Examined Sport: Randolph Feezell, “Sportsmanship”

In his 1986 article, “Sportsmanship,” Randolph Feezell argues that James Keating’s classic account of sportsmanship goes too far in radically separating sports and athletics. In this episode, we examine Feezell’s criticism of Keating and then look at Feezell’s account of sportsmanship as a virtue between seriousness and non-seriousness.

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Should You Watch (NFL) Football ?

Concussions. CTE. How can a moral person watch (NFL) football?

There is no simple or singular answer. But there are a number of considerations that people ought to weigh to start getting at an answer. This is a first pass at these considerations, but there are at least four: empirical questions, athlete autonomy, mitigation/education, and fan responsibility.

Empirical Questions

The main empirical question is what is the causal relationship between concussions (and sub-concussive hits) and CTE (and other long-term brain injuries and conditions).

We know there is a significant risk of concussions in football. We know that there is some relationship between concussions and long-term brain injuries like CTE. But we are still learning about the nature and extent of this relationship. There is a lot that remains unknown.

As stated in the 2017 Concussion in Sport Group Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport:

 The literature on neurobehavioral sequelae and long-term consequences of exposure to recurrent head trauma is inconsistent. Clinicians need to be mindful of the potential for long-term problems such as cognitive impairment, depression, etc in the management of all athletes. However, there is much more to learn about the potential cause-and-effect relationships of repetitive head-impact exposure and concussions. The potential for developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) must be a consideration, as this condition appears to represent a distinct tauopathy with an unknown incidence in athletic populations. A cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been demonstrated between CTE and SRCs or exposure to contact sports. As such, the notion that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE remains unknown. (McCrory P, et al. Br J Sports Med 2017;51:838–847)

  • What is the causal relationship? How deterministic is it?
  • What is the nature of the risk for CTE (etc.) from a given number of concussions (&sub) in a given time-frame?
  • What other factors: environment, genetic, age, sex, number of impacts, type of impact, etc., can affect this causal relationship in significant ways?

How these questions get answered are essential for drawing conclusions about the danger and risk of football. And we don’t have answers yet. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be cautious and work to reduce concussions in sport. Of course we should (and the above consensus report has extensive recommendations on this front). We know there is danger here—we just don’t how much, how far-reaching it is, or what the extent of the risk is.

Athlete Autonomy

The ethics of watching (or playing for that matter) football is not merely an empirical question. Football might be quite dangerous and risky, but that in it of itself is an insufficient warrant to prevent the activity. We still need to weigh the value of individual autonomy and liberty for choice in the projects of one’s life. For most, the presumption is that autonomous choice cannot be interfered with except where it causes harm to others. Several hundred years of political philosophy has tried to clarify every aspect of this: What counts as autonomous choice? What counts as interference? What counts as harm? Can we draw a line between harm to others and harm to self?

Leaving aside those important thorny issues, if we assume the playing of football is sufficiently autonomous then it is hard to see what objection there would be for those wishing to watch it. If it fails to be sufficiently autonomous, then that should give us strong reasons to stop watching (or playing).

The autonomy question is one of the reasons that the concern about concussion and CTE is different from the long-term debilitating injuries to knees, backs, shoulders, and so on that ex-football players suffer with. One might have to use a wheelchair to get around because his knees are so shot, but he still have his mind. He can still make choices and plan his life. But this might not be true for one suffering from CTE or other serious long-term brain injuries. So if there is a strong link between concussion and CTE or other brain-debilitating conditions, then this raises the question of just how autonomous football actual is.

  • If we assume the worst about the connection between concussion and CTE, does this undermine autonomy (either now or in the future)?
  • Should we interfere now in order to prevent someone from depriving himself of autonomy later in life?
  • Can one freely and reasonably choose to deprive himself of autonomy later in life?

Mitigation/Education

Another question that fans should ask themselves is: are the leagues, players, and other stakeholders working towards dealing with, controlling, preventing, and/or treating concussions? If they are not, that might give a fan a good reason to withdraw support for the sport by no longer watching.

Fan Responsibility

Does one’s watching of football causally contribute to concussion/CTE? What responsibility does the fan have?

Let’s say we are reasonably confident that there is high risk of long-term brain damage to those playing football. Let’s further say that this is still compatible with athlete autonomy. A fan might still be concerned that his or her watching is contributing in some way to the damage being done to the player (even if, ex hypothesis, it is autonomously chosen).

This raises complex philosophic questions about collective and aggregated responsibility that can’t be addressed here. Nevertheless, it is obviously true that without fans there is no professional sport. But one’s individual contribution to the practice is beyond minuscule. It is the proverbial drop in the ocean. So if one’s minuscule contribution hardly marks a causally difference one way or the other, then it is reasonable to ask whether withdrawing one’s fan support has any meaningful effect. If it doesn’t, then it seems unreasonable to say that, other things being equal, one has an obligation to stop watching.

Conclusion

How do weigh and balance all this? That’s something worth thinking more about, but I do think that to get to the conclusion that it is wrong to watch football, you have to have good reason to think that at least one or two of the following (if not all) are true:

  • The risk of CTE (or other serious long-term brain injury) is severe, significant, and far-reaching.
  • That this danger is too severe to be sufficiently autonomous or that the danger has sufficient effect on future autonomy such that we ought to be preventing or significantly restricting the activity.
  • The leagues, etc., are not doing even the moral minimum to mitigate, prevent, or educate about concussions.
  • Fan responsibility is sufficient that one has an obligation to withdraw their support.

While there is much room for rational disagreement and the need for continual reassessment of these issues, I am not yet prepared to assent to any of these claims.

Further Reading:

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Don’t Apologize for being a Patriots Fan

I was recently interviewed for The Outline by Ann-Derrick Gaillot about the morality of watching the Super Bowl. The article focused on four ethicists and their responses to three questions:

  • Ethically speaking, which team should people root for in the Super Bowl?
  • Is it ethical to watch the Super Bowl at all?
  • Is it ethical to watch Super Bowl commercials?

You can head over to The Outline to read all of our responses.

In this post, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the first question. Here was some of my response that they published:

(Full disclosure: I grew up in New England and root for the Patriots) In general, there isn’t a “should” here. Morality, for the most part, is just not the place to look for a rooting reason. We root for teams that we have a connection to — through family, regional connections, style of play. Those are all good reasons to root for one team over another. Assuming one is a neutral, flipping a coin is just as moral as choosing the Eagles because you like the color green.

There are, though, two other direction one could to take this question.

One might be the claim that one should root against the Patriots because of the scandals around so-called Deflate-gate and Spy-gate. But that seems based on some inaccurate beliefs about these scandals. Science has largely exonerated Brady and the Patriots of any wrongdoing regarding football deflation, and Spy-gate is also widely misunderstood. It was a violation of a policy regarding where a team is allowed to tape the activity of a game. In other words, the problem was where in the stadium the videographer stood — not that he was taping. It was a violation of a policy and the Patriots were wrong to do it (and they were harshly punished). But that seems a thin reed on which to rest one’s moral disapprobation.

A second is that if one admires and respects excellence, then they have a good reason to root for the Patriots. For nearly two decades, the Patriots have excelled in a way no other NFL franchise has or arguably ever will again. Tom Brady is getting ready to start his 8th Super Bowl. Since an NFL season is 16 games, Brady in essence will have played half a season of Super Bowls. The work, effort, and discipline that goes in to that level of sustained excellence is worth admiring and rooting for. Along similar lines, one might value the tenacity and perseverance of a team playing at a high level after losing their star quarterback and so choose to root for the Eagles.

Almost all of the ethicists, myself included, in the piece said something along the lines that whom you root for isn’t really a focus of ethical analysis. Notice, though, I couched my response in terms of “in general” and “for the most part.” This was not an academic’s attempt to weasel out of saying something definitive.

The standard case of fandom is not one where one choice is morally better than another, but that doesn’t mean that rooting for a team with a history of abuse or wrongdoing is beyond the scope of ethics. Unfortunately, because of subpar media reporting and general ignorance many think this applies to the Patriots. That is why I thought it necessary to explain why the two major Patriots scandals are based on misinformation. Deflate-gate was a joke and Spy-gate was overblown. All the other “questionable” deeds often attributed to the Patriots are either blatant and exposed lies (e.g. the illicit taping of other teams practices) or rumors without evidence.

If it were true that the Patriots were a corrupt and cheating organization, it would be wrong to root for them. But it is not true, so that cannot be a reason to root against them. And Patriots don’t need to apologize for being Pats fans (not that many of us actually feel the need to).newenglandvseveryone



I also thought it important to discuss another way in which ethics might guide one’s fandom. Ethics is too often treated as all about wrongdoing. The focus is exclusively on people behaving badly and why that is bad. Without denying the importance of such inquiry, it is also just as, if not more important to focus on value. Ethics should also be about understanding value creation, what it means to be good (beyond just not being bad), and how to live well.

pat-patriot-helmet-evolution
In this light, ethics can guide one to root for a team based on the values it represents or exemplifies. As I said in the interview, it can lead you to root for the Patriots because of the unparalleled, historic excellence and achievement of the nearly twenty-year period of the Kraft-Belichick-Brady era. It can also lead you to admire the perseverance and tenacity of the Eagles this year.

Lastly, there is something disturbing about rooting against the Patriots because they have been so great. I am not talking about Buffalo fans or Pittsburgh fans who are surely rooting against the Patriots this Sunday. I get that. I’d root against their teams in reverse situation. That’s just sport rivalry and its part of what makes being a fan fun. I’m talking about the ugly envy that targets the Patriots just because they are so good; just because they achieve at the highest level. Resentment and spite is not psychologically or morally healthy. Let go of the hate!

I’m sure there are many reasons for non-Pats fans to root against the Patriots: ignorance or envy shouldn’t be one of them.

Go Pats!

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Examined Sport: James Keating, Sportsmanship

What is sportsmanship? We all know we are supposed to be good sports but how do we know what that means in practice? To answer such questions, we need an account of sportsmanship. In this episode, we are going to look at the classic account of sportsmanship given by James Keating in his “Sportsmanship as Moral Category,” published in Ethics in 1964.

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Examined Sport Podcast

A preview of the planned upcoming episodes of Examined Sport Podcast

  • January: James Keating, “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category”
  • February: Randolph Feezell, “Sportsmanship”
  • March: Peter Arnold, “Three Approaches Toward an Understanding of Sportsmanship”
  • April: John Russell, “Are Rules All an Umpire Has to Work With?”
  • May: Nicholas Dixon, “Canadian Figure Skaters, French Judges, and Realism in Sport”

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Archive of Examined Sport.

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Video: Sports and Popular Culture Panel

If you were not able to attend the Sports and Popular Culture Panel, here’s the video.

Sports and Popular Culture; Faculty Panel Discussion from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

 

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IAPS at Central APA: Nature and Value of Play

The IAPS meeting at the next Central APA (in Chicago) features Stephen Schmid. In “Reconsidering Autotelic Play” (JPS 36.2)  and “Beyond Autotelic Play,” (JPS 38.2),  Schmid challenges the view that play necessarily is an autotelic activity and presents his own view of the nature and value of play. The APA panel will revisit and discuss the arguments and ideas raised in these papers. Hope to see you there!

Time: Thursday, Feb 22, 7:40 pm – 10:40 pm.

Topic: The Nature and Value of Play

Chair: Shawn E. Klein (Arizona State University)

Speaker: Stephen E. Schmid (University of Wisconsin–Rock County)

Commentators:

  • Adam Berg (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
  • Colleen English (Penn State Berks)
  • Francisco Javier Lopez Frias (Pennsylvania State University)

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ASU: Sports and Popular Culture Panel

Sports and Popular Culture FlyerWhat is the moral and philosophic value of sport?

Does sport provide, even in its competitive construction, an essential space for social cohesion in the modern world?

How does sport provide a means to explore the broader ideas and institutions in society?

Discussion about these questions and more at ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies Sports and Popular Culture Panel.

Moderated by Jason Bruner (School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies).

Panelists:

  • Terry Shoemaker (School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies)
  • Shawn Klein (School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies)
  • Victoria Jackson (School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies)
  • Lindsey Meân (School of Social and Behavioral Sciences)
  • Luke Brenneman (Global Sports Institute)

Date/Time: November 16, 12 pm.
Location: SCOB 210 (620 E Orange St, Tempe, AZ 85281)

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New ASU Course: Philosophy of Sport

I’m excited to announce a new online course being offered in Session A of Spring 2018: PHI 394: Philosophy of Sport.

PhilSPortFlyerCourse Description:

An inquiry into philosophical ideas and issues in sport. Topics and readings will vary, but may include: the nature and definition of sport, the mind-body relationship in sport, the effects of technology on sport, epistemological issues in officiating, and the aesthetics of sport. Since our “Sports Ethics” course examines ethical issues in sport, this course will not deal with primarily ethical issues.

 Likely Topics:

  • The Nature and Definition of Sport:
    • Can we, should we, define sport?
    • How does sport relate to: play, games, art?
  • The Mind and Body in Sport:
    • What can we learn about the mind/body relationship from sport?
    • What does sport presupposed about mind and body?
    • What can we learn about epistemology and metaphysics through sport? Does sport presuppose particular theories about reality or knowledge?
  • Technology and Officiating
    • How does technology change the ways we understand and engage in sport?
    • What role should technology have in officiating sports?
    • How do referees, umpires, etc., relate to the rules? What parallels are there to how we might understand law?

This course counts an upper-division elective credit. Talk with your advisor if you are interested in taking this course.

 

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The Sum Less Than the Parts: A Review of The Ethics of Sport: Essential Readings

Idrottsform.org, Nordic Sport Science Forum, published my review of The Ethics of Sport: Essential Readings, edited by Arthur L. Caplan & Brendan Parent (Oxford University Press).

Here’s the opening of the review:

Most of the papers collected in The Ethics of Sport are interesting and informative. They provide insight into many different aspects of the study of sport and of sport itself, and they do so from different disciplinary perspectives.

Nevertheless, this collection as a whole is a disappointment.

Writing a critical, negative review is difficult. There are many things I liked about the book, and I tried to highlight these even as a point out the book’s many flaws.

You can read the rest of the review here: http://idrottsforum.org/klesha_caplan-parent170906/

 

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