Category Archives: Football

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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Filed under baseball, Football, NFL, playoffs, podcast, soccer

The Sports Ethicist Show: Boston Breakdown with Joe

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

 Joe Danker and Shawn Klein discuss things Boston sports in this episode of The Sports Ethicist. What defines a successful season? How important is it for the Bruins to get to and win the Stanley Cup this year? Are the Red Sox in a grace period after winning the World Series? Is it wrong for the Celtics to be tanking their season?

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Filed under baseball, basketball, Boston, Football, Hockey, podcast, RadioShow, soccer

NLRB, College Athletes, and Unions

I’ve hesitated posting anything about the recent NLRB decision regarding the Northwestern football players push to form a union for two reasons.

First, I am not a lawyer and I don’t know much about labor law. So I can’t intelligently comment on the decision itself. I am not in a position to evaluate the merits of the case or the applicability of the relevant law and regulations.

Second, the potential impact of this decision is monumental. It could change everything in college sports (or nothing, but more likely something in between). It seems impossible to make a comment without it spidering out to dozens of other relevant issues. How will this affect compensation and tax laws? What about Title IX and other sports? What will the impact be on the NCAA and its governance/oversight roles? More generally, if the structure of collegiate athletics changes radically, how will this affect higher education overall?

Each one of these is a complex issue in itself. This should tell you that the talking heads commenting on all this probably don’t know what they are talking about it. And after reading a lot of different viewpoints on this since the decision was announced, the one thing I can gleam is that no one knows how this is going to play out or what it really means. The only honest answer to the question “What does this decision mean for college sports?” is “Beats the hell out of me!”

Nevertheless, I wanted to make at least a few general comments.

I think it is an important aspect of the liberty of association and the liberty of contract that individuals are free to work together as a voluntary unit to achieve agreed upon ends. This is what a corporation does. This is what a union does. It’s what a university does. In that way, I don’t think there are compelling reasons for the state to prevent players (or anyone) from forming a union. (At the same time, I don’t think the state should force anyone else to have to deal with that union either—but that is story for another time). In this general sense (and without commenting on their reasoning), I think the NLRB decision was correct.

Additionally, I think the NCAA and the current collegiate athletic system is unfair, hypocritical, and just plain a mess. This decision may be a catalyst for some real change.

And this leads to the worry that I think many have. It may open the door for change, but what kind of change? Change is not always a good thing. As bad as the NCAA is, there is nothing so bad that can’t be made be worse.

Still, I am more sanguine about the reform possibilities than this suggests. At the very least it should be interesting to watch unfold.

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Filed under Football, NCAA

Cheating and Diving

My fellow sport philosophy blogger, Mike Austin, has a good post about Diving in Soccer that is well worth reading.

In general, I agree with Mike’s post. I don’t like diving, flopping, etc., in sport. It is cheap and dishonest. It is not an honorable way to compete and win. As Mike says, it “…conflicts directly with the value of sportsmanship, and undermines the pursuit of an honorable victory”.

Mike, however, also characterizes it as “an especially egregious form of cheating”. This claim gives me pause. It seems more like other (potentially) morally dubious actions in sport such as the intentional/professional foul or acts of gamesmanship. These are not normally considered “cheating” by practitioners (sport philosophers, on the other hand, are more mixed on this).

What gives me pause is that I realized I don’t know what cheating is. That is, I don’t think we have clear ways of distinguishing between what counts and doesn’t count as cheating.

(a)  Cheating is an action in violation of the rules.

This is too broad. One might accidentally or unknowingly violate a rule: the accidental face mask in American football. Notice we can still punish the act even if it is not cheating. Cheating carries with it a sharp opprobrium that doesn’t fit an accident (even if it the accident is punishable under a strict liability framework such as the face mask rule in the NFL).

This definition might also be too narrow. Consider some of the MLB players that are being denied Hall of Fame votes because of their alleged PED use. Some of these players were active during a period when MLB did not have rules banning these substances. They are still considered by many to have cheated although they did not violate any rule of the game. I’m going to bracket this criticism in this post.

(b)  Cheating is an action that is an intentional violation of the rules

Some intentional rule violations are not cheating. In basketball, a player cannot hold or push the player with the ball. This is a personal foul that results in the offensive player getting free throws. It also results in the stoppage of the clock and a change of possession. It is routine at the end of close games for the losing team intentionally to foul in order to stop the clock and get the ball back. In order for this to work, the foul must be called and so it involves no deception. The team that is fouled gets a chance to widen their lead with free throws. So the strategic advantage earned by the foul is not unilateral. While the morality of this kind of foul is controversial, it is not usually considered cheating even by those who a critical of the acceptance of these kinds of violations.

(c)  Cheating is an action that is an intentional violation of the rules in which the violator tries to avoid detection, usually through deception, and to gain a unilateral advantage.

There are many counter examples to this formulation. It is against the rules in the NFL for a defensive player to enter the neutral zone and cause an opposing player to react prior to the snap of the ball. (A Neutral Zone Infraction). A defensive player may do this accidentally by mistiming his blitz. But he might also do this strategically hoping to either get an advantage in his movement towards the ball or to get a False Start called on the offensive lineman who reacts. In such cases, he is hoping to get away with his action and gain a unilateral advantage (either in timing or yardage). Nevertheless, it would be very strange to any participant or spectator of the NFL to call this cheating.

The “dive” in soccer (association football) seems to fall into this last category. One takes the dive in order to get a penalty called on the opposing team. Diving is against the rules (one can get a yellow card for it), so the player is deceptive in making the contact appear worse as well as making his feint more believable. The player hopes to get away with his action and thereby gain an unilateral advantage. (On a side note, Mike says “in the case of diving, a player is not accepting any negative consequence, unless he is poor at it and is carded for simulation.” This is too strong. If no foul is called (either for simulation or for contact), the team of the player that has gone to the ground is still going to be momentarily short-handed because the player has taken himself out of the action.)

Although there is nothing incoherent in saying that the soccer dive is unacceptable and the NFL case is acceptable, there is something odd in saying one is a form of cheating and the other is not. The definition picks out both activities, so one would think the concept being defined here would apply to both. This suggests something more needed for the definition of ‘cheating’ or that we need to, as Aristotle would say, start again.

It is worth bringing back the idea that cheating doesn’t necessarily involve the violation of the rules of the game. Nevertheless, cheating does require that there is some kind of forbidden act, though it is open what the source of prohibition is. Cheating also does involve a certain amount of deception and the motive is to gain an advantage. However, neither of these are sufficient for the wrongness of cheating (all actions in the context of sport are aimed at gaining an advantage and there are many acceptable and unproblematic forms of deception in sport). The wrongness seems to come from a subjective exception-making. That is, one takes for himself the right to take an action (otherwise forbidden) that he and others would not grant to anyone else.

This explains why the deception in cheating is evaluated differently from the deception in a trick play. In cheating, the deception is meant to hide the fact that you are doing something you know is not allowed and do not think others should be doing. The deception of a trick play is just part of the play. It is not meant to hide a forbidden act. Nor does one think that such a play is forbidden for others.

The unilateral advantage gained by cheating is also different from the unilateral advantage gained by some act of gamesmanship or intentional foul. In the latter there is a recognition that the other team can engage in these or similar actions to gain analogous advantages. There is, then, a kind of balance of advantages. In cases of cheating, although one might assume others are cheating, the cheater in large part depends on the fact that most don’t engage in the kind of actions he engages in to gain his advantage. When one dopes, their advantage is reduced if everyone dopes. The doper wants the doping system to catch the other dopers (just not him). In other words, the cheater wants the rules to be strictly enforced except when it comes to his actions. In the case of the intentional foul type cases, the player might hope to get away with his foul, but he doesn’t expect or require different treatment by the rules than any one else.

This brings in the important role of the referees. In the intentional foul type cases, the player submits his action (by doing so on the field of play) to the referee for determination. Even he though he is trying to convince the referee to make the call to the player’s advantage (possibly employing deception t), the referee makes the call. The third party determines whether there was a foul or not. In this sense, the fouler wants the rules applied, but applied in his favor. In cheating, this is different. The cheater does not want the rules to be applied in his case and so doesn’t want this third party involvement. The fouler lives within the rules—albeit in a cynical or strained version of them. The cheater abrogates the rules.

I do not have a good way of formulating all this into a clear definition. Nevertheless, I think we can proceed without it.

Diving is a dishonest act and one that is disrespectful to one’s self and to one’s fellow players. It undermines enjoyment by spectators. For these reasons, it fails to live up to the ideals of sportsmanship and honorable play. The game is better without it and the leagues should work (within reason) to discourage it. Yet it doesn’t fit what I have described here as cheating.  The diver, although hoping to get away with his act, isn’t taking a special exception for himself. His deception is to try to convince the referee to apply the rules in a way that is favorable for him, but he is not looking for a nullification of the rules as they are applied to his actions.

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Filed under Cheating, Football, Fouls, Officiating, rule-violations, soccer

The Sports Ethicist Show: Rule Changes in Sport

The next episode of The Sports Ethicist Show airs Monday, March 3, 2014 at 6 pm CT on Rockford College Radio.

Rules are an essential part of sport. They define it, they govern it. But what about changing the rules? Three recent rule changes have gained national attention recently: expanded MLB replay, limiting home plate collisions in MLB, and penalizing the use of the ‘N’ word in the NFL. Shawn Klein and frequent guest, Mike Perry, discuss these rule changes and whether they are good ideas or not.

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Filed under baseball, Football, NFL, Officiating, podcast, RadioShow

The Sports Ethicist Show: The Reality of Fantasy Sports

The Sports Ethicist Show airs Monday at 6 pm CDT on Rockford College Radio.

It’s fantasy football playoff time! Chad Carlson, professor at Eastern Illinois University, talks with Shawn Klein about some of the ethical and philosophical issues in fantasy sports. We discuss his recent article in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport: “The Reality of Fantasy Sports: A Metaphysical and Ethical Analysis”

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A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.

(Update 12/17 10 am CT: The Itunes feed is not currently working, but you can still get the podcast here: )

(Update 12/19 12:30 pm CT: The rss feed for iTunes is working again.)

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Filed under Fantasy, Football, NFL, podcast, RadioShow

The Sports Ethicist Show: Boston Sports

The Sports Ethicist Show airs tonight at 6 pm (Central) on Rockford College Radio.

In town for a Cubs game, Joe Danker joins Shawn E. Klein in the studio to discuss things Boston Sports. Focusing mostly on the Red Sox and their remarkable turnaround from last year, they also hit on the Patriots and make some World Series predictions.

Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central): (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.

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Filed under baseball, Boston, Football, podcast, RadioShow

Podcast: Women Playing Football

The podcast for The Sports Ethicist Show: Women Playing Football is available for download.

The videos of 9-year-old Samantha Gordon playing football created a Youtube sensation that made it to ESPN’s First Take. The commentators, including regulars Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, argued against girls playing football with the boys. In this episode of The Sports Ethicist, Dr. Joan Forry joins with host Dr. Shawn Klein to discuss whether women should play American football. They also get into the general issue of whether there out to be more sex-integration in sport and what the effects of that might be.

Original Air Date: July 22, 2013 on Rockford College Radio.

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Filed under Football, podcast, Women's Sports

The Sports Ethicist Show: Women Playing Football

The Sports Ethicist Show airs tonight at 6 pm (Central) on Rockford College Radio.

The videos of 9-year-old Samantha Gordon playing football created a Youtube sensation that made it to ESPN’s First Take. The commentators, including regulars Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, argued against girls playing football with the boys. In this episode of The Sports Ethicist, Dr. Joan Forry joins with host Dr. Shawn Klein to discuss whether women should play American football. They also get into the general issue of whether there out to be more sex-integration in sport and what the effects of that might be.

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Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central): (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.

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Filed under ESPN, Football, RadioShow, Women's Sports

Rule Violations and Playing As If

As one might imagine there is a decent-sized literature in the philosophy of sport on cheating, rule-violations, and tactical fouls. (Two good papers reviewing the positions: Fraleigh, Water. “Intentional Rule Violations—One More Time” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 2003, XXX, 166-176; and Simon, Robert. “The Ethics of Strategic Fouling: A Reply to Fraliegh” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 2005, XXXII, 87-95)

Roughly the distinctions between these three categories are the following:

  • Rule-violations: The general category of actions where one violates in some manner the accepted rules of the game. These can be accidental (one is pushed out of bounds by an opposing team member) or intentional (one holds a wide receiver to prevent a catch resulting in touchdown).
  • Cheating: an intentional rule violation done for an advantage in a contest that typically involves deception and attempts at avoidance of the penalty for the violation. For example, the use of a prohibited performance-enhancing substance. This is done in secrecy with the goal of keeping the use secret.
  • Tactical foul (also strategic, good, or professional fouls): an intentional rule violation done for an advantage in a contest (or to prevent/mitigate a disadvantage) that is typically done in the open with the goal of the foul being called or acceptance of penalty as price worth paying to prevent a worse outcome. The paradigmatic example is the time-stopping foul near the end of a basketball game. This is done quickly and obviously in order to stop the clock with the hope of closing the point gap.

I am interested in identifying a class of actions that while they might in some ways be rule violations do not seem to fit into the categories of the literature on intentional rule violations.

Here is an example of the kind of action about which I am thinking. During the Texans-Lions NFL matchup on Thanksgiving 2012, Texans’ running back, Justin Forsett, is down by contact. However, there is no whistle by the officials and Forsett proceeds to run 81 yards for a Texans’ touchdown. To a layman’s eye, it looked obvious and clear that Forsett was down and that the play should have been over. (Due to a quirk of the NFL instant replay rules, this play was not reviewable.)

In this case, it seems that Forsett knew he was down and thus knew the play, by rule, was over and that he did not actually score a touchdown. While this is not a rule violation of the sort involved in the commission of a foul or penalty, it is (or at least appears to be) a case where the rules that govern what count as a runner being down or scoring a touchdown are ignored. Forsett, and the Texans as a team, appeared willing to accept a touchdown that by the rules really wasn’t a touchdown.

Similar cases that fit into this category are where a player clearly steps out of bounds but continues to play as if he did not or where a baseball player “traps” the ball and proceeds as if it is a catch. A soccer player who knows she touched the ball with her hand but plays as if she did not. These are all cases where the player appears to have knowledge that he or she has done some action X (that would result in some negative result for him or his side) but continues as if he or she had not (resulting in some advantage for his or her side).

I call these “Playing As If” (I’m not crazy about this name) since one is playing as if they have done one thing while they have in fact done something else. I think these cases are very common in most sports at all levels. Evaluating them, however, is not an easy or clear matter.

It seems, at first glance, that the honorable thing to do in all these cases is to acknowledge the action done. So Forsett should not have run for a touchdown. The baseball play that traps the ball ought not to field the ball as an out. The player who runs out of bounds ought not to continue the play. If this is true, then athletes playing as if, like Forsett, ought to be criticized.

There are two related reasons, however, that moderates against such a judgment.

First, all these cases involve officiating error(s). The officials are charged with ending the play after a player runs out of bounds or is down in football. They have failed to make the correct call and the players continue to play based on the officiating crew’s application of the rules to the game. Many athletes that I have spoken with about such cases put the onus on the officials to make the call. Their responsibility as players is to play, not to officiate. Many have gone further, claiming it would be wrong on the player’s part to engage in self-officiating. In Forsett’s case, his job is to run with the football until the officials blow the whistle signifying the end of the play. It is not his responsibility to determine if he was down or not and he would be wrongly encroaching on the officials’ job were he to do so.

Second, there is an epistemic issue here. In describing these cases, I have been presuming that the player knows that he is down, out of bounds, trapping the ball, etc. The player, though, is not likely to be in a position to know this (or to know with enough certainty). This is part of the reason we have officials. Officials are there to offer an unbiased application of the rules, but also to be responsible for paying attention to these kinds of situations. The player is more likely to be focused on other game situations.

Returning to Forsett’s case, it is not fair to assume that Forsett knows he is down. In conversations with several football players, they shared that in similar situations they couldn’t tell whether they made contact with the ground or another player. If the latter is the case, they are not down and so ought to keep going with the play. Maybe the athlete suspects he is out or down, but to make the further step of making such a call against himself and his team, he needs, I think, more certainty than is typically available to him.

While I think there are cases where a player knows full-well that he is down or out of bounds, etc., in most cases of this sort the athlete deserves the benefit of the doubt. This combined with the well-defined role of the officials as the keeper and adjudicator of the rules mitigates against a straightforward negative moral judgment against athletes in these cases.


Filed under Football, Officiating, rule-violations