Monday, March 30, 2009

Kentucky Wildcats, Academics, and Money

Eastern Kentucky University, where I work, is just about 40 minutes from the University of Kentucky, so the firing of UK men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie is big news around here. Interestingly, Gillispie was never officially under contract with the school, but rather both parties were working off of a "Memorandum of Understanding".
I have no idea if this is a common occurrence or not, but here is something that caught my interest:

Athletic Incentives
SEC Regular Season Championship $50,000
SEC Tournament Championship $50,000
NCAA Tournament Appearance $50,000
NCAA Sweet 16 Appearance $75,000
NCAA Final Four Appearance $150,000
National Championship $375,000

Academic Incentives
Academic Progress Rate of 950+ $50,000
Graduation Rate of 75%+ $50,000

Now, I'm not one of those academics who hates sports, thinks they are a waste of time, or even begrudges coaches the money they make (well, that last one isn't always true). But in my mind it says a lot about the priorities of a program when the incentives are divided as they are above. Winning is important, and it is part of a coach's job to help his or her team achieve excellence. However, why not put a little more money into the academic incentives column?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tough questions and painful answers; ethical reasoning in sport

What is the difference between circus acrobats and gymnasts when the skill is in focus? Both practices require specific bodily skills, extreme physical strength and flexibility. But in circus we do not question ethics. It is a performance, a spectacle where we never think of young children training hours daily, devoting their life to work in circus, and travelling around the globe for the glory of their family tradition. Do they have an option of open future, if all they know is circus? Do we know how many injuries happened behind the scene? No, we don’t question circus in this manner. But, why do we do so in sport? What is the rationale behind the sport that does not allow us to consider it solely aesthetically? These seem to be the questions we should consider more precisely when considering sport ethics.

The passions, the bestiality, the drives that are controlling the sport at its top are by definition out of command and domestication. We have witnessed many athletes talking about the flow, about collision with the activity itself where one merges with the whole, with no time and place for reflection. We are witnessing the record breaking time and again; we are witnessing what seems to be impossible to happen at the moment. Setting the limit is the key for Aristotelian ethics of proper measure, but going over the edge is the key for excess. It is over the edge where comfort turns to pleasure and pain, which only chosen heroic people are willing to bear. It is the passage from comfort to excessiveness where the mutation of ethics takes place. It turns towards the ethics of law, towards the ethics of maximum, which universalizes what Aristotle regards as an exception; anyone has capacity to realize impossible. How does this position our metaethical grounding?

Finally, not only in sport, isn't the same going on in society at large? Isn't the neoliberal 'credit' society exactly what ethics of maximum is demanding from us?  Facing the global socio-ecological crisis, do we have the courage to admit our wrongs and change not only the world outlook but our daily habits as well? Should we wait for the critical mass to appear and force us into change, or should we act upon it progressively? What can we learn from sport, to protect our failure as human beings? 


Milan Hosta

Friday, March 20, 2009

And now, winning is all about winning.

Well done the FIA. The decision to decide the F1 world champion on race wins is fantastic. But why? If, for instance, Felipe Massa wins the first nine races, the season is over. Who would pay to watch F1 after that? Would anyone care who comes second? Firstly, I submit that anyone who wins the first nine races of the season deserves the chance to kick back and watch the losers scrap for second. That type of performance merits a crown. And why could the competition for second not be even more intense and just as good for the spectators? Come the end of the football season here in Britain, the drama of the relegation scrap often overshadows what’s going on in the top half of the table, especially if it’s your team that’s facing the drop. There are also Champions League and UEFA Cup spots up for grabs, and this keeps everyone interested. The fact that F1 does not have similar incentives is surely something that is easily fixed? Secondly, I hope I’m not getting overexcited here, but can you imagine the seat-of-the-pants racing we might be privy to when the season kicks off in three weeks time? All the big names going all out to win, week after week…new tactics, more pressure and, surely, more drama. Can you imagine two, or three, or even four drivers all needing to win the last race to be world champion? As someone who up until now has only occasionally watched F1, I can’t wait…but I wonder what the proper fans think?

Monday, March 16, 2009

2009 International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Conference

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport invites the submission of abstracts to be considered for presentation at the 37th annual 2009 IAPS meeting. The conference will be held in Seattle, Washington (U.S.A.) between August 27th and 30th, 2009. Abstracts are welcome on any area of philosophy of sport, including metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics and ethics, and from any theoretical approach, including analytic philosophy and critical theory. In addition to abstracts for papers, proposals for round table and panel discussions, including a tentative list of participants, are also welcome and should follow the same format as paper abstracts. Graduate students and emerging scholars are encouraged to submit works in progress. Abstracts should be 300-500 words long and must be received by April 1, 2009. The preferred mode of submission is by e-mail. Please send the abstract as an attachment, preferably in Word. Contributors who do not have access to e-mail should feel free to send a hard copy instead. Please submit e-mail copies of abstracts to the Conference Chair at:

Please send hard copies (only if e-mail is not available) to:

Douglas Hochstetler
Associate Professor of Kinesiology
Penn State University, Lehigh Valley
8380 Mohr Lane
Fogelsville, PA 18051

Abstracts will be reviewed by a Program Committee of three IAPS peers. Contributors will be notified about the status of their abstracts by May 14, 2009.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In the NFL, Guilty Even When Not Guilty

The National Football League requires all persons associated with the NFL to follow a personal conduct policy (relevant excerpt and link to pdf of the complete policy below). Personal conduct policies are not unusual, but the NFL policy seemingly subjects people to a kind of double jeopardy. For example, Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos, previously subject to league discipline for multiple encounters with law enforcement, is said to be facing further discipline by the league, possibly up to an eight-game suspension (or half of the regular NFL season). His most recent crime? Well, nothing, actually. He and his fiancée were both arrested for disorderly conduct after a public argument that got physical. Charges against both were swiftly dismissed within hours. Nothing further will come from that incident as far as the law is concerned. The trouble for Marshall, however, is that according to the NFL Personal Conduct Policy, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime.”

Persons associated with the NFL are held to a higher standard. That in itself does not always seem problematic, and it is not unique to the NFL. But might the standard be too high? As it is, someone like Marshall is “guilty when accused” as far as the NFL is concerned. Such a policy seems to conflict with any normal understanding of justice. Marshall is not only required to defend himself in front of the law, but then again in front of the NFL commissioner.

Some persons, attorneys included, are beginning to take note. Attorney David Cornwell is raising some challenges to the NFL's right to discipline players (see the second link below). He refers to the NFL’s disciplinary policies as “draconian and unfair,” and argues that “The notion that a person who has a bad event is a reflection on all of us is misplaced.” He wants the NFL to be fair and also to focus on “making sure that the fan understands that the vast majority of NFL players are great community citizens.”

There are at least two relevant concerns here. First, is the policy fair? Granting that the NFL may permissibly hold persons associated with it to a higher standard, is the standard unjustifiably high? Second, even if the policy is just, is it best for the NFL? An incident like Marshall’s most recent would hardly catch much attention given how swiftly it was dropped as an issue by law enforcement. The NFL’s policy, however, gives the incident legs and focuses negative attention onto the NFL. The policy may do more harm than good to the NFL. Perhaps the NFL ought to concern itself more with offense and defense on the field, and let the legal system deal with legal offenses.

Relevant excerpt from the NFL Personal Conduct Policy: “All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid ‘conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.’…While criminal activity is clearly outside the scope of permissible conduct, and persons who engage in criminal activity will be subject to discipline, the standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher. It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the League is based, and is lawful. Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime.”

The NFL Personal Conduct Policy (pdf):

Cornwell challenging NFL's policy: