Thursday, December 20, 2012

Human Hands Evolved So We Could Box...

..according the the New ScientistDavid Carrier at the University of Utah suggests that the opposable thumb didn't so much give our ancestors an advantage in tool making and manipulation, but rather enabled the creation of a fist utilising the thumb as a buttress which produces greater striking force.

Somehow, I'm sceptical.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Not quite the trolley problem . . .

but still a good dilemma.

Popovich angers Stern by resting Spurs' stars, but it's the right call

I love a good ethical dilemma, and Gregg Popovich gave us a great one Thursday night. He benched four of his top players -- Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green -- for a national TV game against the Miami Heat.

Popovich has benched Duncan numerous times before, because while they may build a statue of Duncan one day, they don't want him to play like one in May. But Parker is 30. Green is 25. What kind of a world is this when a 25-year-old professional basketball player needs rest? Go tell the guys on the 5 a.m. shift at the nearest assembly line that Green needed to rest.

Before the opening tip, this looked like an unofficial forfeit -- giving up one game to improve your chances of winning the next.

It seemed to go against the one fundamental principle we hold for all our sports: Everybody must try.

But did it?

Or was Popovich not only within his rights, but simply right?
Read more at .

Friday, September 28, 2012

CFA: Fandom, Fantasy, and Fitness

Call for Abstracts
Fandom, Fantasy, and Fitness
The 2nd Annual Rockford College Sports Studies Symposium
Date: April 19, 2013
Grace Roper Lounge
Rockford College
5050 E. State. St.
Rockford, IL 61108

Fans play a central role at all levels and within various aspects of sport, so any study of sport would do well to consider their influences in connection to fandom, fantasy, and fitness. A specific and growing area of fandom, fantasy sports, illustrates a concrete and complex way fans relate to and even affect sport. Moreover, the implicit and explicit connection of sport to fitness offers another important way that fans interact with sport. This year’s symposium seeks to explore and examine these aspects of the relationship between fan and sport.

We invite scholars from all disciplines to submit an abstract on these themes. This symposium will then bring together several panels of scholars to discuss these themes. The focus of each panel will depend, in part, on the submitted abstracts. Each presenter on a panel will have 20 minutes for their presentation. This will be followed by 30 minutes of a combined Q&A.

Abstract Submission:
Submissions are welcome on this theme of Fandom, Fantasy, and Fitness, or other related issues arising in the study of Sport. Abstract should be 300-500 words. Send via email (as PDF) to
Deadline: Friday, January 25th, 2013.
Notification of Acceptance: Monday, February 4th, 2013.

If you have any questions, please email, contact Shawn Klein (Assistant Professor, Philosophy Department) at 815-226-4115, or Michael Perry (Assistant Professor, English Department) at 815-226-4098.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Philosophy of Running

See this link for an upcoming conference on the philosophy of running.

And see this link for a book (my book, couldn't resist) on this theme.

Here are some more details about the conference:

The University of Sheffield, in collaboration with the Open University and the Royal Institute of Philosophy, is organising two public events for philosophers and runners, and interested public, dedicated to an exploration of the philosophy of running.
Questions that will undoubtedly arise include, Why run? What sort of value does running have?  What might running tell us about intentions and effort? What is philosophically distinctive about running?
Each event will include talks by a couple of running philosophers (see who we are). And then a roundtable discussion with the great and the good from the running community (see the Sheffield Event and the Brighton Event).
The events are free.
… but it’d be good if you can register so we make sure we have enough coffee and cake.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

IAPS session at the Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association

 If you would like to present a paper at a session sponsored by IAPS, email an abstract of 250 words or less to Mike Austin, Each paper will be allotted 30 minutes reading time, and 20 minutes for discussion.

The 2013 APA Central Division meeting will be held at the Riverside Hilton hotel, New Orleans, Wednesday, February 20 to Saturday, February 23, 2013. The IAPS Group Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23.

Deadline for receipt of abstracts is September 25, 2012.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Do sports build character or damage it?

Just ran across this essay by Mark Edmundson in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  An excerpt:
All too often, the players who go all out on the field but can't readily turn it off elsewhere are the best players. They're the most headlong, the most fearless, the most dedicated. And when they encounter a modulated, more controlled antagonist in a game, often they, the more brutal players, win.
Lawrence Taylor was one of the best players ever to appear in the National Football League. With his speed and ferocity, and his ability to run down the opposing quarterback, he made football into a different, more violent game. But he was often as much in a fury off the field as on. By his own account, Taylor led the life of a beast—drunk, brawling, high on coke, speeding in his car: He was a peril to anyone who came near him.
His coach, Bill Parcells, allowed him to cultivate this off-field character, knowing that it contributed to his prowess when he played. If the best players are the ones who are the least controlled, the ones in whom passion for pre-eminence trumps reason, then it is not entirely clear that one can say what American coaches and boosters love to say, that sports builds character. If having a good character means having a coherent, flexible internal structure, where the best part rules over the most dangerous, then sports may not always be conducive to true virtue.
Read the entire essay here

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Sports Ethicist

The Sports Ethicist

Readers of this blog might be interested in a new blog, The Sports Ethicist:

Whether one is a participant, a casual spectator, a die-hard fan, or a critic, sport, in all its varieties and forms, play a significant role in the lives of most people through out the world. Sports and competitions have long been a part of human civilization and raise a wide range of important philosophical and ethical issues. This blog will examine these issues and explore both the ethical implications of sport and the ways sport can teach us about ethics and human life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Olympics and Philosophy: Publication Announcement

The Olympics and Philosophy is now available in physical and Kindle formats. The book is divided into 6 parts: The Ideal Olympian, Ancient Heritage, Modern Ideals, Ethical Issues, Race and Gender Issues, and Political Power. The chapters include Olympic figures Jesse Owens, Emil Zatopek, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Wilma Rudolph and philosophers Jane English, Aristotle, and Edmund Husserl, among others. There are discussions of Olympic boxing, soccer/football, women's beach volleyball, and various athletic events.

From the publisher's description:

It is said the champions of the ancient Olympic Games received a crown of olive leaves, symbolizing a divine blessing from Nike, the winged goddess of victory. While the mythology of the ancient games has come to exemplify the highest political, religious, community, and individual ideals of the time, the modern Olympic Games, by comparison, are widely known as an international, bi-annual sporting event where champions have the potential to earn not only glory for their country, but lucrative endorsement deals and the perks of worldwide fame. The Olympics and Philosophy examines the Olympic Movement from a variety of theoretical perspectives to uncover the connection between athleticism and philosophy for a deeper appreciation of the Olympic Pillars of Sport, Environment, and Culture.

While today's Olympic champions are neither blessed by the gods nor rewarded with wreaths of olive, the original spirit and ancient ideals of the Olympic Movement endure in its modern embodiment. Editors Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin have assembled a team of international scholars to explore topics such as the concept of excellence, ethics, doping, gender, and race. Interweaving ancient and modern Olympic traditions, The Olympics and Philosophy considers the philosophical implications of the Games' intersection with historical events and modern controversy in a unique analysis of tradition and the future of the Olympiad.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Royal Institute of Philosophy: London Lectures on Philosophy of Sport

During 2011-2012, the London Lectures sponsored by The Royal Institute of Philosophy were on the topic of the philosophy of sport.

Many of these are now available on video at the RIP's website, with more to come.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nationality, Eligibility and British Wrestling

Readers might be interested in an article in The Guardian on the controversy surrounding Eastern European wrestlers who have been fast tracked into competing for GB in the forthcoming Olympics.

British Wrestling's chairman, Malcolm Morley said, "The only countries with a wealth of talent are the eastern bloc countries. Some of the athletes we brought over wanted to compete in international competition. The only way they could do so was to transfer allegiance to Great Britain. Who can stop them living their dream? We've got to do the best for our sport at the end of the day."
Whilst The Guardian's Owain Gibson notes, "The debate cuts to the heart of issues around Britain's medal hopes and how they are funded, while embracing emotive questions of national identity and sporting fairness."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Temperance and Sport

A recent article at the New York Times discusses temperance in the context of sport. Here is the intro to the article, which is very short:

IF only I had read Plato.
That’s what I thought when I saw my MRI: 28 images, impossible to deny, of a torn rotator cuff muscle — a consequence of years of weightlifting. And that’s just my shoulder. May I present C4, C5 and C6 (my herniated discs), my plantar fasciitis, my patellar tendinitis — residual damage done to a body, now 51, in the name of exercise, in pursuit of being buff.
Plato could have warned me. In “The Republic,” he advises “temperance” in physical training, likening it to learning music and poetry. Keep it “simple and flexible,” as in all things, don’t overdo. Follow this course, and you will remain “independent of medicine in all but extreme cases.”

There are many interesting issues here, but I'm reminded of an ultrarunner in the Boulder area from my grad school days who would pop large amounts of ibuprofen before a race because of the pain and damage done to his body. This is risky, if memory serves. Speaking from the philosopher's armchair, I believe that there are some similar non-temperate traits at work in people devoted to philosophy and physical exercise/sport. A similar "obsessive-ness" can be at work in both pursuits. I speak from experience here.

With respect to sport, there is wisdom in a temperate approach. I don't think it is always easy to determine when one's participation in sport exceeds what might be thought of as temperate. There are clear cases, of course, but others that are not so clear. Some may think ultrarunning is a case of intemperance, but I would argue that this is not necessarily so. I recall many ultrarunners who argued that even if it was bad for their bodies over the long haul, or even if it took years off of their lives, they would prefer to engage in the sport while possible because of the quality of life that this yielded for them. And I can understand this sentiment. I no longer have aspirations to run an ultramarathon because of back surgery several years ago, but I would like to do a century on my road bike in the next few years.

Ultimately, whether or not one is taking a temperate approach to sport will not only depend upon the physical impact, but upon one's other commitments in life as well. Some phases of life or forms of life allow one more freedom than others. I couldn't train for an ultra right now even if I wanted to and maintain my family, work and other commitments in a satisfactory manner. Others can. This is consistent with Aristotle's views about virtue and the mean, as he argues that the mean will vary given the particular circumstances of one's life. The lesson, perhaps, is to reflect upon the role sport is playing (and should play) in one's life, and to make whatever changes are appropriate.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sport and Artificial Intelligence

Some UK viewers might have seen the recent BBC Horizon programme on Artificial Intelligence which was a remarkable account of the current abilities of cutting edge computers. However, despite computers having surpassed human ability in many areas (memory, calculations, even general knowledge of trivia) they struggle in many areas where humans excel including the ability to learn new skills - particularly that of kinaesthetic skill development. The programme's presenter, Marcus Du Sautoy, demonstrated how he was able to learn the new skill of balancing across a tightrope with an ease which a machine would find nigh on impossible if they had a body equivalent to ours. This thought led me to a quick online search which produced the 2012 robot football cup which shows you how far machines have to go with being as graceful and skillful as a human player. Nevertheless, even if machines were developed to play football with the same skill as a human, the question remains whether they would have any interest in doing so - what would they need in order to hold the lusory attitude that is so vital in sport?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 IAPS Conference - Call for Papers

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport invites the submission of abstracts to be considered for presentation at the 40th annual 2011 IAPS meeting. The conference will be held September 12-15, 2012 in Porto, Portugal.

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. While IAPS recognizes, values, and encourages interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies, acceptance is contingent on the philosophical content of the project. Emerging scholars are encouraged to submit works in progress.

A Program Committee of three IAPS peers will review abstracts. Contributors will be notified about the status of their abstracts by May 14, 2012

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.


IAPS is proud to announce the “R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award.” Interested undergraduate and graduate students should submit a full paper by June 15, 2012 (in addition to an abstract, see below).  A separate announcement is posted at the IAPS website <> .

Abstracts should be 300-500 words long, in English, and must be received by April 2, 2012. Please, follow the following instructions (incomplete proposals will be returned).  Provide:

  1. Name, E-mail, current position, and employer
  2. Title of Program
  3. Key Words (three to five)
  4. Primary Content Area/s (choose no more than 2)

    1. Ethics                                    d.   Epistemology                        g.   Applied
    2. Metaphysics                          e.   Phenomenology                     h.   History
    3. Aesthetics                             f.   Comparative                            i.   Other (explain)

  1. Indicate special Audio-Visual requirements (computer & projector will be provided)

The preferred mode of submission is by e-mail.

Please send the abstract blind-review ready as an attachment, preferably in Word, to the Conference Chair at: <>

Contributors who lack access to e-mail may send a hard copy instead to the following address:

           Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza
           IAPS Conference Chair
          Associate Professor of Philosophy
           Linfield College
           900 SE Baker St., Unit 580
           McMinnville, OR 97128 (USA)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Youth Soccer: Club or School?

In order to improve international competitiveness the United States Soccer Federation has decided to modify the club team system in a way that prevents young athletes from playing for their high school teams.  According to a recent N.Y. Times article, this decision has caused some controversy, not least because it highlights a conflict in youth sports between the priorities of athletic and educational development.  The club teams claim that they are at least as committed to players’ education as the schools are. 

Is there any special educational benefit to playing sports on school teams as opposed to club teams?   One may be the experience of representing one’s school and local community. Although college and professional players rarely hail from the places they play for, high school athletes generally do and, as H.G. Bissinger’s great book Friday Night Lights illustrates, participation in these teams makes youngsters aware of their membership in and responsibility to local communities.  Though Bissinger’s book is about football in Texas, the experience of other high school athletes contains similar lessons—albeit on a less intense scale.

To be sure, many (if not most) young athletes are motivated by dreams of professional and international play.  They are willing to sacrifice the chance to represent their schools, in the hopes of someday representing their country.  But there is an extremely small probability that their professional dreams will be realized.  Youth sports need to offer some additional benefit to the overwhelming majority of young athletes they serve.  This is true even of development clubs sponsored by pro teams and national federations.  The question is whether the more-focused club system in fact has educational benefits equivalent or superior to those of high-school teams—or are they selling out the masses in order to feed the professional leagues?

by Heather Reid

Friday, February 17, 2012

Brooks on "The Jeremy Lin Problem"

David Brooks has a thoughtful essay in today's New York Times about Jeremy Lin and religion. An excerpt:

For many religious teachers, humility is the primary virtue. You achieve loftiness of spirit by performing the most menial services. (That’s why shepherds are perpetually becoming kings in the Bible.) You achieve your identity through self-effacement. You achieve strength by acknowledging your weaknesses. You lead most boldly when you consider yourself an instrument of a larger cause.

The most perceptive athletes have always tried to wrestle with this conflict. Sports history is littered with odd quotations from people who try to reconcile their love of sport with their religious creed — and fail.

Jeremy Lin has wrestled with this tension quite openly. In a 2010 interview with the Web site Patheos, Lin recalled, “I wanted to do well for myself and my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God?”

Lin says in that interview that he has learned not to obsess about stats and championships. He continues, “I’m not working hard and practicing day in and day out so that I can please other people. My audience is God. ... The right way to play is not for others and not for myself, but for God. I still don’t fully understand what that means; I struggle with these things every game, every day. I’m still learning to be selfless and submit myself to God and give up my game to Him.”

The odds are that Lin will never figure it out because the two moral universes are not reconcilable. Our best teacher on these matters is Joseph Soloveitchik, the great Jewish theologian. In his essays “The Lonely Man of Faith” and “Majesty and Humility” he argues that people have two natures. First, there is “Adam the First,” the part of us that creates, discovers, competes and is involved in building the world. Then, there is “Adam the Second,” the spiritual individual who is awed and humbled by the universe as a spectator and a worshipper.

I would love to hear reactions to Brooks's discussion of the "Jeremy Lin Problem."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trash-talking, Racism & Football

Recent incidents (Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra and John Terry/Anton Ferdinand) have elevated awareness of racial abuse in English Premier League football.

Luis Suarez, a player for Liverpool FC, was banned for eight matches by the Football Association and was required to pay a £40,000 after racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United in October. The rivalry between the teams has often caused great controversy with verbal abuse often directed between opposing fans and players. Suarez’s refusal to apologies to Evra, and Liverpool’s support for the player has provoked widespread criticism, as well as a wider debate about racism in football. In another case, England and Chelsea captain, John Terry, has been charged with a racially aggravated public order offence after he allegedly used racist language towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. He will appear in court on July 9th 2012. The fallout from this case led to the resignation of England’s manager, Fabio Capello.

While these cases firmly put racism in sport in the spotlight, it is important to acknowledge that the root source of such on-field incidents stem from a widespread acceptance of sledging/trash-talking in sport. The notion of sledging/trashtalking is an issue that causes much controversy. In cricket it is thought to be the fielding team's way of getting inside the batsman's mind (Booth, 2007). In football, taunting and abusing opponents appears to be the norm for both spectators and players.

In the philosophical literature, apologists have suggested it is simply (a strategic) part of the game (Cox et al., 2003; Summers, 2007) while critics consider it a form of borderline cheating (gamesmanship) (Howe, 2004) or irrelevant to sporting competition (Dixon, 2008).

Is it possible to segregate sledging into two distinct categories – impersonal (non-moral) and personal (moral)?

Impersonal (non-moral) sledging/trash-talk is the attempt to add psychological pressure to an opponent (Fraser, 2005) by directing disparaging remarks about their sporting performance. As such critical comments do not directly disrespect an individual’s personhood and integrity, but is instead an attack on what they do rather than who they are.

As such comments are relatively benign are they morally insignificant?
Should we then focus more on more overt and personal verbal abuse?
Or is it fruitless to forge a normative line between what is personal and impersonal as both forms involve viewing ones opponents as means rather than ends in themselves?
Does such behaviour degenerate into personal attacks, such as racial or other offensive insults?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Philosophy of Linsanity

I've been thinking a lot about Jeremy Lin lately--and about the social phenomenon of "Linsanity." I wonder what philosophers have to add that will complement the discussion in the popular press.

Is it the underdog story that is so compelling? i.e., Lin as Linderella?

Is Lin's ethnicity a compelling part of the story? Tim Dalrymple argues that it is, but that Lin's religious beliefs are even more significant.

Is there anyone else here who is fascinated by Jeremy Lin and Linsanity, and why?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Distinguishing the individual and the athlete: cheerleading, sexual assault and drink-driving

A recent news story highlights the case of a 16 year old cheerleader who refused to chant the name of a player who had previously sexually assaulted her, and was subsequently expelled from the squad for doing so. After attempting to bring a compensatory claim against her school which failed, she was ordered to pay $45,000 in costs.

The court ruled:

"As a cheerleader, HS served as a mouthpiece through which [the school district] could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams. This act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, HS was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily."

I'm not sure of the credibility of this story as I have no background knowledge on it but one of the most interesting aspects is the distinction between the role and responsibilities of being an athlete (if one can call cheerleading a sport) and the rights one has as a free individual.

On a similar note, Danny Care has been dropped from the England rugby team for being found guilty of drink-driving after a New Year's party. This again highlights the ambiguous distinction between a private and public life and the rights and responsibilities that come with each. Care was not on duty with the England team at the time and the matter was rightly dealt with by the police and law courts. However, the act was seen to be justification for his dismissal from national selection.

These stories provide us with a couple of interesting philosophical questions:

To what extent is one a free individual in sport?
What bearing should decisions made in one's private life have on one's public sporting life?