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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Sports Ethics Show: Athletes as Role Models

In this episode of The Sports Ethics Show, Mike Perry and Shawn Klein discuss the old debate about athletes as role models. Do athletes have special responsibilities and obligations? Should they craft themselves into good role models or is that just something extra? The conversation ranges into celebrity in general, the real effect athletes have on children, and the compartmentalization of fandom and admiration.

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The Sports Ethics Show Announcement

The Sports Ethicist Show is relauching as “The Sports Ethics Show”

What’s the same?

The content will remain the same. Shawn E. Klein, Ph.D. will still host show and discuss the ethical and philosophical issues in sport with experts in and out of academia.

What’s different?

Most of the changes are on the backend. In order to grow and develop the show, it will strictly be a podcast. It will no longer be broadcast on Rockford College Radio.

If you current subscribe through iTunes, you will need to subscribe to this new show.

The old shows will all still be available.

Sample of Upcoming Shows:

  • Mike Perry on Athletes as Role Models
  • Aaron Harper on the pros and cons of playoffs
  • Joan Grassbaugh Forry on the ethics of animal sports
  • Joey Gawrysiak on Sports and video games

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Why Goodell Has To Go (And Will)

Following the release of the elevator footage showing Ray Rice punch his fiancé, I texted my friend Joe: “What’s your over/under?”

He immediately replied “For Goodell? 7 days.”

I think it is telling that my friend knew exactly to what I was referring. And we weren’t the only ones. Many people were starting to call for Goodell’s job. Indeed, the National Organization of Women was demanding his resignation even before the video’s release.

I didn’t agree with Joe that it would be as quickly as a week. My response was one month. I am still within that window, though I now suspect it might be a little longer than a month. Nonetheless, I will be shocked (and disappointed) if Goodell is the commissioner by the start of next season.

Why he should go:
I do not know if Goodell ever saw the infamous tape. I am not sure how relevant it is either. Either way, Goodell comes off poorly. The best case scenario is that he is incompetent and the worst case is that he is lying and covering all this up. In either case, he demonstrates that he is not fit to be the commissioner.

Why he will go:
Almost everyone agrees with that, but many think that this won’t matter. Goodell is protecting the owners and that’s his job. He has made them a lot of money and so they are not going to dump him.

To the latter: Curious George as NFL commissioner would have been able to generate the revenue that Goodell has. The NFL is essentially on auto-pilot; Goodell doesn’t seem to have done anything revolutionary and novel to grow the NFL’s revenue. He has been, to this point, a decent steward, but then any decent executive could have done the same.

To the former point, I do think that this is the view of many owners at this point. Goodell is taking the heat and they are shielded for the most part from the public’s ire. Ultimately, though, the owners want this off the headlines and to go away. The thing is that as long as Goodell is in charge, it won’t. It doesn’t matter what moves he makes: so-called independent investigations, commissions to revise policies, etc.. These might be the right moves to make at this point, but no one accepts that Goodell is taking these moves in order to deal with the problem of domestic violence in the NFL. Even if that is the primary motive, Goodell has no credibility. Every move he makes will be seen as just a PR move. You can see this in the responses to his press conference on September 19. The responses from fans, players, media members, and so on, skewered him. No one took him seriously; they didn’t believe anything he was saying. And, importantly, NFL sponsors voiced their concerns publically. They haven’t pulled their sponsorship for the most part, but a public comment by the sponsors was a clear signal to the owners: they don’t take Goodell seriously either.

So, Goodell might be shielding the owners for now, but he has no credibility going forward to make the changes that will need to be made. And there is nothing he can do to restore that credibility.

The owners will hopefully recognize that they need to make a move, and soon, to begin to restore confidence in the league.

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Guest Post: Fantasy Football, Metaphysics, and Value

The author of this guest post is Chad Carlson. Dr. Carlson is an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Hope College (MI). He has published numerous articles on the philosophy and history of sport.

In a recent article in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, I argued that Fantasy Football is a parasitic game. In other words, it is a game that derives its existence and value from the actual sport of American football (not to be confused with what the rest of the world calls football). Fantasy Football, therefore, is a second order game. Its unique and unprecedented popularity has in many ways paralleled that of actual football. In fact, without actual football, the fantasy counterpart would fail to exist.

Despite its genetic determination from actual football, Fantasy Football also shares some characteristics with other games. Like “cybersport,” Fantasy Football is governed in cyberspace. However, in “cybersport,” the “athlete” has complete agency over the movements and operations of the game whereas in Fantasy Football, the owner does not.

Like simple sport spectatorship, Fantasy Football shares in that a lot of the fun and enjoyment of the game comes from actually watching the NFL games play out and cheering one way or another. However, whereas Fantasy Football owners have the ability to set their lineups and activate or deactivate their players, fans watching actual football games have no real (legal) ability to manipulate the events on the field to encourage their team to win—outside of cheering really loudly!

Fantasy Football may be most like card games such as poker. In these games, the player (owner) has some agency to make the most of his/her hand (team). However the difference here is in the time at which the player has agency. In poker, the player is dealt a hand theoretically at random. The player has no control over the cards dealt. From there, the card shark is able to make the most of his/her hand. Fantasy Football is the opposite. The owner has the ability to set his/her lineup by inserting, benching, trading, waiving, and picking up players who are in the best position to obtain fantasy points in each week’s games. Yet that’s where the owner’s agency ends. Once the games begin, the owner is at the mercy of “the Fantasy Gods.”

I stand by all of these metaphysical arguments. For as popular as Fantasy Football has become (it has become exceedingly difficult to delineate between the NFL and Fantasy Football—just watch the ticker below an NFL broadcast), it is still a second order game whose value owes its entire existence to actual football. It is no coincidence, then, that Fantasy Football’s popularity has risen alongside the unprecedented increases in popularity of the NFL.

As such, I argued that we should be wary of Fantasy Football’s value. As a second order game it naturally has a second-class status; and as a parasitic game, it has warped our understanding of football.

I argued that although Fantasy Football has played a large role in the continually growing interest in NFL football, the way in which Fantasy Football has promoted this growing interest might not be healthy. Fantasy Football promotes only certain aspects of football—the accrual of individualized statistics by quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and kickers—to the neglect of other important roles and aspects of the game. Further, the goals of Fantasy Football pervert our viewership of NFL games. Watching NFL games to follow my fantasy team has rid me of any purist viewership of football, and it has turned me into a disloyal and contextual partisan. I cheer not for teams, but for the individual players I drafted from a variety of NFL teams to compose my fantasy roster. Further, I cheer for particular events to occur within NFL games that create situations in which my players can accrue statistics and therefore obtain fantasy points. Thus, I might cheer for a particular team to be stopped for little to no gain on first and second downs in the red zone so that the quarterback might target my tight end or wide receiver in the end zone on third down. Or I might cheer when my running back breaks tackles for a big gain but then find disgust when the exact same team has another long gain the next play if it is a result of a carry by another of that team’s running backs. This type of spectatorship can easily create unhealthy attitudes towards football as an individual rather than team sport. And this attitude goes against the maxims of every football coach in the country who preaches that the strength of football is in the team.

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.

After explanations from us “experts” about such elementary fantasy issues as why one should not draft a team defense in the first round and what a “flex” position entails, and after the resulting snickers from the foreign in-laws about the term “tight end,” we held a draft and are well on our way to conducting a successful Fantasy Football league.

I have been amazed at how well some of the non-football fans in our league have come to understand the pigskin game just by reading and listening to expert advice on Fantasy Football. Media analysis of Fantasy Football has become so complex and detailed that it is difficult to argue that interest in Fantasy ownership necessarily encourages fantasy owners to neglect certain crucial aspects of actual football in attempts to win Fantasy Football games. Much of the production of the playmakers that top the Fantasy Football stat charts comes from healthy and serviceable offensive lines, advantageous defensive matchups, and the wily game plans of offensive coordinators. Understanding these complexities requires more than just a surface-level knowledge of football.

Fantasy Football has also become a way for my family to bond. While we’ve never failed to find activities around which we’ve enjoyed each other’s company, we can now add Fantasy Football to our list. The last few Sundays have been filled with “trash-texting” and needling emails, and I am reminded of how much fun Fantasy Football can be for a family that has great interest in competitive sports but no real long-standing connections to any particular NFL team.

Therefore, I feel the need to temper my thoughts on Fantasy Football’s lack of value. Kept in context, the game can serve as a fun diversion—among many others in this world.

But Fantasy Football is healthiest when kept in metaphysical context. As I write this, I sit at 0-2. My first round loss was to my brother. While he convinced us that he didn’t put much time or effort into his team, I at least took solace in the fact that he knows football and Fantasy Football relatively well. However, my Week 2 loss to my, gulp, mom, has me reaching deep into the ontological stronghold of my memory to keep focus on the fact that Fantasy Football is a game involving a great deal of luck just like poker. My mom is a great athlete, but she doesn’t know football (in fact, she didn’t know what the “Bye” column next to her roster of players meant until after Week 1). This led me to believe that my matchup with her would be as easy as taking candy from a baby.

In actual sports, each player’s agency is far greater. When I’m losing a sporting contest I can try harder or play smarter and often have my efforts rewarded on the scoreboard. If I found myself running neck and neck in a footrace with my mother I could, theoretically, try harder and end up winning as a result.

Fantasy Football is different. It is not a sport. More effort, better skill, or a deeper knowledge of the game will not necessarily result in a better performance. While I see that from one perspective as I lose to my mom, I see it from another angle regarding my dad. Dad came to our draft with a 3” three-ring binder full of draft analysis, printed tips, and notes to himself that he referenced while using all of the 90 seconds allotted to him for each pick he made. He spends a great deal of time studying expert analysis, offering trade options, and hovering over the waiver wires. And as the only former football player in our league, he has the highest expectations for the season.

But as of Monday night, he also sits at 0-2 in our league. The former quarterback (Dad) and the philosopher (that’s, um, me) have nothing to show for their relevant areas of expertise. And this reminds me that Fantasy Football is not an actual sport. It is a game that requires more luck than skill. So my response to the “trash-texts” I’ve received from my mom since my loss to her is: “You’re not better than me. The Fantasy Football gods simply found more favor with you than me.”

Does my loss make me a lesser athlete? Of course not! But does my response to the loss make me a bad sport? Well…

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NFL, Domestic Violence, and the Law

Roger Goodell is rightly under siege for his mishandling (at best) of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. The focus right now is on whether Goodell will lose his job (he will), but the bigger story here is the widespread problem of domestic violence in the NFL. Since 2000 there have been more than 80 domestic violence arrests and there are at least 14 currently active players who have a history of domestic violence (accusations or charges).

Before we tarnish all NFL players with one brush, it is important to note that arrest rates (for all crimes) for NFL players is much lower than the national average for men in their age range. According to this 538 article it is just 13% of the national average. That said, the article points out that domestic violence accounts for nearly half of the violent crime arrests for NFL players. So even though vast majority of NFL players are not getting into any kind of trouble, the NFL does have a domestic violence problem.

Of course, this is a much broader problem than the NFL or sport more generally. It is a societal problem. Goodell and the NFL have failed to take it seriously enough and for that they deserve moral blame. But why do we find that our professional sport leagues are the ones meting out the punishment? Because our legal system is failing to respond appropriately to domestic violence. Ray Rice got probation; the prosecutor publicly stating that even with the now public graphic video showing Rice punch his then fiancé in the face, Rice would not have gone to jail. And in case after case, we see the same: probations and suspended sentences.

It is right to criticize the NFL (and the other leagues). They have acted wrongly, or at least, negligently. But I think we are missing a deeper problem. Our legal system is not taking domestic violence seriously enough. These cases are most often prosecuted as misdemeanor offenses and not felonies. And as the prosecutor in Rice’s case said, probation is the typical result. Moreover, this is not special treatment for professional athletes. This is, apparently, the norm for such cases.

There is a real and interesting debate to be had about what the responsibilities of a private institution like the NFL are. To what extent should the NFL be policing its members and employers for behavior that is only indirectly connected to the NFL’s mission? This is an important question to ask. And many are now thinking about this and related questions of institutional responsibility.

But whatever one’s answer is to the above question, most of us agree that the state and its justice system do have responsibilities for policing the kind of behavior that we call domestic violence. One of the primary roles (maybe even the only role) of the state and the justice system is to protect individuals against the violent attacks of others. But in regard to domestic violence, the state is failing woefully.

We are rightly angry and disgusted by the NFL’s failing to do the right thing regarding these cases. But we wouldn’t be relying on the NFL to punish these players if the legal system was doing its job. We ought to be directing more of our outrage at the feet of the prosecutors, judges, and lawmakers (and ultimately ourselves as the voters putting these people in power) who have been coddling these violent abusers for years.

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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.

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