Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CFP: IAPS 2015 Conference

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS) has posted the call for abstracts for the 43rd annual 2015 IAPS meeting. The conference will be held September 2-5, 2015 in Cardiff, Wales and is sponsored by Cardiff Metropolitan University.

 Call For Abstracts

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Call for Abstracts: Sports Studies Symposium

“Sports Studies: The State of the Art”
4th Annual Rockford University Sports Studies Symposium
Date: April 24, 2015
Rockford University
5050 E. State. St. Rockford, IL 61108

Along with its general popularity, sport as an object of academic study has been steadily growing for decades across disciplinary boundaries. As such, this year’s Sports Studies Symposium seeks to explore the state of the study of sport.

We invite papers that examine the current state of the study of sport; for example:
  • High-level descriptions of the current methodologies in a specific discipline as it relates to sport;
  • Analyses of the main active questions on which a specific discipline focuses when looking at sport;
  • Discussions of cross-disciplinary research or approaches to the study of sport.
  • Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list; a myriad of approaches are welcome and encouraged.
We invite and encourage contributors from any discipline.

 Each presenter should plan on 20 minutes for his or her presentation. There will also be time for Q&A.

 Abstract Submission:
Abstract should be 300-500 words. Send via email (as PDF) to sklein_at_rockford_dot_edu.

 Deadline: 1/23/2015
Notification of Acceptance: No earlier than 2/13/2015

 If you have any questions, please contact Shawn Klein: sklein_at_rockford_dot_edu or Michael Perry: mperry_at_rockford_dot_edu.

2014 Conference Info
2013 Conference Info

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sports Ethics Show: Are Video Games Sport?

In this episode of The Sports Ethics Show, Joey Gawrysiack (Shenandoah University) and I discuss whether video games can be sport.
Can video games be considered Sport? A controversial question because it raises questions about the nature of sport and the nature of video games as well as the value of each. Dr. Joey Gawrysiak of Shenandoah University joins the show to discuss the ways in which we can understand video games as sport. 

 You can subscribe to The Sports Ethics Show in iTunes or get the RSS Feed. More information at The Sports Ethicist Blog

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Call for Papers: Sport and Values

41st Conference on Value Inquiry
Sport and Values
16 - 18 April 2015

Neumann University
Aston, Pennsylvania

**Call for Papers**

The Neumann University Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development (http://isscd.org), in conjunction with the Neumann University Philosophy Department will host the 41st Conference on Value Inquiry: Sport and Values at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, 16-18 April 2015. 

Broad participation is sought.  We welcome papers that address various aspects of sport and values.  Most accepted papers will be primarily directed to a scholarly audience, yet the conference will have presentations that fall into the following three categories:
   (a) Papers primarily directed to a scholarly audience.
   (b) Interactive presentations primarily directed to an undergraduate student audience.
   (c) Graduate and undergraduate student presentations (e.g., paper, poster, or TED-style talk of no more than 15 minutes).

Please indicate the category (a, b, or c) for which the submission should be considered.  Papers and interactive presentations should be between 20-25 minutes long.  Submissions of papers (a), or detailed outline of presentation including learning outcomes for students (b), or abstracts of student presentations (c), must be received by January 15, 2015 for first consideration.  

Presentations may be practically or theoretically oriented.  Topics may be disciplinary, or interdisciplinary, ranging over issues between two or more fields of value inquiry.  Drew Hyland, Trinity College, author of Philosophy of Sport, and Fr. Patrick Kelly, SJ, Seattle University, author of Catholic Perspectives on Sports: From Medieval to Modern Times, will be among the keynote speakers.                                                                       

Please submit to:      
Professor John Mizzoni
Neumann University
One Neumann Drive
Aston, PA 19014-1298
(610) 361-5496 and (215) 407-4259

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Sports Ethics Show: Animal Sports

Fellow Philosophy of Sport contributor Joan Forry and I talk about Animal Sports in the new episode of The Sports Ethics Podcast.
Are competitions involving non-human animals, like horse racing, dog agility, and so on, sports? If so, under what conditions are animal sports morally justifiable? We also discuss activities like bull-fighting, dog fighting, and cockfighting.
You can subscribe to The Sports Ethics Podcast in iTunes or get the RSS Feed. More information at The Sports Ethicist Blog

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Sports Ethics Podcast: The Value of Playoffs and Championships

A new episode of The Sports Ethics Podcast may interest many readers and contributors to this blog.
Baseball playoffs are in full swing with both American and National League Championship Series opening this weekend. For baseball fans, this is one of the most exciting parts of the baseball season. But are we getting something wrong? Is there something wrong with having playoffs decide champions? Are there better ways of determining champions and organizing sport competitions? Dr. Aaron Harper of West Liberty University discusses these questions and related issues with Shawn E. Klein.
You can subscribe to The Sports Ethics Podcast in iTunes or get the RSS Feed. More information at The Sports Ethicist Blog

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: The Fantasy Sport Industry

I recently reviewed The Fantasy Sport Industry: Games within Games (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society) by Andrew C. Billings and Brody J. Ruihley for the Nordic Sport Science Forum.
The central idea of Andrew Billings and Brody Ruihley’s book, The Fantasy Sport Industry¸ is that fantasy is a game-changer. It is a game-changer in the way sport is covered by and represented in the media. It is a game-changer for the fans and how they consume sport. Indeed, it is potentially a game-changer for the very sports on which these games are based.

Fantasy Sports have been around for several decades. They started small, the domain of, so the stereotype goes, geeky guys in their basements. But these games have expanded exponentially in the last twenty years. Something like thirty five million North Americans play fantasy sport in some manner: that’s more than the numbers of people who play golf, watch the American Idol finale, or own iPhones (Berry, 2; Billings and Ruihley, 5). Fantasy is now a regular and frequent feature of the broadcasts and news reports of sporting events. Networks such as ESPN have dedicated programs for fantasy. There is even a TV sit-com centered on the members of fantasy football league called, appropriately enough, The League (of which this reviewer confesses he is a big fan). Much of all this revolves around Fantasy Football, but there are fantasy leagues for all the major professional sports (indeed there are fantasy leagues for non-sporting activities as well: Fantasy Congress and Celebrity Fantasy to name two).

Given all this interest, it is no surprise that fantasy has become big business with billions of dollars in revenue. Billings and Ruihley set out to provide a much needed look at this growing industry. The first chapter provides the overall context. The authors discuss the philosophical question of just what makes something a fantasy sport and breaks down the basics of how fantasy games are played. They demonstrate the popularity and growth of fantasy and through this ask the main question of the book. Why do people play fantasy? This raises the important follow-up question: what effect does fantasy have on all the ways we normally consume and understand sport?
You can read the rest of the review: http://idrottsforum.org/klesha_billings-ruihley141003/

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Debut of The Allrounder


The Allrounder is open for business, offering plenty of good reads on sport, society & culture. Check it out, often!:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chad Carlson on Fantasy Football

Over at The Sports Ethicist, I've posted a guest blog post by Chad Carlson. Chad discusses the nature of fantasy football, its relation to real football, and what value fantasy potentially has.  Here is an excerpt:
I have been reminded of all of this most recently throughout the first two weeks of the Fantasy Football, er, NFL, season. I am watching the games very closely and I remember which teams win, but my mood changes based not on which teams win but based on whether my fantasy players have done well or not. As such, I am reminded of how Fantasy Football has the ability to alter how we watch and understand the NFL.
However, I have also been reminded of how Fantasy Football can be a very fun and playful way of coming to understand and enjoy professional football. This August, my family decided to start a Fantasy Football league. Most of our league’s members were new to Fantasy Football, and a few in-laws were relatively new American football.

Read the full post here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Call for Commentators/Chair: IAPS Group Meeting at Central Division APA

Interested in being a commentator for the IAPS group meeting at the Central Division APA? The session is focused on Aaron Harper’s paper: “‘You’re the Best Around’: Reconsidering Athletic Excellence in Seasons and Playoffs.”

The following is an excerpt from Aaron’s abstract:
“My primary argument proceeds in two parts. First, I contend that regular season championships depend on questionable assumptions about their relative success. For example, a season-long system implicitly preferences team depth and consistency. Moreover, the season is of arbitrary length and format, and we routinely identify excellence in part of one season or over the course of many. No single-season format exhausts athletic excellence. Second, I elucidate some excellences captured best by playoff systems. Most importantly, the playoff focus allows a team to develop, to integrate new players, and to peak at the right time, all of which are widely valued in sport. Also, playoffs allow teams to position their best players for success (e.g. lineup matchups, pitching rotations). In playoff series, the teams develop familiarity, prompting strategic responses to a specific opponent. In summary, I argue that seasons and playoffs each highlight distinct excellences characteristic of a sport. I then consider an alternative; a hybrid system employs a playoff tournament with added weight given to regular season success, through benefits like byes or home field advantage.”
If you are interested in commenting on this paper or acting as the session chair, please contact me at sklein@rockford.edu no later than September 26, 2015. Please include a brief bio (your institution affiliation, position, recent relevant work, etc.) or a CV.

The group meeting takes place as part of the Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association which will be held February 18-21, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. Please note commentators and chair must be members of both IAPS and APA.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are Fantasy Sports Irresponsible?

[Cross-posted from SportsEthicist.com ]

Fantasy Football season is just starting to spin up and millions of football fans are beginning to think about their top draft prospects or clever names for their teams. As big as it is, it is not surprising that it has started to get more and more scholarly attention. Chad Carlson and I discussed philosophical questions arising in fantasy in a podcast back in December (Mike and I also talked fantasy last August).

Scott Aikin joins the fray with his relatively recent article in the International Journal of Applied Philosophy entitled “Responsible Sports Spectatorship and the Problem of Fantasy Leagues”. Aikin says Fantasy Sports can bring about “a unique form of distortion of proper spectator performance” (195). In sum, his argument is that those who watch sporting events for the purpose of participating in a fantasy league are failing to be what he calls “responsible spectators”.

Using several different kinds of cases where a spectator intuitively appears to fall short of spectator norms, Aikin presents a “norm of responsible spectatorship” (199):
Responsible spectators (a) strive to make sense of the individual games they watch in terms of the objectives of the game, (b) pull for properly sporting actions in the game, and (c) pursue these ends in ways that appropriately fit with their wider ethical obligations (199-200).
Fantasy players fail, according to Aikin, to satisfy these norms.  They fail on (a) and (b) because they don’t watch a game as an integrated whole. They watch and root for specific actions by specific players irrespective of the consequence of those actions on the actual game played. For example, rooting for a team to go for a touchdown in a situation where the game-situation calls for running down the clock and kicking a game-clinching field goal (a ‘b’ failure). Moreover, fantasy players fail to see the game as a whole: it’s not Patriots vs. Jets; it’s whether Brady throws enough TDs (an ‘a’ failure).

Aikin also argues that fantasy players fail on (c) because of they are concerned only with “the greedy self-gratification of collecting further points for a team consisting of bytes and bits in cyberspace” (201-2).  All these failures, argues Aikin, show us that fantasy players fail to make sense of the game as the game it is; there is a “failure to properly attend to games” (202).

There are a number of issues I have with Aikin’s paper and I won’t tackle them all here. The primary one is that I don’t think he takes seriously enough just what fantasy sports are; or rather, what it is that fantasy players are doing when they watch the sporting events upon which the fantasy games is based.

Aikin’s claim is that fantasy players are improper spectators of the sport. They should be watching the game as it is but instead are watching particular players or actions in various games. Moreover, they ought to be concerned with the narrative or structure of the game they are watching but fantasy players are not primarily concerned about the particular game and its unfolding action. They are concerned with a range of actions across many games.

In this description, Aikin is correct: fantasy player qua fantasy player is not watching the sport event qua sporting event. But this fact doesn’t establish that the fantasy player is doing something irresponsible or improper.

On one hand, Aikin’s argument amounts to a trivial claim: People watching fantasy sports are not watching a sporting event as a sporting event. But that’s just saying that A and non-A are not identical.  On the other hand, he seems to be saying something much more substantial: Watching sporting events in a way that is not watching it as a sporting event is wrong (or improper or irresponsible). But this seems clearly wrong without a substantial argument to support it and Aikin’s argument doesn’t get the job done.

He has to show that (1) his vision of proper spectatorship is superior to others and (2) that these norms of spectatorship apply to the fantasy player. I think Aikin falls short on both accounts (but I’m only going to deal with (2) in this post).

He attempts to address (2) within his Fourth Objection. This is the “just another game objection” (204).  The objection says that fantasy players are not sport spectators; they are watching a different game altogether. That is, in watching the Bears take on the Rams, the fantasy player isn’t watching a football match qua football match. He is watching the game to see how it impacts his fantasy team as well learn about other the athletes for future moves and fantasy games. So the fact that he doesn’t fit the norms of the responsible spectatorship is not a problem because these norms don’t actually apply to him in this context.

Aikin’s response is that the fantasy player is nonetheless watching the game. He is not merely checking the stats; he is watching the game and so ought to abide by the appropriate norms of watching.  But this is to miss the objection almost in its entirety.

Fantasy sports, as Chad Carlson articulates, are second-order games. There are games built of off other games in which others are directly engaged. They are also not reducible to these first-order games: they are different games with different rules and ends.

In playing the second-order game, one is attending to and concerned with the actions at the first-level. But the context and intent of their attention and concern is different. The watching of the sport is not watching the sport qua sport. It is watching the sport qua playing the second-order game. The requisite norms that apply have to do with playing the second-order game. The fact that one may not thereby be complying with the norms of watching the first-order game is not then baldly a deficiency.

It can be a deficiency if one intends to be watching the first-order game qua game but then doesn’t live up to those relevant norms. This is a deficiency of hypocrisy. But that’s not the issue that Aikin is taking up.

It can also be deficient if the first-order game has a privileged status. This seems to be what Aikin believes, but it is never argued for. The privileged status is not automatic merely because it is first-order.

For the sake of argument (but only for the sake of argument), I’ll concede that fantasy players are deficiently watching the games from Aikin’s standard of responsible spectatorship. However, if they are doing something else by their watching then it is not obvious or necessary that this standard applies.

An appreciator of great art walks through the Louvre. She stops at the classic paintings that exemplify the standards and purposes of great art. She attends to them as she learned to do as an Art History major. She is, let’s say, a responsible appreciator of paintings.

Another patron is walking through the Louvre. He stops at paintings with no discernable pattern from the perspective of the standards of great works. He doesn’t pay attention to some paintings that from the norms of a responsible appreciator of paintings he ought. After each viewing, he checks a few things off on his computer tablet and moves on. He seems deficient in his art appreciation. And maybe if his intent was to appreciate the paintings as the previous patron, he would be. But he is actually engaged in an online game with patrons at art museums all over the world.  He is checking off that, for example, he found a painting of a farmhouse or one that doesn’t include the color red. He is attending to very different kinds of things about the paintings than the Art Historian because his goals are different. It is unreasonable to hold him to the Art Historian standard of appreciation. It’s just not what he is engaged in even if it looks similar.

He is engaged in a second-order game. It is built off of the first-order activity of art appreciation, but it is not the same thing. Like many second-order games, it can run counter to the goals and aims of art appreciation (e.g. the painting of the farmhouse that the game players are hunting down might barely be museum-worthy) and so the norms for each activity will be different (though not necessarily at odds or mutually exclusive).

The point is that insofar as the art scavenger hunt game-player is trying to appreciate art, he may be falling short. But since that is not what he is doing, then it is a mistake to apply that standard to him.

The same goes for the fantasy sport player. He might be in various ways failing short of the standards of spectatorship as Aikin presents it, but since that’s not the activity he is primarily engaged in, we shouldn’t be holding him to that standard.

That said, there is nothing inherently incompatible here. The art scavenger hunt game-player can at the same time conform to the art appreciation standards as he plays his game. And maybe he can learn more about these standards and art itself by playing the scavenger game.

Similarly, the fantasy player can uphold the standards of good spectatorship while also engaging in fantasy. I don’t take these as mutually exclusive activities and, though they can at times be at odds, they are more often, I think, reinforcing of each other. (One learns more about the athletes, the game, its intricacies and strategies, etc. and through this can appreciate the first-order game more. Much like the art scavenger hunt is probably a great way to learn about art.)

So while there is a bit of a concession here (the fantasy player is not watching sport as one ought to be watching sport qua watching sport); this concession doesn’t undermine the counter to Aikin’s argument against fantasy. The fantasy player is not being an irresponsible spectator nor is he failing short of an obligation of spectatorship. He is not, when he is playing fantasy, being a spectator and so the norms just don’t apply.

This leaves open an important question, one that is probably more philosophically important. Does Aikin get the norms of spectatorship correct? That’ll have to be a discussion for a future post.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Emily Ryall on Philosophy of Sport

The University of Gloucestershire Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics website has several short videos about the Philosophy of Sport with fellow Philosophy of Sport blogger Dr. Emily Ryall. Dr. Ryall is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Gloucestershire.
The videos are good introductions to some interesting questions and important issues in Philosophy of Sport.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Crying Brazilians Tells Us About Fandom

[Cross-posted from SportsEthicist.com]

In the wake of the devastating shellacking of Brazil at the feet of German side, we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of crying and tearful Brazilians. Many sports fan empathized with these pictures. Part of being a fan is suffering through bad losses. Every true sports fan has been on the losing side at one time or another. We know how those Brazilian fans felt.

Others raised the ridiculousness of crying over a game, especially a game one didn’t even participate in. It is one thing if you played in a game, gave your proverbial all, and then were overcome with emotion (such as Columbia’s James Rodriguez). But for fans in the stands or out on street to cry strikes many as silly. Something must be really out of whack.

There are really two questions here. One: is crying an appropriate emotional response to a sporting event? Two: is it appropriate to have one’s identity so connected to a sporting event/team?

The second question arises because of what I think the correct answer is to the first question. Sports fan invest a lot of themselves into their teams. This is not just a financial thing (tickets, merchandise, etc.), but a connection to one’s identity. For a die-hard sports fans, the game isn’t something we watch as entertainment the way one might watch and be fans of Games of Thrones(*). One’s sense of self: who they are, where they are from, what they value; is wrapped up in their sports fandom. Fandom is a mode of self-expression. To say one is a Boston Red Sox fan tells the world a little something about who one is.

It is apt that sports fans speak of having their hearts broken by their teams: there is something analogous between close personal relationships and sports fandom. The relationship takes time to build and develop. Whatever you think about ‘love at first sight’, the relationship – its meaning and role in one’s life—takes time. And one doesn’t just become a Red Sox fan. You have to grow into it; you have to earn the ability to say you are a true fan.  (Side note: this is why I don’t call myself a Liverpool fan. I follow them. I root for them. But I haven’t earned the title of fan yet. To stretch the analogy here: we are dating and having fun; seeing where it might go.)

Much more could and needs to be said about the connections between identity and fandom. However, if we can see that many die-hard sports fans, like many Brazilian futbol fans, have a deep identity connection to their team, it makes sense that such a devastation loss (especially in a World Cup on your home soil where you were one of the favorites to win) would lead to tears.

This is where the second question comes in to play. Is it rational or moral to have one’s identity so profoundly connected to a sports team?

My short answer is yes. While, as with anything, one can go too far here, by and large, I think deep fandom is a healthy and fun way of being one’s self. The longer answer still needs to be worked out and developed but let me suggest a few points.

The fun part is mostly self-explanatory. It provides moments of joy and excitement. Still, there are times that it doesn’t feel very fun (that’s what all the crying is about after all). But, overall, in the bigger picture of a being a fan, it is fun and thrilling.

Sports Fandom is also by and large healthy. Fandom is an expression of choice and commitment. It is part of a process of self-definition. We define ourselves by the choices and commitments we make and this includes which sports and teams we choose to follow.

Fandom ties one into a community, providing feelings of connectedness to a region, city, or tradition. It is a way of being with others and sharing values with others.

Being a fan of a sport team or club is better than something more insidious like seeking the sense of community from a gang or looking for greatness in pushes for national conquests. Better that nationalism gets expressed in a sporting event than in geo-politics. The former might unfortunately lead to some fist fights in the stands, but the latter leads to wars.

Go ahead and cry Brazil. Let it all out.

<em>(*)Update clarification: I don't mean to imply or suggest that non-sport fandoms can't or don't invest part of their identity in their fandom. (As a Browncoat I wouldn't want to make that mistake.) I only mean to say that sports fandom is not just about entertainment. I am not trying to say anything about other kinds of fandoms.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reminder: CFA for Defining Sport (DLD July 11)

The Call for Abstracts for Defining Sport book proposal is approaching. The deadline is July 11, 2014.

The focus of the book is to bring new scholarly attention to the issues and questions involved in defining and explaining the nature of sport. There are several classic works that treat these issues, but with the growth of the philosophy of sport a renewed focus on how to define and conceptualize sport is needed.

The original call is here: http://sportsethicist.com/2014/05/15/call-for-papers-defining-sport/

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Unionizing College Sports?

The following is a guest post from Brandon Johnson, a graduate student in Exercise and Sport Science at Eastern Kentucky University:

Nearly everyone agrees that a worker deserves a fair and suitable workplace environment. Yet, a less congenial notion within college athletics is who is deemed an employee. For years, student-athletes at the collegiate level were just that: student-athletes. Their schedules were crammed with coursework, meetings and practices. Such student-athletes gave their time, blood, sweat and tears in return for a college degree. Rarely thought to be employees, student-athletes represented their school in competition day in and day out. However, increases in technology and media coverage have led to a grand restructuring of the collegiate athletic model. Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games and March Madness have created a multi-billion dollar industry.

And now, student-athletes want their share.

A recent ruling by the National Labor Union declared members of the Northwestern University football team to be employees, therefore granting the right to unionize in pursuit of additional compensation. Considerable interest has been placed on the rights to better medical coverage, improved concussion testing and four-year scholarships, all in addition to receiving direct monetary compensation as an employee.

This issue needs to be addressed, but these student-athletes do not come out empty-handed as many are suggesting. Student-athletes have an opportunity to earn a college degree. Granted, the value of such is a bit tainted with the restriction on scholarships, as many student-athletes end up having to foot the bill for some of their education. Assuredly, there are financial struggles for student-athletes. However, the average college graduate in the United States, according to US News, owes nearly $30,000 for their education. I would be hard-pressed to think a graduate from some of the top tier programs owe a dime for the education.

Student-athletes provide a service to their schools through their athletic abilities. Very few collegiate athletic programs see a profit—herein lay the problem. The NCAA reports that only 14 of the 120 Division I FBS schools profited in 2012—Northwestern was not listed in the 14. That does not sound like the ideal business model—more expenses than revenue. Perhaps an argument could be made for the student-athletes at the schools that generate profit. But even then, student-athletes in these programs cannot be paid. Even without Title IX, there is no plausible way to do so. Not every starting quarterback deserves the same pay. Walk-ons and partial scholarship recipients create another issue. The glitches are endless.

There is simply no impartial way to pay student-athletes, both male and female equitably as required by Title IX. Besides, if Division I athletes claim they deserve payment the same can be said for the other levels of NCAA competition. Lower division NCAA affiliates have student-athletes too—and those athletic programs do not make money.

Clearly, without these student-athletes, there would be no March Madness. And, in many cases, eliminating athletic programs could cause a severe effect. And without these student-athletes, there would not be corporate executives lining their pockets thanks to inflated endorsement deals.
But on this premise, a minimum-wage employee’s, at McDonalds, for example, demand for a higher salary would be justified. After all, they are the ones creating the product which generates billions of dollars in revenue.

It is not fair. Welcome to the workforce. 

The model is not perfect. It is an unfortunate sight to see these student-athletes post-playing days. These student-athletes put their bodies on the line for their scholarships and things certainly need to be changed, but paying student-athletes is not the answer. Such a drastic change could have harsher impacts than perhaps what is being considered. Bear in mind, for instance, the impact on youth football programs around the country. Young athletes face endless pressures from coaches and parents to excel on the playing field. The allure of the scholarship and the enlarged professional salaries have obstructed the reality of the possibility and soiled the principle of youth sports as a whole—to have fun. The last thing we need is to add to the pressures. Doing so would likely lead to the end of youth football as we know it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Sportsmanship, MMA, and Sacrificing Victory

(Originally Posted at The Sports Ethicist)

 In his weekly blog, Jack Bowen of the Institute of Sports Law and Ethics discusses a recent MMA incident.  Mike Pantangco submitted to Jeremy Rasner in an amateur bout. (Watch it here) The remarkable thing is that Pantangco was beating Rasner rather soundly. In Pantangco’s word’s:
"I just feel that there's no point fighting him because he didn't train against me and I didn't train for him and I just feel like we're amateur fighters…We don't get money, we don't get paid, and I know that the only thing I'm going to finish the fight is him to go in the hospital or get hurt. I just feel terrible so I'm just going to give him the win." (Source)
In his blog, Bowen praised Pantangco’s action as exceptionally good sportsmanship and a gesture of compassion. Other bloggers and writers similarly praised Pantangco.

While I acknowledge his submission was an act of kindness, I do not agree that this was an act of good sportsmanship. Or, rather, I don’t think that claim is as obvious or as clear as my fellow sports ethicist seem to think.

I do not think Pantangco’s decision to submit was wrong or disrespectful. But I also don’t think it was necessary. Given the circumstances around the fight (Bowen explains), Pantangco and Rasner probably shouldn’t have been competing against each other in the first place. Once the fight is under way, Pantangco and Rasner, as a matter of good sportsmanship, ought to fight to win within the rules, norms, and expectations of their sport. Pantangco saw that Rasner was defeated and further blows would likely inflict unnecessary harm. His decision was to tap out and give the victory to Rasner. But as those more familiar with the sport than Bowen or I have suggested, there were non-sacrificial and non-(serious)-harm inflicting ways for Pantangco to bring the fight to a swift end. A friend of mine who was an MMA fighter and trainer said, “He could have taken his opponent down and ended the fight with a gentle submission”. Now, I am not sure how gentle a ‘gentle submission’ is in the context of MMA but I think it makes it clear that Pantangco’s choice wasn’t between tapping out or inflicting unnecessary and serious harm to Rasner. He had non-sacrificial options that were more in line with the norms and goals of his sport.

This discussion all hinges on a key question. What is sportsmanship? As in so many cases, a common concept we use frequently is hard to pin down. Since at least James Keating 1964 article, “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category,” philosophers of sport have been debating the question.

Without stepping too much into that tempest, I claim that sportsmanship is the embodiment of the kinds of virtues and moral dispositions that are proper for those participating in athletics and sports. I don’t think this is too controversial a claim; that is, until we start to unpack just what the claim really means (a huge project beyond the scope of a blog post).

But one important implication of this claim (one that follows from the nature of virtue) is that sportsmanship ought not to be reserved for exceptional or extraordinary actions. Sportsmanship is the manner of acting to which _all_ the participants should be held. It shouldn’t be analogous to sainthood.

Pantangco’s action of tapping out might be an exceptional act of kindness, but it is not the manner in which we ought to expect or demand MMA fighters to fight. Such dispositions would undermine the sport. The goal in combat sports, as I understand it, is to win the match by inflicting damage on your opponent through the use of a set of fighting skills (the specific kind of combat sport proscribes what is in and out of this set). A principle of tapping out when your opponent is losing or essentially defeated subverts this goal and the very idea of the sport.

I do not want to be misunderstood here. I am not saying that we should have a low moral standard for MMA fighters, that morality doesn’t apply, or that kindness or compassion should play no role in combat sports. I am saying the standard ought to be appropriate to human beings and to the ends of the sport. 

Consider the following analogy. A man might jump in front of speeding car to save a child’s life. This is an exceptional act. One we are likely to praise. But such an action tells us nothing about how to act and live in the world. In a sense, it really has nothing to do with ethics. Ethics is about the goals and principles that guide one’s action and choices. It is about how we ought to approach each day and how to determine what actions we take in life.

Similar with Pantangco. The circumstances of the fight are (as far as I can tell) unique and his action is not generalizable to other fights. His action doesn’t tell us how MMA fighters ought to fight with dignity, honor, and virtue. In other words, it cannot serve as an exemplar of sportsmanship.

A possible objection to what I am arguing here is that while the normal circumstances of life (or a fight) don’t require jumping in front of cars or sacrificially tapping out, there are circumstances which might arise where such actions might be appropriate or called for. True enough. My point is that thinking about these as guides for how to live our lives is at best not useful (since the conditions in these situations are exceptional) and at worst it can undermine what it actually takes to live our lives or play our games well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Seeking our truest, strongest, deepest self: William James and commitment in youth sports

During the past year I’ve thought an awful lot about commitment, especially what it means for youth sport athletes. In this time our oldest son (now 15) has moved from an assortment of activities – running, basketball, football, and volleyball – in order to focus on his sport of choice, which is soccer. He has gradually immersed himself in the practice tradition with hopes to see just how good he can become.

His decision brings to mind a passage from philosopher William James. In Psychology: The Briefer Course, James writes: “So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation. All other selves thereupon become unreal, but the fortunes of this self are real.” James was an unabashed advocate of the “strenuous life” which included a modicum of potential risk and precipitousness. To this point, a youth sport athlete commitment to a single sport exemplifies the kind of strenuous life James had in mind which could potentially lead to a life of significance.

James’ quote raises a number of pertinent questions not only for youth sport athletes, but for their parents and guardians, coaches and youth sport administrators as well. For example, what does it mean for youth sport athletes to seek out this truest, strongest, and deepest self? At what point in terms of physiological and psychological development are they capable of making a fully informed decision? If these athletes decide to specialize on one sport, are their potential risks related their own health? Similarly, to what extent does specialization potentially bring about risks related to academic success, the development of social relationships, or the potential of becoming self-absorbed and/or tunnel-minded? Finally, by virtue of choosing only one sport, what is the potential loss (and gain) in terms of other experiences?

Given the limited scope of this post, I’ll take up just one question related to James’ quote. When youth sport athletes choose to commit themselves to soccer (or basketball, tennis, or any other sport) we hope this commitment involves the athlete’s truest, strongest, deepest self, as opposed to a self which is projected by the parents. When children are forced into a sports commitment, they may end up hating the sport or the parent(s) or both. Conversely, when children become gradually immersed in the sport practice community, developing their own agency in addition to skill acquisition and friendships, they potentially develop a lifelong love affair with their sport of choice.

Making a commitment, or deciding to specialize on one particular sport, requires a deliberate focus on one pursuit, but at the same time pushes aside alternative experiences and, potentially, relationships. Athletes of all ages and levels need to be wary that the pursuit of excellence, in the form of commitment is not without inherent risk, ones that would cause concern, even for William James. As Rick Reilly, columnist for ESPN the Magazine wrote recently, “The price of greatness is more than you want to pay. The world's most legendary athletes are usually the ones most wildly out of balance. . . Andre Agassi grieves, to this day, the childhood he gave up while hitting over a million practice balls. Enjoy your heroes, but don't envy them.” Our own commitments, and those of our children and other youngsters, bring about both opportunities and consequences. We are prudent to think carefully, and help the youth in our purview do the same, as we consider our commitments to sport.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Sports Ethicist Show: Diving and Cheating in Soccer

Fellow blogger Mike Austin and I did a podcast in which we discuss diving in soccer and whether it counts as cheating or not. The podcast picks up from blog posts by Mike and I on the topic. More about the podcast at SportsEthicist.com

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Call for Papers: Defining Sport

Call for Papers: Book Chapters
  • Working Title: “Defining Sport: Contemporary Explorations”
  • Publisher: Proposal will be submitted to Lexington Books
  • Editor: Shawn E. Klein, PhD; sklein@rockford.edu
The focus of the book is to bring new scholarly attention to the issues and questions involved in defining and explaining the nature of sport. There are several classic works that treat these issues, but with the growth of the philosophy of sport a renewed focus on how to define and conceptualize sport is needed. Chapter ideas:
  • Analyses of common approaches to defining sport (or related concepts such as competition or athlete) in the philosophy of sport literature. (E.g. Bernard Suits, essentialism, formalism, interpretivism, and externalism.)
  • New approaches to defining sport (and related concepts).
  • Examination of borderline cases  (e.g. Motor Sports; Animal Sports, cyber-sports, fantasy sports)
  • Analysis of problematic cases ( e.g violent/blood sports)
  • Discussions of methodological differences between philosophy and other disciplines in terms of defining sport and related concepts.
    • E.g. Are there differences between philosophical approaches and sociological approaches? How might these differences affect how sport is studied or discussed in these disciplines and across disciplines?
If you are interested in contributing a book chapter to this volume, please send a tentative title, a brief abstract for review (500 words) and C.V or short bio, to the book editor: Shawn E. Klein: sklein@rockford.edu
  • Abstract deadline: July 11, 2014
  • Notification of abstract acceptance by July 25, 2014
  • Chapter Manuscript Deadline: December 12, 2014
    • Length: 6000-10,000 words (inclusive of references and notes).
    • Manuscripts should conform to Chicago style.
PDF: Call for Papers Defining Sport
Cross-posted: http://sportsethicist.com/2014/05/15/call-for-papers-defining-sport/

Thursday, May 8, 2014

New 3rd edition of The Grasshopper

Broadview Press has released a 3rd edition of the Bernard Suits classic: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. The new edition restores the illustrations from the original publication. Also, there is a new appendix on the meaning of play. It looks like the appendix is Suits' "Words On Play" article.

At The Sports Ethicist blog, I've reposted a brief review of The Grasshopper. Also, I discuss Suit's "Words on Play" article.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Support The Allrounder: No predictions, speculation on transfers, or photos of WAGs.

I'm reposting this link provided a few days ago by Emily Ryall. I think this is something the philosophy of sport community should get behind, and by "get behind" I mean donate some money:


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conference: Sporting Females

Leeds Metropolitan University is hosting a one day conference on 4th September 2014 in honor of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Jennifer Hargreaves’ book, ‘Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’s Sport’.

More information on submitting a paper can be found here: http://philosophyofsport.org.uk/cfp-sporting-females-past-present-and-future/

Call for Abstracts: Science and Practice of Sports Refereeing

The First International Conference on the Science and Practice of Sports Refereeing will take place in Clermont-Ferrand (France) between the 22th and the 24th September 2014.

The aim of this conference is to provide researchers studying sport refereeing with a discussion space in order to increase and improve the scientific network in this area. This network is then expected to answer new queries and to meet the practical challenges of sport refereeing.

More information can be found here: philosophyofsport.org.uk/cfa-1st-conference-on-science-and-practice-of-sports-refereeing/

Monday, April 21, 2014

Updating Information: Centers, Journals, Organizations

I have recently updated the links at the top of the page for centers, journals, and professional societies related to philosophy of sport. If you know of others to add to the lists, please email me (mikedotaustinatsymbolekudotedu) or post them in the comments of this post, and I'll take care of it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rockford University Sports Studies Symposium

Rockford University is hosting the Third Annual Sports Studies Symposium on April 25, 2014 from 1:00pm to 5:00pm CT in the Grace Roper Lounge, Burpee Center, Rockford University, Rockford, IL. The conference is free to attend and light refreshments will be served.

The topic is Defining Sport and the symposium features papers focused on issues ranging from skateboarding to NASCAR to the intersection of sport and culture. For more information about the symposium, please visit The Sports Ethicist.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Philosophy of Sport Books

See the link below for a collection of books in the philosophy of sport on Amazon.

This is a list of academic works in the philosophy of sport. It is by no means complete, but is intended as an initial point of reference for some of the work done in this field. Some of these books are anthologies of previous journal articles, some are edited anthologies with unique works, and others are authored monographs. I will continue to add to the list as time permits.

Here is the link:
Philosophy of Sport

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Public Philosophy of Sport

There is a growing body of work in the area of public philosophy of sport, that is, of writings that are philosophical in nature but intended to be accessible to those who are not scholars. Several of the popular philosophy series include volumes dedicated to sport (see list below).

There is also a series of blog posts in progress over at The Football Scholars Forum on the intersection and collaboration of academics and journalists who write about soccer. Here are the links to the first 2 posts in the series:
I would add that the insights and examples of public philosophy of sport are instructive for any academic who is interested in writing for a popular audience. From my own experience, it can be rewarding and frustrating, and I've made some mistakes along the way in my own efforts, but it means a lot when readers take the time to contact you and say they appreciate or were even deeply impacted by your work. For this and many other reasons, there is value in taking some time to do some public philosophy.

Public Philosophy of Sport Books:
If your are aware of more books that qualify as public philosophy of sport, please add that information in the comments. Thanks.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Conference: Soccer as the Beautiful Game

and the
An International Conference

Soccer as the Beautiful Game:
Football's Artistry, Identity and Politics

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
April 10, 11, 12, 13, 2014

In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Hofstra University is proud to host an international conference that explores the historical, political, economic and humanitarian impact of soccer – including the awarding of an honorary degree to soccer legend Pelé. Over the past 20 years, the study of sport has become a well-developed subfield of many disciplines. Soccer's meteoric rise in popularity during the 20th century continues to fascinate scholars around the world.

For more details, go here: http://www.hofstra.edu/Community/culctr/culctr_events_soccer_conf.html

More on Diving in Soccer

Cesar Torres, editor of the recently published Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport, has a very nice piece on diving in soccer, from a few years back, which is well worth the read. Here's an excerpt:

"It is logically contradictory to simultaneously accept the rules of soccer and to circumvent them when opportunities arise. Strictly speaking, this is the case with of all forms of cheating: intentionally breaking the rules surreptitiously to gain an advantage that would not probably be obtained otherwise. Divers, then, excuse themselves from following the rules and treat opponents simply as means to their own ends while avoiding the game’s core objective."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Still Another Book: Philosophy, Sport and Education: International Perspectives


Emanuele Isidori, Francisco Javier López Frías, Arno Müller 7

Sport, Education and Peace
Lev Kreft 13

Sport, Education, and the Meaning of Victory
Heather L. Reid 33

Sport and the Quest for Meaningful and Lifelong Learning
Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza 43

Agonistic Education and Sports: A Philosophical Approach
Yunus Tuncel 71

Giving Formalism a Fair Trial through Pedagogy
Francisco Javier López Frías 89

Derrida’s Concept about Doping and its Implications for Sport Education
Emanuele Isidori 103

What Can Doping in Sport Teach Students about Ethics
John Gleaves 119

Contributors 127