Category Archives: Conferences

Ethics and Fantasy Sports

This is the text of my remarks from Santa Clara University’s Institute of Sports Law & Ethics 2015 Sports Law and Ethics Symposium. The Symposium was held on September 10, 2015. I was on the” Fantasy Sports: Gaming, IP, Ethical and Other Issues” panel. The symposium was great, I want to thank ISLE for inviting me.

This panel is made up of lawyers and industry leaders who have direct involvement in the business of fantasy sports. I’m an academic philosopher who plays fantasy sports purely for fun. So, my approach is probably going to be a little different.

As a philosopher, I seek the deeper, more fundamental meaning of things. As an ethicist, I look at this deeper meaning and try to see what it tells us about how best to act. In this case, what does understanding the nature of fantasy sport tell us about how to act regarding fantasy sports? My time is limited, so I will point towards some of the ethical concerns in fantasy sport, and close with some of the positives.

Fellow sports philosopher, Chad Carlson, dubs Fantasy Sports: “parasitic, second order, or derivative games because they find life only by building off of real sports’ elements.”[1]  Fantasy is driven by the real sport, without the football there is no fantasy football. This makes them games about other games. Calling them parasitic suggests something negative about this relationship; that fantasy feeds off and harms its host sport. But before addressing that concern, it is important to see that fantasy sport, though a game that is built off another game, is still truly a game: it has its own distinct goals and methods. It has its own rules, structures, and traditions.

But this derivative nature of fantasy does lead to a group of objections to fantasy. These objections are all roughly based on the concern that fantasy sports are changing the way we understand, consume, or appreciate sport. The derivative game is affecting the primary game and, according to these objections, that’s wrong.

There are concerns that the popularity of fantasy will and has driven rule changes to the primary game. This direct effect on the game could be a concern if it undermines or weakens the primary game. One wonders how much of the NFL rule changes in the last decade that have driven up offensive numbers were driven by the popularity of fantasy. (As a side note, I don’t think those changes came about because of fantasy—but it is not hard to see how that could have happened.)

Fantasy, particularly fantasy football, tends to overemphasize certain features of the game over others. In general, offense is emphasized over defense. Certain positions, like QB or WR, are emphasized over other essential positions, like left guard or a blocking TE. These latter positions are essential for competitive teams to be able to play offense well, but they are not tracked by fantasy (at least not directly). This tends to skew our understanding of the game of football in one direction.

A related concern is that Fantasy negatively affects our fandom. In real football, most fans root for a team to win. We want the Patriots or, I guess, the 49ers to win. We value the importance of the team and teamwork. But, in fantasy we root not for the team but the individual players, and only for as long as they are on our team. In some cases, shockingly to me, fantasy players might root against their own real team for the sake of fantasy. In their study of the fantasy industry, Andrew Billings and Brody Ruihley report that 41% of all fantasy participants indicated they would prefer a win by their fantasy team over their regular/favorite team.”[2]

Fans might come to prefer to watch something like the Red Zone channel instead of a game in its entirety. This breaks up our sense of the continuity and narrative of the game of football. If we only watch scoring plays or highlight plays, we don’t really know how the game went. We don’t really understand how the teams played. I know that when I have missed a game and just get the highlights, I have one impression of the game that can be quite different and misleading from the one I get when I get around to watching the tape of the game. So if fantasy shifts our consumption shifts more and more towards individual players and their highlight moments, we lose a certain aspect of what the primary, real game is about.

I don’t have the space to fully flesh this out, but one response to this spectator corruption argument is that fantasy is not the cause of this trend, but an effect. That is, fantasy might just be popular because it is tapping into a pre-existing desire to watch football in this manner. It might be that the only reason we sat and watched one team for the whole game and watched that team week in week out is that prior to satellite, one just didn’t have any other options. Now one has a myriad of consumption options, and this has opened up fandom in new ways. That seems to be a good thing for fans.

Fantasy as Gambling

A second group of concerns about fantasy sports is that it is just a kind of gambling. It is not, according to these objections, based on superior skill, effort, or knowledge but luck. First, even if this is true—and I don’t think it is—it’s not clear that this is an objection to fantasy without a second argument that gambling is itself wrong. Second, while a fantasy player does not have as much agency or ability to affect the fantasy game outcome as the running back or the coach does in real football, the fantasy player does have to draft well, adjust his or her line up, and make other important changes that will bear on the outcome. A fantasy player’s skill and knowledge at doing this affects their chances of winning. Much like words with friends (a scrabble-like game), you have reduced agency. You can only play the letter tiles you are dealt. It doesn’t really matter how good you are, if all you draw is vowels, you are not going to do well. Nevertheless, you still have some ability by employing one’s skill and knowledge to affect the outcome.

In-Game Fantasy Ethics

An area of fantasy sports ethics that I am very interested in is the ethics of playing fantasy. By this, I mean how should fantasy players play? Are there ethical issues here? Let me suggest a few.

One is the potential conflict of interest when the commissioner of a league is also a player in the league. This is usually the case, and it opens up the potential for the commissioner to set the game in his or her favor. I don’t know how often this occurs, but the potential conflict is something that one needs to be aware of.

Another is the potential for more knowledgeable players to take advantage of newbies in terms of trades or staking out the waiver wires. This seems unfair and it can lead to a lack of competitive balance.

A frequent problem in fantasy leagues is the ghost team. This is the team owner that, because of extended absence or lack of attentiveness, fails to set their line-ups properly, starts injured players, or starts guys in their bye week. This tends to upset the balance of leagues and undermines the playfulness of the game. Failing to keep one’s team up-to-date and the lineups set is a failure to meet one’s obligations as a fantasy player.

One of my friends had drafted Adrian Peterson for his team last year. He was outraged, like most people, at the stories being reported about Peterson’s overly aggressive physical punishments–even abuse–of his children. He faced a dilemma: should he still start Peterson? Should he hold onto Peterson in case he came back that year? This was not special to my friend or Peterson. In discussing the Peterson case with my friend, I realized I had the Carolina defense which starred, at the time, Greg Hardy who was accused of domestic violence. I faced the same dilemma, should I start that defense?

This is an interesting question for fandom in general. When the players we root for get into trouble—legally or morally—how should we respond? Do we withdraw our support immediately and completely? Which offenses go too far? In terms of being a fan, rooting for the player does seem to impart some approval or at least sanction to the player. So the issue of fan support is somewhat clearer: if a player has done something that you can’t support or be a part of as a fan, you should withdraw your support.

But, in regards to fantasy, how much does drafting and starting a player constitute sanctioning or condoning the athlete’s behavior? Should one refuse to draft any players from the Washington Redskins? What about a Michael Vick or a Ray Rice? I don’t have a clear idea of what the right answers are to these questions.

Too often, conversations about ethics are all negative. They focus too much on when people step over the line or violate norms. But ethics should also be about the positive, the aspirational, the ideals we shoot for as we attempt to live a flourishing and good life. So I want to close my comments by focusing on three positives of fantasy sport.

One, playing fantasy sports is a great way to build community: it’s a way of staying connected to old friends and making new ones. In one league, I stay connected to friends from grad school that I probably would have lost touch with a long time ago. Matthew Berry, best known as the Talented Mr. Roto, said in his book on fantasy:

“…the truth is it’s all about the people. It’s not the draft, it’s not the trash talk or the punishments, it’s not even the winning (okay, maybe it’s a little bit the winning). It’s the people. It’s the people who make the draft and the trash talk and the punishments and the winning what it is.”[3]

In an age when friends and family can live far apart from each other, fantasy is one way to build, maintain, and deepen that community and connection with our friends and family.

Another important value from fantasy is knowledge. Fantasy requires one to learn more about the real game. To do well at fantasy requires one have a good understanding of the game and the players. You can’t draft a left guard, but you better know if the QB you drafted has a good offensive line to protect him. Learning new skills and gaining knowledge is an important part of the good life and to the extent that fantasy does this, it too is part of the good life.

Lastly, playing fantasy is fun! That’s no small thing. Enjoyment and pleasure are, as Aristotle argued in the 4th century BCE, important parts of a flourishing life. So, other things being equal, an activity like fantasy that is fun and provides satisfaction and joy is something that should be praised as a good thing. I’ll end with a quote from Ayn Rand on the goodness of joy:

“Joy is an end in itself. My pattern of enjoyment is: I’m good, and if this thing has given me enjoyment, then it is good.”[4]

Thank You.

[1] Chad Carlson (2013): “The Reality of Fantasy Sports: A Metaphysical and Ethical Analysis,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport

[2] Billings and Ruihley (2014) The Fantasy Sport Industry, p 108. [My review of this book]

[3] Matthew Berry. (2013). Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It. [My review of this book]

[4] Ayn Rand. (1999). The Journals of Ayn Rand. P. 604.

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2015 Sports Law and Ethics Symposium

On Thursday, September 10th, I will be attending Santa Clara University’s Institute of Sports Law & Ethics 2015 Sports Law and Ethics Symposium. I am part of a panel on Fantasy Sports. I will be speaking about ethics and fantasy sports, namely looking at some ethical concerns raised by fantasy sports as well as some positives.

The whole day-long conference looks to be very interesting featuring academics, lawyers, and professionals on major topics in sports law and ethics. The schedule is posted at the ISLE website.

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The Sports Ethics Show: Sport Studies Symposium 2015

The 4th annual Sport Studies Symposium was held April 24, 2015. In this episode, the symposium participants discuss the ideas raised by the papers given at the symposium. In the first part of the episode, Mike Perry and Shawn E. Klein talk with Matt Adamson, Stephen Mosher, and Synthia Syndor about the nature of sport studies,its past, and its future. In the second part, Shawn and Mike talk with Aaron Harper, Stephanie Quinn, and Zach Smith about legal realism and sport, sport in the ancient world, and theology of sport.

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4th Annual Sport Studies Symposium: Sport Studies: The State of the Art

Sport Studies Symposium 2015
Rockford University is hosting the Fourth Annual Sport Studies Symposium on Friday, April 24, 2015 from 1:00pm to 5:00pm (CT) in Severson Auditorium, Scarborough Hall. The conference is free to attend and light refreshments will be served.

Panel One: The Study of Sport

“Breaking Down Binaries: Considering the Possibilities of a Dialogue Between Science Studies and Play Studies”
– Matthew Adamson (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

“The Long, Slow, Tortured Death of Sport Studies in American Colleges (And the Possible Path Toward Resurrection)”
– Stephen D. Mosher, Ph.D. (Ithaca College)

“Conceptualizing the Nature of Sport”
– Synthia Sydnor, Ph.D. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Panel Two: Sport Studies as Interdisciplinary

“Interpreting Interpretivism: A Legal Realist Account of Cheating in Sport”
-Aaron Harper, Ph.D. (West Liberty University)

“Then and Now:  Sport and Spectacle in Ancient Greece and Rome”
– Stephanie Quinn, Ph.D. (Rockford University)

“’Theology of Sport: Mapping the Field”
– Zach Smith (United States Sports Academy)

Symposium Flyer (PDF)

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IAPS at Central APA: Additional Commentator Needed!

The IAPS session for the Central APA meeting in St. Louis, Missouri is scheduled for Thursday, February 19 at 5:30.

Aaron Harper of West Liberty University is presenting: “‘You’re the Best Around’: Reconsidering Athletic Excellence in Seasons and Playoffs”. Craig Carley of Phoenix College is scheduled to provide comments.

Craig, however, might not be able to attend for personal reasons. I am looking for anyone who would be willing to comment as either a replacement or in addition to Craig.

Maybe you are already attending the APA and would like something else to do? Maybe this topic interests you and this is a quick way to jump into the discussion?

Please contact me ASAP if you are interested and I will send you the paper (you can also check out Aaron and I discussing some of the ideas from the paper in my Sports Ethics podcast with Aaron on the Value of Playoffs and Championships).

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Call for Abstracts: Sports Studies Symposium

**Deadline for Abstract Submission extended to Feb 9, 2015.**

“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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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 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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The Sports Ethicist Show: Sports Studies Symposium 2014

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

The 3rd annual Sports Studies Symposium was held April 25, 2014. In this episode, the symposium participants discuss the ideas raised by the papers given at the symposium. In the first part of the episode, Mike Perry and Shawn E. Klein talk with Sean Beckmann and Kevin Schieman about the 10,000 hour rule and what distinguishes sport from other kinds of physical games. In the second part, Shawn E. Klein, Zachary Draves, Huston Ladner, and Carl Robinson discuss the relationship between sport and society, cyborgs, and the value of spectatorship.

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Sports Studies Symposium: Defining Sport

Sports Studies 14 thumbRockford University is hosting the Third Annual Sports Studies Symposium on April 25, 2014 from 1:00pm to 5:00pm CT at the Grace Roper Lounge, Burpee Center. The conference is free to attend and light refreshments will be served.

Panel One

“Burning the Straw Man: the 10,000 hour rule, fitness, and athletics”
– Sean Beckmann, Ph.D. (Rockford University)

“From the Boarders: Skateboarding at the Fringe of Sport”
– Brian Glenney, Ph.D. (Gordon College) and Steve Mull (Gordon College)

“Sport, Seriousness, and Hopscotch Dreams”
– Major Kevin Schieman, M.A. (United States Military Academy)

Panel Two

“Sport in Society: How Athletics Shapes Our World and Consciousness”
– Zachary Draves, (Rockford University Student Contest Winner)

“The Convergence of Mechanization and the Modern Athlete in NASCAR”
– P. Huston Ladner, M.A (University of Hawaii)

“The Modern Literature of Ring Sport: A Cultural Phenomenon and Its Literary Forms”
– Carl Robinson, Ph.D. (Ashford University)

The Sports Studies Symposium is hosted by Rockford University professors Dr. Shawn Klein and Dr. Michael Perry. For more information please visit or contact Dr. Shawn Klein at


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Sports Studies Symposium: Speakers and Topics

3rd Annual Sports Studies Symposium:

Defining Sport

 Grace Roper Lounge, Burpee Center, 

Rockford University

April 25, 2014; 1-5 pm

Panel One: Borderline Cases

“From the Boarders: Skateboarding at the Fringe of Sport”
– Brian Glenney, Ph.D. (Gordon College) and Steve Mull (Gordon College)

“Is NASCAR a Sport? Are Drivers Athletes?”
– P. Huston Ladner, M.A (University of Hawaii)

“Sport, Seriousness, and Hopscotch Dreams”
– Major Kevin Schieman, M.A. (United States Military Academy)

Panel Two: Sport in the Culture

“The Modern Literature of Ring Sport: A Cultural Phenomenon and Its Literary Forms”
– Carl Robinson, Ph.D. (Ashford University)

“The Role of Athletics in American Higher Education Institutions”
– Chris Croft, Ph.D. (University of Southern Indiana)

Reserved for RU Student Contest Winner

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