of the financial incentives offered to players who might well prefer to play 20/20 as a career, rather than sign less lucrative contracts with their counties/provinces/countries? What about the possible dilution of the standard of international test cricket because of this and other economic policies, like Kolpak? My colleague James Hutter presented a paper citing these concerns at the recent British Philosophy of Sport Conference in Dundee, where much of the subsequent discussion focused on whether 20/20 was indeed "cricket" or not. Comparing the regulative rules of the two forms of cricket is, I think, helpful, but it does not address the fundamental concerns James and I have with the impact 20/20 is having on the value of international test cricket and indeed, cricket itself. Apparently there is now going to be an American Premier League too. Can you imagine any more of a blatant money-making exercise than marketing hit-and-giggle to a country that knows next-to-nothing about cricket and everything about quick-fix entertainment? (I mean no offense here, but America must answer for the WWE)

But then, this is what cricket is becoming: a fix; a hit. A colourful syringe full of big-hitting, DJ’s, and dancing girls. In an effort to compete with other high-profile money-makers, the Trustees (sic) staffing the Boards of Governors everywhere - these accountants and businessmen – have become indiscriminate street-corner hustlers, cutting their product with hollow and addictive chemicals. The consumer? A drunken clubber in a hard-hat. Now, this is all well and good: people are entertained, money is made, fun is had by all. But it’s not cricket. Which means, Mr Modi, that you cannot sit on your high horse, counting your money and, to use an apt everyday expression, talking shit. A two-dollar whore dressed like a vestal virgin is still a two-dollar whore, and I would hazard the guess that even said two-dollar whore would not try to convince everyone of her chastity. Pietersen should not have shown dissent. But Modi cannot make grandiose claims about the “spirit of a great game”, when he is one of the architects of its destruction. I wonder what baseball or basketball fans would think if their sports were shortened to a two-inning home-run competition or a free-throw and slum-dunk exhibition. What would football fans think if every play had to be a "hail mary" (if that is the term) touchdown attempt? They probably wouldn't like it much. Especially if the powers that be started admonishing players to "preserve the spirit of their great game".

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Student Sports Fans and Bigotry

"College students who are serious about their identification with their institution’s football and men’s basketball teams are more likely than other students to have homophobic and sexist attitudes." See here for the full article.

Thoughts on why this might be the case and what should be done to deal with these issues?

(Hat tip to Rob Sica for bringing this article to my attention.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Graduate Programs in the Philosophy of Sport

In the comments section of the last post, an undergrad inquired about the graduate programs that exist which focus on the philosophy of sport. Those who teach or study in such a program, or simply know of one or more, please give some basic information in the comments section of this post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Moral Development through Sports

A lot has been assumed and written on this topic, but a friend recently pointed me to an op-ed piece in the NY Times, which includes the following:

Concentrating your effort on one or at most a few goals at a time increases the odds of success. Focusing on success is important because willpower can grow in the long term. Like a muscle, willpower seems to become stronger with use. The idea of exercising willpower is seen in military boot camp, where recruits are trained to overcome one challenge after another.

In psychological studies, even something as simple as using your nondominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can increase willpower capacity. People who stick to an exercise program for two months report reducing their impulsive spending, junk food intake, alcohol use and smoking. They also study more, watch less television and do more housework. Other forms of willpower training, like money-management classes, work as well.

This is relevant for sports because one of the deliverances of common sense seems to be that participating in sports, which is one way to exercise, is or at least can be conducive to moral growth. A kid might grow in courage as she faces adversity on the soccer field and then become more courageous in other areas of her life. While some studies show that very little of this is actually going on in sports, I would speculate that this is not because the potential is not there, but rather it is because we are not doing what it takes to realize the potential of sport for moral growth. In the above quote, it looks as if increased willpower just happens. The difficulty is that a person can demonstrate incredible self-control and discipline in one area of life, such as the diet and training regimens of elite athletes, but severely lack it in other areas, such as finances or relationships. The important question is how to expand a virtue from one realm of life to other realms. Or, to put it differently, how to develop a virtue such as courage or self-control so that it permeates more and more of my life, and not just my sporting life. Perhaps the practical lesson is that I should seek to develop a virtue like self-control in my sporting life, and then turn my attention and seek to develop it in another realm or two (such as reading, or eating, or in dealing with difficult people, or not watching tv).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Deadline Extension for IAPS Abstracts

2009 IAPS Conference – August 27-30 in Seattle, Washington – Deadline Extension (April 15, 2009)

Doug Hochstetler, Conference Chair

We welcome your abstracts for submission to the 2009 IAPS Conference -- the deadline for abstract submission is extended to April 15, 2009. The setting is Seattle, Washington with Seattle University serving as the host institution. Dr. Dan Tripps, Director of the Seattle University Center for the Study of Sport & Exercise, is Chair of the Site Organizing Committee, and is working with his committee to prepare what promises to be an outstanding conference. Check the IAPS website ( for the Call for Papers and additional information.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Exploitation in College Sports?

In my introductory ethics course today we had a debate related to whether or not college athletes are being exploited. To frame the issue, consider the following definitions of exploitation:

“[T]o exploit a person involves the harmful, merely instrumental utilization of him or his capacities, for one's own advantage or for the sake of one's own ends.” (Buchanan 1985, 87).

“Common to all exploitation of one person (B) by another (A)…is that A makes a profit or gain by turning some characteristic of B to his own advantage…exploitation … can occur in morally unsavory forms without harming the exploitee's interests and … despite the exploitee's fully voluntary consent to the exploitative behavior…” (Feinberg 1988, 176-79).

“Exploitation [in exchange] demands…that there is no reasonably eligible alternative [for the exploitee] and that the consideration or advantage received is incommensurate with the price paid. One is not exploited if one is offered what one desperately needs at a fair and reasonable price.” (Benn 1988, 138).

“[A] group is exploited if it has some conditionally feasible alternative under which its members would be better off.” (Roemer 1986, 136).

Given these different takes on what exploitation is, can a case be made that college athletes, at least big time college athletes, are being exploited in one or more of the above senses? As one president of Stanford University put it, big time college athletics "reeks of exploitation" because of the revenue generated for the university from the services of the athletes while many of the athletes gain little from their own college experiences.