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!