The Grasshopper by Bernard Suits (review and announcement)

Broadview Press has released a 3rd Edition of the Bernard Suits classic: The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. The new edition contains the illustrations from the original publication. Also, there is a new appendix on the meaning of play.

With this exciting news, I thought I’d repost a brief review I wrote of The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia.

“The Grasshopper” is unique philosophy monograph. It is part narrative, part dialogue, part treatise. It is also humorous and easy to read. It, quite self-consciously, plays off elements from Socratic dialogues, the New Testament, and Aesop’s fables. Though I don’t agree with many of its philosophic conclusions, the work, overall, is successful at pulling all these elements off. That is, I enjoyed reading it and found it enlightening.

The main focus of the book is an extended discussion of the definition of the concept of “Game.” While in some ways, it is a meant as an answer to Wittgenstein’s famous claim that one can’t define “game,” it is more philosophically rich than that. Suits’ discussion is really more an analysis of the meaning of life. The Grasshopper’s main philosophical claim seems to be that in Utopia, all meaning in life would come from some kind of game-playing. By Utopia, he means a state of life where all activity is purely and totally voluntary and no instrumental activity is necessary. Suits argues that the only activities in such a utopia would games (or other forms of play).

I think Suits is wrong here, for several reasons. Without going into detail (I hope to write a long blog fleshing this out), his use of Utopia is irrelevant. The life he imagines here is impossible, and even if it were, such beings living that life would be nothing at all like human beings. So, whatever we might learn about such a utopian life is meaningless for the life human beings live. His accounting of play as “all of those activities which are intrinsically valuable to those who engage in them” is far too broad (This sweeps in things like one’s career) (146). His distinction between instrumentally and intrinsically valuable activities is too constrained and too sharp (it leaves no room for mixed activities or constitutively valuable activities). So while I agree that game-playing and more generally play itself are important, even central, aspects of human life, I disagree that is the only intrinsically valuable (whatever that means) human activity.

My main quibble (and it might be more than a quibble) with Suits’ definition of games is the idea that “the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favor of less efficient means” (54). It is a quibble if by less efficient he really means obstacle-making. I do think all games involve rules that place certain kinds of obstacles for the players to overcome, surmount, or play around. These obstacles often mean that only less efficient means for achieving the goals/ends of the games are available. So my concern is that the focus on efficiencies is non-essential. The essence is obstacle-making, not efficiency reduction–even if these end up being co-extensive. I am not sure they are co-extensive; hence, my concern that this is more than a mere quibble.

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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.

Related links:

You can download the podcast here:
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-show-sports-studies-symposium-2014/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

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Filed under Conferences, Fitness, games, NASCAR, Philosophy, play, podcast, RadioShow, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies, wrestling

Donald Sterling, Racism, and Liberal Society

Unfortunately the biggest story this weekend and probably the rest of this week is Donald Sterling, the LA Clippers owner, and his alleged racist comments. It is unfortunate in two main ways: (1) it is sad, disappointing, and infuriating that people still cling to such irrational views; and (2) it is sad, disappointing, and infuriating that this story pushes aside some great sports and dominates the news cycle. The first rounds of the NHL and NBA playoffs are going on. I haven’t watched the NBA playoffs, but the NHL games have been amazing. (And some great European football matches too, but those don’t get much coverage anyway).

The Sterling incident certainly is newsworthy and ought to be publicly discussed. While we have come a long way, race is still a problem. Honest and objective public discourse about race is hard to find. There is a lot of hypocrisy and double standards to such conversations. The Sterling incident reminds us both that racism stills exists and that we still have serious difficulties talking about it.

Proper Response

Assuming the recordings of Sterling are authentic, the views expressed should be condemned and criticized. But there is a wider call for action. Many want Sterling suspended, fined, or removed from his ownership position. Some are calling boycotts of the Clipper games. Sponsors have already started to pull out of their relationships with the Clippers.

These are tricky waters. I wouldn’t want to work for or with someone who I knew to hold the views Sterling expressed. If I was Doc Rivers or Chris Paul, I’d probably be scrutinizing my contract for a way out. If I was Adam Silver, I’d be digging through the NBA by-laws to find a way to put some considerable distance between the NBA and Sterling.

At the same time, I worry about the calls for Sterling’s removal from ownership. A flourishing and free society needs freedom of speech and conscience. This doesn’t only apply to the views we think are correct. It applies to offensive and irrational views such as the one’s Sterling appears to believe. It applies to Nazi’s wanting to march in Skokie, IL. It applies to a-holes who picket military funerals with homophobic signs. A society is treading in dangerous waters when it makes certain beliefs either required or forbidden.

The freedom of speech and conscience is not, however, freedom from consequences of one’s views. No one is (or at least ought to be) under any obligation to associate or do business with any one else. One is free to be a bigot, but I am equally free to avoid dealing with that person.

Here in lies the paradox of liberal societies. On one hand, as individuals we are free to associate with whom we want. This includes avoiding associating with those with whom one doesn’t want to deal. On the other hand, as a society we need to protect the freedom of everyone to believe what they want.

Should the NBA do what it can (legally and within its by-laws) to get Sterling out of his position as owner of the Clippers? Probably. Sterling is an embarrassment to the NBA and offensive to most of the audience (of all races) the NBA targets. The other owners probably have no more wish than most of us to do business with Sterling now. At the same time, we need to be careful about treating views that are offensive or otherwise outside of the given norms as sufficient reason for social and economic ostracism.

Update 4/29: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has suspended Sterling for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars.

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Marathon Monday

Every Patriots’ Day, I get nostalgic for Boston. I miss Boston all the time, but so much more on Marathon Monday. I grew up along the route. We used to go down to rt 135, hand out orange slices to the runners, and hang out while listening to bands play on top of the old Long Cadillac building. I used to work near the route and we’d take off in the morning to go and watch in Natick Center. I’ve watching along the route and at the finish line. I even worked on a website project at my old job for the centennial marathon. Like most of my friends, I grew wanting to run the marathon at some point (torn cartilage from playing football put an end to that).

Part of what makes the day so special is that it isn’t just about a world-class marathon. The race is a focal point, but the day means so much more. It is routed in the American Revolution (Patriots’ Day commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord). It is the start of the spring with the Sox playing their annual matinee game. Most people have off from work or school. It’s a celebration of the city and the region.

Last year didn’t change this. It’s added a somberness and solemnity to be sure, but the core is the same. It remains a celebration but now includes an celebration of the strength and resolve of all the people of this region. With nearly a million spectators and 38000 runners (9000 more than last year), Boston proves that we won’t let anyone change what Marathon Monday and Patriots’ Day means to us.

Boston Strong!

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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?

Related Links:

You can download the podcast here:

http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-boston-breakdown-with-joe/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

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

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 www.SportsEthicist.com or contact Dr. Shawn Klein at sklein@rockford.edu.

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Filed under Boxing, Conferences, Fitness, NASCAR, Rockford College, Site Announcements, Sports Studies

The Sports Ethicist Show: The Paradox of Fandom

The next episode of The Sports Ethicist Show airs Monday, March 31, 2014 at 6 pm CT on Rockford College Radio.

In this episode of The Sports Ethicist Show, we focus on the value of being a sports fan. In her paper, “Being a Sports Fan: Paradox and Intrinsic Value,” Prof. Gwen Bradford (Rice University) defends a view of the value of being a sports fan based on the idea that it is a good thing for fans to value the good of their team winning.  This, however, seems to lead to a paradox because fans do not value the same good when their team’s opponents win. Prof. Bradford and Shawn Klein discuss the value of being a fan, this paradox, and other issues arising in fandom.

Related Links:

Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central):
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/ (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/category/thesportsethicist/

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Filed under Fandom, IAPS, podcast, RadioShow

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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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

New Philosophy of Sport Books

There are two interesting looking new books on philosophy of sport.

The Bloomsbury Companion to the Philosophy of Sport (Bloomsbury Companions)
Philosophy and Sport: Volume 73 (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements)

I already have the Bloomsbury book and I hope to review it soon for this blog. On quick glance, it looks like a great companion. I especially like the electronic resource section (disclosure: this site and @SportsEthicist is listed).

Here’s the table of contents for “Philosophy and Sport: Volume 73″ (borrowed from Philosophy of Sport blog):

  • Preface, Anthony O’Hear
  • Ways of Watching Sport, Stephen Mumford
  • The Martial Arts and Buddhist Philosophy, Graham Priest
  • Sport as a Moral Practice: An Aristotelian Approach, Michael W. Austin
  • A Plea for Risk, Philip Ebert and Simon Robertson
  • Not a Matter of Life and Death?, Anthony O’Hear
  • Sport and Life, Paul Snowdon
  • Glory in Sport (and Elsewhere), Timothy Chappell
  • Conceptual Problems with Performance Enhancing Technology in Sport, Emily Ryall
  • Is Mountaineering a Sport?, Philip Bartlett
  • Rivalry in Cricket and Beyond: Healthy or Unhealthy?, Michael Brearley
  • In the Zone, David Papineau
  • Olympic Sacrifice: A Modern Look at an Ancient Tradition, Heather L. Reid
  • Chess, Imagination, and Perceptual Understanding, Paul Coates

And the table of contents for The Bloomsbury Companion (From the Bloomsbury website):

Introduction, Cesar R. Torres \ Part I: History and Development \ A History of Philosophic Ideas about Sport, David Lunt and Mark Dyreson \ Part II: Research Methodology \ The Philosophy of Sport and Analytic Philosophy, Scott Kretchmar \ The Philosophy of Sport and Continental Philosophy, Vegard Fusche Moe \ The Philosophy of Sport, Eastern Philosophy and Pragmatism, Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza, Koyo Fukasawa and Mizuho Takemura \ Part III: Current Research and Key Issues \ Theories of Sport, Robert L. Simon \ Fairness and Justice in Sport, Sigmund Loland \ The Ethics of Enhancing Performance, Sarah Teetzel \ Disability and Sport, Carwyn Jones \ Sport, Risk and Danger, Leslie A. Howe \ Sport and the Environment–Ecosophical and Metanoetical Intersections, Ron Welters \ The Aesthetics of Sport, Stephen Mumford \ Sporting Knowledge, Gunnar Breivik \ Sport and Ideology, Lamartine P. DaCosta \ Competitive Sport, Moral Development and Peace, J. S. Russell \ Sport, Spirituality and Religion, Simon Robinson \ Sport and Violence, Danny Rosenberg \ Part IV: Future Developments \ Sport and Technological Development, Alun Hardman \ Conceivable Horizons of Equality in Sport, Pam R. Sailors \ ‘Spoiled Sports’: Markets and the Corruption of Sport, William J. Morgan \ Sport Philosophy around the World, Peter M. Hopsicker and Ivo Jirásek \ Part V: Glossary of Key Terms and Concepts \ Part VI: Resources and Careers \ Resource Guide, Emily Ryall \ Careers, Charlene Weaving \ Part VII: The Literature \ The Sport Philosophy Literature: Foundations, Evolutions and Annotations, Tim Elcombe, Douglas Hochstetler and Douglas W. McLaughlin \ Index

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