Brief Review: “Reality is Broken”

This book is not about sport, but some of what she says about games is applicable to sport. She does discuss, briefly, Suits’ definition of games, so that’s a plus.

Here’s my brief review (Cross-posted at my Philosophyblog and Goodreads).

The most surprisingly thing about this book is that it is many ways a self-help book. It discusses games in the context of how game-playing (and understanding games) can help make one’s life better. In the closing paragraphs, McGonigal says:  “Games don’t distract us from our real lives. They fill our real lives: with positive emotions, positive activity, positive experiences, and positive strengths” (354). Much of the book is explaining and defending these claims.

The first half of the book was much more interesting and engaging for me. McGonigal discusses how games affect individuals: their work, their happiness, their relationships. The games she brings in here seemed appealing. It made me want to go and play some of them. Typically the games where not in any way designed with these positive effects in mind; they were just games that had these results.

McGonigal also sees games as a way of changing the world and solving various kinds of large scale problems. This last part of the book was less convincing and less engaging. Maybe it’s because the games here seemed too contrived or the results too unrealistic, I am not sure. But in any case, something was missing in her discussion here that made me skeptical of the ways games (qua games) could be used to solve real global crises.

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The Sports Ethicist Show: Ethical Issues in Horse Racing

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

It’s the season of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Horse Racing. Horse racing raises is exciting and thrilling, but it also raises several ethical and philosophical issues: doping, horse welfare, genetic manipulation, and breeding and body types. Rockford University Biology professor Sean Beckmann joins the show to discuss some of these issues.

Related links:

You can download the podcast here:

http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-show-ethical-issues-in-horse-racing/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

 

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Filed under Horse racing, PEDs, Triple Crown

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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Filed under games, play, Reviews

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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Filed under Football, NCAA