Monday, December 27, 2010

Ladies Football League?

Although I'm a Brit, I do enjoy watching American Football and have wondered about the possibility of having the opportunity to play it myself one day; but not if this is the outcome:

No, the L doesn't stand for 'Ladies' but rather 'Lingerie'. Can someone tell me if this is really serious or someone's (I am presuming a man here) idea of a joke? Indeed, when one of the rules is that all players must wear low cut bra and short briefs, one wonders whether there is any point in having the helmets and shoulder pads if the rest of the body is open for contact.

The controversy raised from the clothing regulations for beach volleyball is one thing but this really takes the biscuit.

For me the issue is about the part that clothing plays in sport. Surely it should be for the benefit of the player not for the benefit of the spectators. If someone asked me to play rugby in similar attire I certainly wouldn't think that they are interested in my athletic skill and ability. And on the basis that these women are selected for their physique not their ability to play football, it makes a mockery of the game itself. And reflects a sad state of affairs if this is the only way that women's sport becomes viable as entertainment.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record"

After win No. 88 in a row was in the books, Geno Auriemma finally let loose: He thinks some people are rooting against his record-setting players because of their gender.

"I just know there wouldn't be this many people in the room if we were chasing a woman's record," the Connecticut coach said Sunday near the end of his postgame news conference. "The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men's record, and everybody is all up in arms about it."
For the rest of the story, go here.

I am hopeful that they will break the record, and receive the abundance of recognition and praise they deserve for their sustained display of excellence.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Philosophy of Sport in Non-English-Speaking Countries

The new issue of the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport contains a special section on this topic. The following countries/regions of the world are covered: Nordic countries, Japan, Chinese-speaking regions, Slavonic countries, Germany, and Latin America. This is an excellent opportunity for understanding where the discipline has come from, where it is, and where it might be headed in these parts of the world.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Football, Fame, and Fortune

This paper was just published in the online journal, The Other Journal, and is available here:

Here's a short excerpt:

The external goods that are available through participating in football (and many other practices) include fame, fortune, status, social influence, and power. Football players at the professional level often acquire a fortune and some achieve a significant amount of fame. These goods are external to football because one could play football and even achieve excellence in the sport without receiving any of these goods. In fact, in the past this was true of many of the great players who excelled prior to the escalation of salaries and media coverage of the sport. They experienced football’s internal goods but not the external ones. This shows that the external goods are not essential to football.

What is the significance of the difference between the internal and external goods when considering the relationship between football and celebrity? As I will demonstrate, in football (as well as many other sports), the pursuit of the external goods by individual players can undermine the pursuit of the internal goods of the sport, some of which are grounded in a Christian understanding of the nature of God.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What's wrong with a potential NFL lockout?

According to the organization American Rights at Work, plenty.  I received the following in an email today from this organization:

"The NFL is preparing a 'lock out' next season unless football players agree to its demands.
If there's no football season, it would impact 150,000 jobs – and cause more than $140 million in lost revenue – in each and every city with an NFL team.
Local economies will be devastated. All because of the NFL's greed.
It's easy to see how crushing a lockout would be... Picture a 60,000-seat football stadium... EMPTY. Now picture all the bars, restaurants, hotels, t-shirt shops, hot dog carts surrounding the stadium... CLOSED. And all of the stadium's janitors, vendors, and support staff... OUT OF WORK.
But the NFL and team owners don't care, because they'll still make billions. They've already signed TV contracts that will pay out even if the season is canceled.
The NFL owners' greed is unbelievable. In ditching an agreement that was working just fine, the owners actually want players to make absurd, unjustified concessions around wages and benefits – like taking away ALL healthcare benefits from players and their families.
It's only fair that NFL owners pick up the tab for these health costs when players risk their lives for the game. An average football player's career lasts only three and a half seasons – but the injuries they face on the job aren't short-lived at all. Tackles, hits, and blocks result in intense physical trauma, impacting players' health, well-being, and medical expenses far into retirement."
One area of disagreement I have with this is that the greed of the players is not addressed. Surely it isn't only the greed of the owners in play here?  However, it does seem to me that one of the wrong-making properties of a lockout is the negative economic impact in each city with an NFL team. And it does seem that healthcare benefits are obligatory, given that most players don't have long careers, with some not adequately prepared for life after football (for more on this, see Racing the Sunset, by Scott Tinley).  Even though one might argue that the players make more than enough money to cover health care expenses, I still think that healthcare benefits should be offered by the owners, perhaps as a matter of principle.

Moreover, I believe that the wealthy, which includes the owners and players, have an obligation to those whose livelihood depends on the season happening.  Whatever responsibilities there are for promoting the common good, it arguably includes avoiding a lockout, in part because of the negative impact of this on the lives of other human beings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Transgender in Sport reported today that Kye Allums, a female to male transgender, will be referred to as a "male member of George Washington's women's basketball team." This story raises interesting questions about transgender athletes and about gender and sport issues in general.

The link to the story can be found here: Transgender Kye Allums to play for GW

Should scrums be banned in rugby?

Academics at the University of Bath are currently conducting research into the biomechanical forces inherent in the rugby scrum. The rationale behind this investigation stems from a premise that the welfare of players should take precedence over all else.

The debate over whether the scrum in rugby is a safe and necessary part of the game is a perennial one which seems to polarise opinion as can be seen in the comments on The Guardian's article on this. You will get veracious advocates maintaining that one of the key values of rugby compared to the majority of other sports is that it provides an avenue for all body shapes and sizes to perform. Others will state that the front row is a highly technical part of the game that requires important mental tenacity and skills that should remain. Yet the critics point to the serious injuries and long term damage that result from the impact of antagonistic forces on the neck and spine. This is reinforced by the announced retirement of England prop, Phil Vickery, who after several neck operations was advised by doctors that if he continued to play he would do himself even more permanent damage.

There are many philosophical questions that arise from this discussion. First, how much should risk and danger be eliminated from our lives? Do we take a paternalistic stance and limit the type of activities that people can freely choose to participate in? Or do we take a libertarian approach and say that if people want to do dangerous things to themselves, even if it might cause them injury or even death, then we should let them do so?

I'm always inclined to take a libertarian approach to these types of things (although there are some issues surrounding the free choice of children and other vulnerable individuals) but the case of the tight-head prop forward is slightly more complicated than the case of the lone base-jumper. This stems around the notion of 'free choice'. It is given that there are players who relish each and every scrum as the opportunity to dominate their opposing player and provide an effective platform for the rest of the team. However, as every team knows, these types of front row players, and props in particular are hard to come by. Conduct a poll asking players what position they would ideally play and I suspect back-row and centre will come out on top. Prop forward would be at the bottom. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, it is a technical position that requires immense concentration in order to avoid discomfort at best and serious neck injury at worse. When I started playing rugby (at University) I had no idea what the positions meant and found myself put in at prop having had very limited training. My first match against Cambridge University saw me leave the pitch with three broken ribs. As soon as I recovered I moved to fly-half.

The second reason is that because of the bound nature of the position in the scrum, props (and this is certainly the case at lower levels) often don't get to appreciate the most valued and essential features of the game, that is; running, passing and tackling. By the time a front row player has extracted herself from the scrum, the ball is over the other side of the pitch and then the whistle is blown for another scrum. At the lower echelons of the game where the basic skills are weaker, front row players find themselves going from one scrum to the next with little opportunity to take part in the rest of the game. This might be accepted by the few players who feel their scrummaging skills are about all they can offer to their team but for all other players who want the opportunity to run with the ball, it is not surprising that there is often a dearth of front row forwards.

This returns us to the problem with the notion of 'free choice'. If prop forwards are difficult to find and few players openly express a desire to play there, and yet the laws of the game state that a contested scrum is a key part of the game, players may find themselves being reluctantly cajoled into playing there out of a fear of letting their team down.

A few years ago, the Premiership team Clifton was deducted points and relegated for being unable to field a front row. When this is the outcome, it would be unsurprising that players find themselves pressurised to play in these positions. And this is hardly 'free choice' is it? Yes, one could take a Sartrean position and say that the player always has a choice (The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre said that if a man held a gun to your head saying 'Your money or your life', you still had a free choice!) but we need to recognise that the pressures that players feel from being part of a team mean that they might acquiesce to things that they wouldn't do if they didn't feel these social pressures.

So what is the answer to this conundrum then? I would argue that the research conducted by the University of Bath has to be supported by a philosophical investigation into the values and aims of rugby. The results of a biomechanical analysis will offer no insight into what ought to be done. Even if it were concluded that the forces that players were subject to were great enough to cause injury, then it doesn't provide any advice as to whether this means they should be removed. The inherent risks involved in many things doesn't mean that they are banned (e.g. alcohol, cigarettes, horse riding, boxing...).

So the answer to this is to decide what it is that is fundamentally important to the game of rugby. What makes it a worthwhile and valuable sport and social activity? And do we wish to eliminate risk or manage it in other ways (e.g. better training for players, coaches and referees)? These are the questions that will really provide an answer to the place of the scrum in rugby.

N.B. There is a new book coming out in December on Ethical Issues in Sports Coaching, of which I have co-authored a chapter on Coaching Dangerous Sports.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dombrowski's Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals

I am currently working my way through Daniel Dombrowski's recent book, Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals (U Chicago Pr 2009).  I have finished his chapter on Weiss and am now reading the chapter on Huizinga.  His other major chapter discusses Feezell.  I would be interested in hearing what others have to say about the book, either here or off-blog.  thanks.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Should we watch football?

Article in yesterday's NY Times asking that question:

An excerpt:
There are some who believe that taking physical risks in pursuit of a communal goal — and even watching people take risks — has its benefits. “We learn from dangerous activities,” said W. David Solomon, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame and director of its Center for Ethics and Culture. “In life, there are clearly focused goals, with real threats. The best games mirror that. We don’t need to feel bad about not turning away from a game in which serious injuries occur. There are worse things about me than that I enjoy a game that has violence in it. I don’t celebrate injuries or hope for them to happen. That would be a different issue. That’s moral perversion.”
Sean D. Kelly, the chairman of Harvard’s philosophy department, has a book coming out in January, co-authored with the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus of the University of California, Berkeley, that argues for the value of sports in a secular society. “You can experience a kind of spontaneous joy in watching someone perform an extraordinary athletic feat,” he said when we talked last week. “It’s life-affirming. It can expand our sense of what individuals are capable of.”
He believes that it is fine to watch football as long as the gravest injuries are a “side effect” of the game, rather than essential to whatever is good about the game and worth watching.
But what if that’s not the case? What if the brain injuries are so endemic — so resistant to changes in the rules and improvements in equipment — that the more we learn the more menacing the sport will seem? Where will football, and its fans, go from there?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

CFP: Football (Soccer) in the Middle East

A call for proposals has gone out for contributions to a special journal issue, and a separate book, on Football (Soccer) in the Middle East. For details, see:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Is Cheerleading a Sport?

In an editorial called "Stuff your pompoms. This isn't sport." British columnist Victoria Coren weighs in on the "is cheer leading a sport?' debate. I like a lot what Coren has to say about feminism. When asked if she was a feminist Coren replied "My first, instinctive reply had taken the question to mean: "Do you believe in equal pay, equal rights and social freedom for all?", but, in 2010, that is surely just another way of asking: "Are you normal or a moron?" But I'm less takem by what she has to say about cheerleaders: "They aren't doing sport. They are waggling their arses near boys who are doing sport." I don't think Coren has watched much modern cheerleading. It looks pretty athletic to me.

Here's a clip from the Rick Mercer Report on the cheerleadering team from The University of Western Ontario. I'm not weighing in on complicated issues regarding funding and equal access for women's sports but the debate can't be solved simply by throwing up your hands and saying the equivalent of "I know sport when I see it and that isn't it." While I do wish that in Western's case the men's and women's uniforms were either equally skimpy or equally not, modern cheerleading is co-ed and VERY athletic.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Against Extending the NFL Season

Jeff Pearlman rightly criticizes the NFL's possible expansion of the regular season to 18 games. I, along with Pearlman, have a very difficult time seeing how this will benefit the players, all things considered.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ben Cousins went too far, but...

Ben Cousins was a great athlete, and a great AFL footballer. He is also a drug addict. Michael Burke has offered insightful commentary on the AFL’s illicit (read recreational) drug policy, and the anomalies of Cousins’ case, but he stops short of asking questions relating to illicit drug use and its actual connection to the nature and image of a sport. Phrases such as ‘role model’ and ‘good of the game’ feature prominently in these types of discussions, but I cannot seem to get over the idea that at base, it’s nobody’s goddamn business what substances a person puts into his or her body. Obviously, if those substances are performance enhancing, or said person is acting like a jackass in public (and Cousins’ antics at the back end of a five day coke bender at the Crown casino certainly qualifies here) or is a danger to others, then we have a problem. But if an athlete’s private activities do not affect performance, team morale, little Johnnie’s love of footy or ticket sales at next week’s Grand Final, why the hell are we testing him? So that he doesn’t ‘destroy himself’? One should take that type of paternalism to their regional gymnastics competitions where young girls are missing their periods, popping shoulders and snapping Achilles tendons like they’re chewing gum. “Oh”, comes the mutter in between mouthfuls of prawn sandwich, “the game suffers.” What? A set of rules and conventions concerning an oval ball suffers because of what Ben Cousins puts up his nose? I think what that really means is that some sacred cow - some false idol – suffers. And it suffers because of what all us ‘fans’ invest in it. ‘The game’ means ‘My Game’. And not only do we sanctify the game, but our worship of it gives birth to monsters. Our obsessions breed unbalanced demigods, born without moral compasses, as deficient in common sense as they are blessed with athletic genius. Their ambrosia, it seems, is served in a poisoned chalice. For those of you with a sense of hmour keen for a look into the belly of the beast, I recommend the Real Tiger Woods Apology: WARNING: Don’t watch if easily offended.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cheerleading and Title IX

Interesting news link on Quinnipiac University's attempt to abide by the Title IX legislation by maintaining that Cheerleading is a sport.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Success of Lance Armstrong

The success of Lance Armstrong on the bike in the Tour de France is unprecedented.  His record of seven victories seems more amazing now, given not only the physical and mental skill that such a record reveals, but the luck that it also required (the lack of crashes, mechanical failures, and injuries). While there is no lack of controversy surrounding Lance (e.g. "Pharmstrong"), he might be right that he is the most tested athlete on the planet, and yet he has never tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances.

But is Lance Armstrong a success? In the forthcoming book I co-edited with Jesús Ilundáin Agurruza, Cycling - Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force, Greg Bassham and Chris Krall address this question. As they point out, on many classical and medieval theories of success, the answer to this question is "no".  Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, the Stoics, and Epicurus would of course disagree on many things, but Lance falls short of each of their notions of success.

But on a contemporary view discussed by Bassham and Krall, Lance is clearly a success. Philosopher Thomas Morris offers a theory of success which he calls the 3-D Approach to Life:
-Discover your positive talents.
-Develop the most meaningful and beneficial of those talents.
-Deploy your talents into the world for the good of others and yourself.

There is much more in this chapter about this and other theories of success, but in brief it is clear that on the 3-D Approach, Lance is a success. First, he has discovered his positive talents. In Texas, where football reigns, Lance discovered his abilities in the endurance sports of running, swimming, and cycling. He had to work to excel at these sports, and work he did. Over time, it became clear that Lance had amazing abilities and great potential on the bike, and with the help of Chris Carmichael and others, and after a battle with cancer, he became perhaps the greatest rider in the history of the Tour de France. Not only did he develop his talent, he has deployed it for good in his battle against cancer through the Livestrong Foundation.

Lance Armstrong is not a perfect human being, but in many of the ways that matter, he is a success.  Lance is an extraordinarily successful human being, but not because he has made incredible amounts of money, dated Sheryl Crow, and achieved celebrity status. Rather, he is a success because he has discovered and developed his talents, and then deployed them in a way that serves the common good.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Guest Post: MMA Ban and Economic Hard Times

Mixed Martial Arts Legislation in NY Would Spur New Economic Activity
By Alexia Krause

With the New York state deficit hitting $8 billion, steps need to be taken in order to right the ship that is the state's budget. Recently New York Gov. David Paterson stated that the projected deficit for the upcoming fiscal year has grown by an additional $750 million. There's no doubting that the Empire State is in dire straits trying to fix their deficit. It is extremely difficult trying to balance a state budget at a time when the country as a whole is going through some of its most difficult economic hurdles in recent history. This forces us to take a fresh look at which programs will continue to receive funding. As a result, the state has been forced to cut, reject, and outright shut down many state programs and projects in order to make some type of movement out of the red and back into the black. Many of these budget cuts (like closing down state parks and cutting funding to public schools) were rampant and have cast an unfavorable light on politicians in Albany in the eyes of many New Yorkers. However, something must be done in order to fight the ailing state economy. As coincidence has it, a good fight might just be the answer to the budget problems.

On June 16th, the New York State Senate passed a bill to legalize MMA in the state in an effort to help amend the state's financial problems. Opening the floodgates for MMA in New York would be more of a benefit to the state than it would to the MMA Industry. For years, promoters have happily held venues in nearby New Jersey. Mixed martial arts competitions like UFC, among others, have been banned in the state because many lawmakers felt it was too brutal of a sport (even though other legal sports like football and hockey can be just as- if not more- brutal). With the passing of this new bill, fans will finally be able to support their home state and local venues. MMA events would potentially have access to one of the most active metropolises in the world- New York City. There are dozens of great venues surrounding the state who have been capitalizing on this opportunity for years. At the UFC's most recent event held in New Jersey, there were more New York residents in attendance than NJ natives. Fortunately state legislators have finally come to the realization that legalizing MMA will open access to a new revenue stream that it gravely needs.

By welcoming MMA in the state, as much as $11 million in economic activity could be generated for each event held. This activity ranges from salaries paid to venue workers, to an increased interest in martial arts training academies and dojos, and to tourism dollars spent in the surrounding area. At every step of the way, tax revenue is generated. Governor Paterson expects over $2 million generated annually if the bill is passed. The MMA organization UFC (who would play a large role in scheduling events in the state) is broadcasted in over 170 countries, made $5.1 million in Pay-Per-View sales in 2007 alone, and averaged 30.6 million viewers in that same year. This is 3 years ago mind you; the figures projected for the next fiscal year are much higher. This type of outreach is bound to benefit the state and bring thousands to events, thus helping the economies of struggling New York state cities.

Holding events isn't the only way that this bill will help bring money to the state of New York. In fact, the broad reach of allowing MMA to be legalized is something that will affect participants in the sport from top to bottom. For example, people who run mixed martial training gyms and programs will see a huge revenue generating boost in enrollment that will give many the chance to train and compete in their home state. This bill may even have the effect of preventing violence instead of causing it (which opponents of the bill argue) because it will allow many kids to go someplace safe after school. Studies have shown that when at-risk children are trained by mentors in a disciplined sport such as MMA, they are less likely to become involved in criminal or violent activities. This is one of the most important aspects of the bill from a human perspective, and one of the greatest reasons why this bill needs to be passed.

Every once in a while, a sport can transcend its origins and become a true cultural phenomenon. This is what MMA could be for the state of New York and that is precisely why this bill needs to be passed. The New York budget is going through one of its worst economic times ever, but by legalizing MMA, it can help to fight back against the deficit and make a difference in the lives of millions of New Yorkers.

As of the morning of June 29th, 2010, the state assembly quashed the proposed bill which would legalize the sport. The efforts to block MMA in the state are led by a Mr. Bob Reilly, Assemblyman of the 109th district. You can read some of his stances in an interview conducted by Ben Fowlkes of last year. If you visit that link, pay careful attention to his inconsistencies and question-dodging. This man claims to be a lifelong fan of boxing, but some of his comments in that interview are quite surprising.

Although this decision is a big setback for the industry, this is not the final word for the measure. New York is one of only 6 states which blindly ignore this sport. With your support, new revenue and jobs can be still be created.

Alexia is a lifelong fan of sports and fitness. Recently, she's been smitten by Mixed Martial Arts. She is happy to be representing MMA Industries, proud suppliers of MMA training gloves to athletes around the world. Alexia continues to bring you the latest news in the mixed martial arts world on everything from the most advanced MMA equipment to the newest MMA shirts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why should Americans Care about the Tour de France?

The obvious answer: America’s cycling pride, Lance, rides again! If he wins this will be the comeback of the century. Since he’s no spring chicken, this appeals to those who chase youth up the ever-steeper road of life. Yet, this smacks of tabloid sensationalism: it isn’t about the Tour but a Texan cyclist with an attitude. I would like to presume a deeper value for cycling’s flagship event. Under scrutiny, the idea of men with shaved legs racing in loud tight spandex being a tough sell for Americans is a caricature that fizzles like a punctured tube. Nonetheless, I want to ride away from it, providing reasons to care about the Tour for the next two weeks, and beyond. Focusing on the Tour and the sport of cycling avoids following unwise wheels that misuse our inquiry as mere means for gossipy publications, balm for existential apprehensions, or outlet for jingoist vindications.

Let’s start into the wind, facing reasons why Americans might not care. For many cycling belongs elsewhere, places where getting an apple pie slice requires the word tarte. Americans have forgotten that around 1900 cycling was the apple pie of sports in the US. They filled velodromes and bet so passionately that comparatively Vegas had the attraction of escargots for breakfast. How about the sartorially convoluted Tour classifications, with all those different jerseys and races within the race? Compared to the American “Holy Triad,” La Grande Boucle is simpler than a pacifier’s mechanism. Football’s rules are positively Byzantine, baseball’s statistics challenge mathematics Ph. D.’s, and basketball’s play-off system surpasses the Plantagenet genealogical chart’s intricacy. At the Tour all you need to know is who’s wearing yellow, determined by cumulative time. The rest are details. Well, as many sports pundits charge, in a move sure to win sophisticated readers, bikes are toys that don’t require athletic ability. To boot they question Lance’s athleticism. Like poorly laced wheels that bust a spoke on the first pothole, this shows a narrow taste in matters athletic, reveals superficial cycling knowledge, and may be evidence of the childhood resentment of slow pokes.

Time to turn around and, with the tailwind, elicit reasons to care. This year’s Tour is awash in Greek tragedy worthy drama: with only a few stages underway, crashes have maimed the peloton, including top contenders Frank Schleck and American Christian Vande Velde; the feud between Armstrong and Spaniard Alberto Contador has intensified, the plot thickening as Lance trails his nemesis by a minute after a third stage where the cobblestones played their brutal role to perfection. (Americans love an underdog, particularly one that can bark and bite, and Armstrong fits the bill now); formidable challengers Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck (Frank’s younger, more talented brother), Bradley Wiggins, and other dark horses ready to bolt ahead, vie for the throne; the “weather gods” bring plenty of fickleness; the terrain poses challenges that would make Achilles’ knees wobble; hidden hazards act as Deus ex machina, whimsically enthroning and dethroning. Truly, the winner’s hold on the yellow fleece is as tenuous as the tires’ flimsy square-inch grip. This means great sporting suspense.

To take a bicycle-eulogizing detour that connects with the Tour momentarily. Bicycles aren’t just the most efficient means of transportation but—should we follow novelist-philosopher Iris Murdoch’s lead—also the most civilized. Catching Hemingway’s draft we read that we best learn the contours of a country on a bicycle as we sweat and feel every rise and drop. Besides, riding makes you sexier and smarter, as empirical research shows. While these extrinsic reasons are very nice, what makes the wheels spin is the sheer fun of pedaling a bike, one of life’s greatest yet simplest pleasures. Riding helps us connect more deeply with the Tour, and the race motivates us to pedal higher, longer, swifter. In these “lowest common denominator” days when doctors recommend minimum amounts of exercise and dietary discipline, as if low expectations ever cajoled anyone into trying harder, Tour cyclists show us the possibilities and dare us to surpass ourselves with their inspiring exertions. Americans who tune in will find themselves loving the Tour, and maybe even spinning their wheels!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

FIFA and goal line technology

Following an obvious (to all but the referee and line judges) but disallowed goal by Frank Lampard in England's 4-1 loss to Germany in the Football World Cup, FIFA's president Sepp Blatter has now accepted that there may be a place for goal line technology. The argument given by FIFA in the past is that such technology would unduly disrupt the flow of game and possibly prevent the opposition scoring from a counter-attack. However, as was often seen in other sports that are now using technology to determine outcomes, when replays of events show within seconds whether the officials have made the correct decision, it is the refusal of governing bodies to embrace its use that undermine the authority of officials and not the other way around. However, whether FIFA are serious about reconsidering their position that they so definitively took in March, or whether they are merely trying to sooth the sore feelings of those on the receiving end of an incorrect decision is up for question, as they have also said that instant replays of controversial events should not be shown on the big screen. It follows a goal by Tevez for Argentina against Mexico which stood despite Tevez being considerably off-side before he played the ball. It led to confrontations between opposing players after it was immediately shown on the big screen in the stadium. If technology was used to assist the making of decisions then this ruling would not be necessary.

Interestingly enough, I am always surprised by the way in which my students tend to side with FIFA's position on this. The reason they give for not implementing goal-line technology? That controversial goals and decisions provide something for them to argue about in the pub after a game. If they really want subject to argue about, then I can think of much better ones...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Online debate about allowing Performance Enhancing Drugs in sport

Readers may be interested in the online debate from Oxford University regarding the question of allowing performance enhancing drugs in sport. Professor Julian Savulescu uses the example of the Tour de France to support his proposal for allowing the use of (some) doping methods whereas Dr John William Devine rejects this on the grounds of undermining the integrity and value of sport. It is proving to be an excellent example of philosophical argument in action and on a subject that fires the interest and opinion of many of us in the general population.

You can view the whole debate here and are also able to join the debate and provide comments of your own.

Sport and character

Readers of this blog may be interested in three recent posts at my blog at Psychology Today, Ethics for Everyone:

Do sports really build character?

Sports and Moral Development

How can character be built through sports?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sport and Society

Readers of this blog might be interested in the blog Sport and Society, which includes "Commentary about sport from the Center for ETHICS*, University of Idaho, the leading research center in the world in curriculum development and research about moral reasoning and moral development of athletes and coaches."

Recent posts include:
How do we justify pay for football coaches?
Reflections on John Wooden's Coaching Style
Would you cheat for $385,000?

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Robust Definition of a Sport

In doing some reading in another context, I came across the following minimum criteria for something to be a sport:

“An activity is not a sport unless there are challenges to be overcome and a clear set of rules about how to confront these challenges.” -- J P Spiro (2008) Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison

This was offered as a way to distinguish a "sportsman" from a "market hunter" in the US in the late 1800s. But it got me to wondering if it has a more general application. Clearly, the two criteria--challenges and clear rules--are not sufficient to define a sport, but are they necessary?

I am sure that ground has been broken on the question of what makes a sport a sport, so pointers to that literature would be greatly appreciated.

Oxford Online Debates: Drugs in sport

As reported on Oxford's Practical Ethics:

Drugs in Sport debate and special edition

Over the next month Oxford Online Debates will be tackling the motion "Performance enhancing drugs should be allowed in sport". We will try to collect together relevant materials and blog posts below in this special edition.

Continue reading "Drugs in Sport debate and special edition" »

Moderated by Roger Crisp, who in his opening statement writes, "Taking drugs to improve one’s sporting performance seems, on the face of it, a paradigmatic example of a wrong action. It combines two activities usually considered shameful: the use of banned substances, and cheating."

"But on closer inspection the issue is more complicated," Crisp continues. "The use of some drugs, such as nicotine or caffeine (both of which might enhance performance in some cases), carries little or no stigma, and the charge of cheating would be inappropriate were the drugs in question explicitly permitted."

Should be an interesting discussion.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Football/Soccer Lecture at the Royal Society, London

This might be of some interest to those in the London area:

An Amateur in a Professional Game: Sir Harold Thompson FRS, the FA and English Football

Date: 11 June 2010

Start Time: 1.30pm
Venue: The Royal Society, London

Sir Harold Thompson (1908-1983), as well as being a distinguished physical chemist and Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, is an important but neglected figure in the history of English football. He is perhaps now best remembered in terms of his association with the failure of the England national team in the 1970s; as the man who played a key role in the sacking of Alf Ramsey as England manager in 1974 and the vetoing of the appointment of public favourite Brian Clough in 1977.

If we delve a little deeper, however, Thompson’s footballing biography is revealing of the changing traditions and priorities of the English game in the post-war years. Based on the personal papers he left to the Royal Society, this talk will examine Harold Thompson’s life in, and influence on, English football and the Football Association. It will discuss his amateur background and his role in the foundation of the combined Oxford and Cambridge Universities side Pegasus FC; his contributions to international football politics and the development of a national coaching infrastructure during the 1970s; and his rise to influence and power at the FA, culminating in his chairmanship between 1976 and 1981.

Speakers: Professor Matthew Taylor and Dr Neil Carter, International Centre for Sport History and Culture, De Montfort University

To reserve your seat at this free event please contact Rupert Baker ( Audience members are very welcome to stay on afterwards for a live screening of the opening game of the World Cup, South Africa v Mexico, which kicks off at 3:00pm.

Rupert Baker
Library Manager

Tel +44 (0)20 7451 2599
Fax +44 (0)20 7930 2170

The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
London SW1Y 5AG

The Royal Society's Library and Archives are closed until June 2010 as we undergo an exciting redevelopment - please see for more information.

Registered Charity No 207043
See further with the Royal Society in 2010 – celebrate 350 years of excellence in science

Thursday, June 3, 2010

MLB and Instant Replay

The commentary on last night's Detroit Tiger game--the perfect game that wasn't--has been terrific, including comments by fans made on the CNN site ("Selig to Examine Umpiring, Replay After 'Perfect' Error"). In response to one fan's argument that "IF Selig overrules the call – the batter is out, he loses his 'hit' and the perfect game is intact. The batter that followed him then gets his at bat (and out) taken off the books as the game was already over," a fan identified as Mutt2000 writes in response:
"I disagree. You don't fix a mistake by pretending it didn't happen (just doing it again). You fix a mistake by doing something proactive to right the wrong that was done. Sports are important because they teach life lessons on how to function as a society. If we introduce the life lesson of 'that one didn't count', , , , then we lower the standards by which we perceive truth and fairness. June 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm"
Love this debate . . . what do baseball fans have to say about expanding the role of instant replay to overturn umpires' calls in baseball?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Soccer and Philosophy, part 1

Ted Richards, editor of Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game, wanted to pass along the following via this blog:

Hello All,

In February, 2009 I posted a CFA for Soccer(Football) & Philosophy. The response and support for the project was overwhelming. The book, Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game, is now widely available, and the pre-release response has been extremely favorable.

I want to publicly thank all those who submitted abstracts, suggested authors to contact, passed on the CFA, and supported this project in all the various ways throughout the process. Without your help, the book would be much poorer.

Thank you!

From Mike Austin: I'll be posting a review of the book in the next month or so. From what I've seen so far, it looks to be of interest to fans of the game and those with interest in the philosophical aspects of sport.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What is a sport philosopher?

The New York Times started a column titled, "The Stone," a "forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless." In the opening column, Simon Critchley asks: what is a philosopher? Critchley writes that, in part, "The freedom of the philosopher consists in either moving freely from topic to topic or simply spending years returning to the same topic out of perplexity, fascination and curiosity." On the other hand, philosophers may, at times, "fall into wells and appear silly." What is a sport philosopher then? Or should we ask, what is a philosopher of sport? How do terms explain our discipline, especially to those non-philosophers around us?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sport and Social Progress

This is a nice column by Howard Bryant on, dealing with attitudes towards women and the recent episodes involving Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger. It is hopeful that some progress has been made here with respect to attitudes towards women, but as Bryant points out, we've got a ways to go.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Philosopher's Football Match

A re-enactment of the Monty Python's football match between the Germans and the Greeks is taking place on Sunday May 9th in North London. It is the idea of the Philosophy Shop which brings philosophy to primary school children; its purpose is to highlight the importance of developing philosophical and critical thinking.

Many notable philosophers, comedians, ex-sports players and journalists will be taking part, including AC Grayling (German manager), Graham Taylor (Greek manager), Julian Baggini, Tony Hawks, and Nigel Warburton (referee). From the philosophy of sport, Jim Parry and Stephen Mumford will be playing, as well as myself.

It should be a great day out and for those of you unable to come, some commentary will be available on BBC Radio5live sports extra.

For tickets, more information, and the original Monty Python sketch visit:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ethics and the Ancient Olympics

 Philosophy of Sport contributor Jesus Ilundain will give a presentation entitled "The Ancient Olympic Games: Ethics and the Clash at Thermopylea," with the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life.
The presentation can be watched online and viewers can chat at

Wednesday April 14
6:00 pm

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Call for Papers

International Association for the Philosophy of Sport in conjunction with the APA Eastern Division Meeting December 27-30, 2010, at the Boston Marriott Copley Place.

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport invites the submission of papers to be considered for presentation at the 2010 APA Eastern Division Meeting. Papers are welcome on any area of philosophy of sport from any theoretical approach. Presenters must be members of both APA and IAPS and pay regular conference registration fees. For more information on IAPS, go to

Papers should be no more than 10 pages in length, 20 minutes reading time. Only 300-500 word abstracts are required for consideration. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is May 15, 2010. Abstracts should be submitted as attachments by e-mail [.doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf format] to Only those contributors who do not have access to e-mail should send a hard copy to Joan Grassbaugh Forry at the address below.
Submitting authors will be notified of the acceptance or rejection of their papers by May 30, 2010.

Dr. Joan Grassbaugh Forry
Vanderbilt University
111 Furman Hall
Nashville, TN 37240

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NASCAR encouraging crashes?

The following pieces on Sports about NASCAR's new "have at it" philosophy of allowing drivers more discretion for aggressive moves.

Danger very much alive in NASCAR after weak slap at Carl Edwards

NASCAR stands by greater driver leeway in Edwards-Keselowski crash

From the first article by Lars Anderson:

In the end, NASCAR got exactly what it wanted: The re-injection of danger -- and the specter of death -- into its sport.

Let's review. This past offseason, NASCAR announced it would no longer vigorously police the on-track behavior of drivers. If one had a beef with another, well, NASCAR said it would essentially turn a blind eye to whatever a driver did to achieve retribution. As Robin Pemberton, the vice president of competition, said this winter, "We will put it back in the hands of drivers, and we will say, 'Boys, have at it.'"

This brings us to Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Early in the event, Carl Edwards, a four-time winner in Atlanta, was bumped from behind by Brad Keselowski, which sent Edwards into the wall, wiping out any chance Edwards had of taking the checkers.

Here a governing body is adopting a stance that many fear will lead to increased injuries or death for drivers and even spectators, all in the name of heightening interest in the sport. The "have at it" philosophy appears to be achieving that goal.

The drivers themselves seem upset that NASCAR is seemingly encouraging risky driving. But I am wondering about a NASCAR fan at trackside who is injured or killed by a crash. Would that dead spectator have fulfilled the conditions of informed consent by choosing to sit in such a risky spot given the danger?