Chris Conte and Achilles

In comments to WBBM Newsradio in Chicago, Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte said that “I’d rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life.”

This sparked an interesting discussion on ESPN’s Mike and Mike morning show about the choice of professional and elite athletes to engage in their sport. Many sports, not just football, pose health risks to players. Football, though, is most salient because of its popularity, the physical and violent nature of the game, and the greater attention on concussions. Football players are likely more aware of the dangers they face in playing their game than other athletes and so they are in a better position to make the explicit trade off that Conte is talking about. And Conte is not alone in choosing the glorious short life over the quiet long life. The Mike and Mike show highlighted several football players who seemed to concur with Conte’s view.

What was particularly interesting, though, was that both Greenberg and Golic looked at this choice from the perspective of being in their late 40s and early 50s. Golic, a former professional football player, said something to the effect that when he was in his 20s he thought like Conte, but now as father at 52 he wouldn’t want to give up the longer life. In particular, he wasn’t willing now to forsake the values achievable in his more mature years: such as seeing his children grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. The Mikes took care not to invalidate the choice made by Conte and others, but expressed a warning that they might not think the same way when they got older. The trade-off might be obvious in one direction when you are 22 years old, but it might be just as obvious the other way when you are 50.

The discussion of this trade-off and which choice is better choice is not new.

In Book 9 of the Illiad, Achilles tells us of his fate:

“My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive but my name will live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.” (http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.9.ix.html)

Achilles obviously travels the path of staying at Troy and fighting. And we know that he dies after the close of the Illiad. And, of course, his name has not died. He is one of history’s greatest warriors and heroes.

In the Odyssey, Homer shows us Odysseus meeting up with Achilles in the underworld. Odysseus asks Achilles, essentially, if death is so bad. Achilles was great in life, remembered by all, and he holds an honored place even in the world of the dead, so surely death can’t be that bad for him. Achilles response is fascinating.

“Nay, seek not to speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose, so I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, of some portionless man whose livelihood was but small, rather than to be lord over all the dead that have perished.” (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0012.tlg002.perseus-eng1:11.486-11.537)

Another translation that hammers this point home:

“I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead.” (http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.11.xi.html)

So Achilles, with the perspective of hindsight, seems like he would have chosen a different fate. If he knew back on the fields of Troy what death was truly like, maybe he would not have entered the fight. Maybe he would have gone home to Phthia and lived out a quiet life of obscurity.

Homer seems to be giving us the same warning that Greenberg and Golic are. Be careful how you make this choice. Try to imagine what it will look like on other end of the choice.

This is central to how we live; and so central to ethics. We all make this trade-off in some way, every day. We choose paths in life balancing the long and short term interests, benefits, costs, and harms. We forgo tasty treats out of a concern for our longer term health. Or one chooses to continue to smoke cigarettes because they derive an irreplaceable joy from them, despite knowing the long-term health risks. A young woman chooses to forgo time and money in the here and now to invest years (decades even) of her life in medical education and residency so that she can be a great surgeon. We choose to drive cars knowing the risks because of the benefits we can get. Examples are everywhere: every time we choose something for the short-term benefits at the sake of longer-term interests, we choose like Achilles and Conte. This trade-off might be worth it. Short-term goods and benefits are after all goods; we have to live in the now and there may be many good reasons to risk tomorrow for the now (see my post on violence and football). But someday far-off tomorrow will be now and that has to be considered as well.

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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

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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.

PDF: Call for Abstracts

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The Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Play

This episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is the audio version of my talk “The Value of Play”. Recorded at The Atlas Summit on June 22, 2014, the full video (including a Q&A period) is available at http://www.atlassociety.org/as/value-play and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=texwMP6W9U.

The following is the description from The Atlas Society website:

Work and career are central values in Objectivism. Play doesn’t get a lot of focus in Ayn Rand’s fiction or in Objectivist philosophy. Play, though, offers many positive benefits and is a ubiquitous feature of human civilizations.

In this video, author  Shawn Klein presents an Objectivist conception of the value of play by way of answering the following questions. What role is there for play in an Objectivist life? Can play be a part of one’s central purpose? What is the relationship between the virtues (such as productivity and rationality) and play?

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Go Goodell, Go! Soon.

The controversy swirling around Roger Goodell’s suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is precisely why the NFL Commissioner needs to resign or be fired. I happen to think he got this one basically right, but that is not the real issue here. Goodell has no credibility with the players, with media, or with fans. It doesn’t matter what the decision ended being, the conversation would be the same. People would still be shouting: “He is overreacting because of the bungling of the Ray Rice case.” “He is being too harsh.” “He is being too lenient.” “This is more about Goodell than the particular case or the good of the NFL.”

I am not claiming that a new commissioner wouldn’t face criticism or get every decision correct. But the focus would be more on the merits of the case. With Goodell in charge, it is about Goodell and his tenure. No action he takes can be understood except through the prism of a year of disastrous decisions. A new commissioner who comes with some gravitas would not have that baggage – at least not directly. At some point, enough owners will realize this and Goodell will be gone.

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The 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.

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The Sports Ethics Show: Animal Sports

In this episode of The Sports Ethics Show, Joan Forry and I discuss the issue of Animal Sports. 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.

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Video: The Value of Play

This past summer, I presented my talk, “The Value of Play,” at The Atlas Summit. In the presentation, I discuss how play, properly understood, can and should be a part of a purposive and well-lived life.

Here’s the recording of the talk. (or go to youtube)

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Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Playoffs and Championships

New Sports Ethics Show Episode
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.

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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/

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