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?