No Russians in Rio?

The Olympics start up in a few weeks and there is a very real chance that the entire Russian Olympic team will be banned because of doping allegations. The Track and Field team is already banned from Rio, but with the mounting evidence of a state-sponsored doping program in Russia, the IOC is considering banning the entire Russian delegation.

The allegations are serious. There appears to be substantial evidence that this was not merely the work of a few lone individuals working to circumvent the anti-doping rules, but that this was an orchestrated program involving government officials and agents, including the FSB, and a large number of athletes, coaches, and trainers throughout Russian sport establishment.

An Olympic ban for the entire delegation is also quite serious. Such a move would be unprecedented in the modern history of the games. It would send shockwaves through the Olympic movement and throughout Russia.

The full ban is also quite the moral quandary. It’s a conflict of two important aspects of justice: never harm an innocent and always punish the guilty.

Banning the entire delegation means that many Russian athletes with no involvement in the doping program will not be allowed to compete and fulfill their life’s dream and work. For many, Rio is their only Olympic opportunity. The ban would be inflicting a harm on these innocent athletes.

Allowing the Russian delegation, however, suggests that nations (if they are powerful enough) can get away with bypassing the anti-doping rules with little consequence. If the reports and allegations are true, then a large number of the doping Russian athletes would still be competing in Rio. It seems to allow the guilty to get away with, even profit from, their wrongdoing.

While I can imagine scenarios where collective punishments are the only or all things considered best option, prima facie they are unjust because (1) they minimize individual responsibility and (2) they sweep in innocents and punish the undeserving. In a conflict between harming innocents and letting the guilty go free, it is better to err on the side of letting the guilty go free. The harm done to an innocent person can never fully be repaired or restored. Furthermore, you will likely have an opportunity in the future to get the guilty person.

For this reason, I think it would be wrong for the IOC to flat out ban all Russians from competing in Rio. One compromise position might have been to retest Russian athletes and only allow those who pass the tests to compete. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t time for that. A second compromise position, one more feasible, is to ban any one—coach, athlete, official, etc., implicated in the investigations, but allow the others to compete. This appears to be the current status of things unless the IOC decides to go the route of the collective ban.

The flat out full ban on Russian athletes would harm the athletes and the spectators the most. The athletes might have had little choice in being part of the doping program and the spectators had no role. Moreover, the full ban wouldn’t really hit the government officials and leaders who orchestrated the doping program. A punishment that might, however, would be to pull all major sporting events from Russia. The IOC statement on July 19, 2016 already called for this. If major events, like world championships, qualifying events, or even the World Cup, where pulled from Russia, that would be a significant blow to Russia prestige. Since the whole doping program came into being to increase Russia prestige, this punishment fits the ‘crime’ better. It also wouldn’t harm clean Russian athletes who would still be able to compete in such events.

So after the IOC makes its decision about the Russians in Rio, the pressure will shift to FIFA and the possibility of pulling the World Cup.

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Filed under Cheating, doping, Olympics, PEDs, World Cup

Paying College Athletes

The Wallethub.com blog asked a panel of academics, industry experts, and lawyers: “Should College Athletes Be Paid?

In short, my answer was “college athletes should not be prevented from being paid,” but I also suggest that this is the wrong question to be asking. It is too broad and ignores several other important issues. You can read my full response here.

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Filed under College, economics, NCAA

Leicester City Semantics: Upset? Champion?

(With the end of the semester overload, I didn’t get to write this up last week, so here it is this week.)

jamie-vardy3_35303_3551503bLeicester City winning the Premier League is very cool. I think it’s great for soccer/football. It’s great for the EPL. It weakens the claim that money = wins in sports. It is an inspiration to witness the achievement of a team that had to battle up from the lower divisions and then stare down regulation last season. And they were a fun team to watch. Jamie Vardy is a little crazy, but an exciting player to watch play.

And as every commentator from here to Mars has pointed out, the Foxes were 5000 to 1 to win the league at the start of the EPL season. And their championship is being hailed in the media as the greatest upset in sports history. Upset?? Don’t make me go all Inigo Montoya on you all.

It’s an amazing feat. It’s unheralded. It’s a “Cinderella” story even. But “upset”? No.

Leicester were in first place for the last third of the season, and despite a few slips here or there, they’ve pretty much been top of the table since November. They were in the top 5 wire to wire.  By January, the odds of the Foxes winning had come down from 5000 to 1 to 8 to 1 and by February they were one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to win the league.

I am not sure how a team that is one of the favorites to win becomes the greatest upset of all times.

As in so many things, this turns on what we mean by “upset”. I take an upset to refer to a situation when the unexpected team/player wins; when the team or player that is not supposed to win, that is not favored to win, wins.

This doesn’t seem to apply to Leicester City after January. From that point to the end of the season, Leicester was top of the table and one of the favorites. So they were not unexpected, not the underdog.

Sure, back in August Leicester was not expected to win, they were not supposed to win, they were certainly not favored for anything but regulation. That is part of what makes their championship so amazing and historic. But by January, we knew that Leicester was going to at least challenge for the championship. And by April it was nearly (unless you were a Spurs supporter) a foregone conclusion. So I ‘upset’ doesn’t apply.

Speaking of Championships. I’ve also seen some criticisms of crowning Leicester City a champion without a championship match. Granted this usually comes from quarters less familiar with the structure of European soccer/football, but it is an interesting question. Does a champion need a championship match?

I don’t think so. There is nothing incomplete about a league crowning the league winner as its champion. Playoff systems are exciting and thrilling, but they have their own concerns. (Podcast: The Value of Playoffs and Championships) One major one is that a weaker team can win if it gets lucky, gets hot at the right time, or because it gets an easier bracket.

If a league doesn’t have a well-balanced schedule, then there is a good basis for needing a playoff system/championship game to determine the champion. If there is a team that the eventual champion didn’t play, that raises questions about the legitimacy of the champion. But in the Premier League every team plays every other team home and away. The EPL is a really long round robin tourney, so in many ways a championship match would be superfluous. And European soccer fans hungry for a playoff system get that in Champions league, the FA Cup, and other similar tourneys.

Recap: Upset, no. Champions, yes.

 

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Filed under Achievement, Football, playoffs, soccer

MPR Podcast: sports and domestic violence

On Thursday morning (April 28), I took part of a discussion of sports and domestic violence on Minnesota Public Radio. MPR archived the show as a podcast, available here: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/04/28/sports-ethics

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Filed under podcast, Sports Ethics, violence

Re-Pinning: NFL, Domestic Violence, and the Law

I appeared on MPR this morning to talk about domestic violence and sports. For those listeners and others, I though they might be interested in this post from September 2014: NFL, Domestic Violence, and the Law.

I’ll link to the podcast archive of the show when it is available.

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Filed under law, NFL, violence

Injuries, Future Selves, and the Difficulty of Goodness

I had an interesting conversation with a student today. She runs tracks but had been injured for a good chunk of the semester. I asked her how her foot was doing and she said it was okay now although it still hurt. Moreover, she thought there might be some more serious damage to the bone. After she went into some detail as to why, she said she would see someone after the season. When I asked why not now, she said she can walk and run without too much pain at the moment, so she’ll compete and wait to get things looked at later. Even though she knew she was risking further and possibly permanent damage, she had made the decision–with the apparent sign-off her training staff–to compete in the last two track meets.

What struck me as interesting here, from a sports ethics perspective, is the difficult balancing of interests in cases like this. The trainers and coaches have an interest in her competing now. They also have an interest in protecting her for future meets in seasons to come. And, of course, they have an interest (obligation?) in protecting her in the here and now from doing this further damage.

She has these same interests and obligations to herself. She has an interest in competing now and in the future. She ought to be taking care of herself in the here and now as well.

I don’t have any deep insight into what (if any) of these interests ought to be decisive. Inclined towards a kind of Aristotelian virtue ethics of some sort, I veer towards individual phronesis (practical wisdom) to weigh these different interests and obligations ought for the individual in her circumstances given her goals in life. That said, an 18 or 19 year old is still developing phronesis and needs the help of those more experienced and more wise than she from whom she can learn. And as members of an academic institution, her coaches and trainers have an obligation to help her develop this phronesis (that is, in theory,part of their central purpose at the institution).

Although the question of what she really ought to do is an important one, I am not going to explore it here. There are two more comments that I want to make.

First: One of the tensions is the interests of the person today: she wants to compete now; and the interests of the person down the road: when she is 30, 40 years old, how will this decision affect her. This kind of issue comes up all the time. Most people, in my experience, tend to think that the future person has a kind of trump. That is, let’s say she does some permanent damage to her foot that makes it more likely that she have early arthritic pain in her foot. Not so much that she is incapacitated, but enough that it is a regular feature of her experience. Most people seem to want to say that she was wrong or foolish to take this risk because of this future damage. Similar cases abound from issues like concussions and other injuries in sport. Since the future person is going to experience pain and some level of damage in the future, the present person ought not to engage in that behavior. “You’ll regret it later” we say.

I am skeptical that this is universally true. That is, I am not convinced there is a good argument for why we ought always to privilege the interests and concerns of our future selves. Certainly in many cases we should—that’s a big part of learning how to be a rational adult. But always? That I am not so sure about. Is it true that an athlete engaging in risky sporting activities today at the expensive of his or her future self is always in the wrong? If it is not, then this seems to cast doubt on many of the arguments against dangerous and risky sport.

Second: This case, and ones like it, highlight just how complicated things in ethics (and life) really are. This is not some acquiescence to what Ayn Rand called the cult of moral grayness.  It is to point out that even in a single case where everyone, let’s presume, is trying to do what is best and right, it is not easy or obvious to know what to do; let alone actually follow through and do it. As Aristotle said: “it is no easy task to be good”.

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Filed under athletes, coaching, Sports Ethics, virtue

Teaching Economics of Sports: The Big Leagues

From time to time I invite colleagues to write a guest post for The Sports Ethicist. In this post, I asked my ASU colleauge, Brian Goegan, to write about a model he uses for teaching “Economics of Sports”. Brian is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the 
Department of Economics here at ASU and uses this fantasy-like game to teach the his students about the economics of sports. If you are an ASU student and interested in sports, you should look into taking this course (as well as my Sports Ethics course).

The Big Leagues

Sports provide an endless number of great examples that can be used in the economics classroom, and countless teachers have drawn on them for a wide range of courses and topics. But for a class on the Economics of Sports, I thought I’d try making the example the lesson. In fact, I have built a syllabus which revolves almost entirely around an elaborate simulation of the sporting world which I call The Big Leagues.

In my section of 68 students, we have organized into 30 teams, each owned by a group of two of three students. In their groups, students must manage their franchise, making decisions about where to locate, how big and how nice their stadium should to be, what strategy to take to win games, what prices to set, and what coach to hire. As a league, students must also grapple with a Players Association and vote on the rules which will govern their league. All the while, they need to manage their books, and make sure they end the game with enough profit to buy their grade for this portion of the class.

By acting as the owners, students end up experiencing the lessons they’d learn from a Sports Economics class first hand. Leagues collude to keep player salaries down, and are combated by the players’ union that threatens to strike. When the league is dominated by one or two teams, and matches are no longer competitive, fan interest (and TV revenue) declines. My game also allows owners to dope their players in secret, boosting their performance at the risk of being found out, and each semester I get to see an institution deal with the fan and media wrath after a huge swath of players get caught, voting to impose fines and punishments on each other. They also have to work through complicated formulas and gut instinct to figure out what the profit maximizing prices for their tickets and luxury boxes are, the bread and butter of any good economics class.

The list of complexities goes on and on. Stadiums degrade, players develop across seasons, owners choose actions which influence both of those things, players have ‘suits’ which have combination effects when put on a team with other players, teams can field substitute players, different general managers and different coaches enhance different strategies both for profits and for wins, and contracts with players can include different clauses that give the teams different options down the road. The rulebook for The Big Leagues is 21 pages long, but as one of my students put it recently, “the more you play the smaller the game gets.” In other words, it is a lot easier to understand that it sounds. To make sure they get all the lessons the game has to teach, I devote about 50% of my class time to it. The other 50% is devoted to linking up their choices and outcomes in the game to the real world.

Given its complexity and startup costs, I wouldn’t expect a lot of instructors to adopt the game. And that isn’t even mentioning all of the spreadsheet maintenance and troubleshooting needed to keep the game running from season to season. What I can report though is its effectiveness. Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, little economic lessons are incrementally imparted with every decision the students make in the game, and they barely realize how much they’ve learned until I point it out to them. And given my discipline’s disinterest in finding alternatives to the lecture-based format, they also find it to be a refreshing change of pace.

If you would like to learn more about The Big Leagues, please feel free to contact me at brian.goegan@asu.edu.

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Filed under Arizona State, economics, Fantasy, games, Sports Studies

Extended Deadline for IAPS CFP

The deadline for the Call for Papers for the IAPS conference has been extended until April 7, 2016. The conference will be held September 20-24, 2016 in Olympia, Greece.

The official CFP and other information about the conference available at the IAPS website.

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Filed under CFP, IAPS, Uncategorized

PHI 394: Sports Ethics (Fall 2016)

SportsEthicsFall2016After having taught Sports Ethics at Rockford University for many years, I’m bringing Sports Ethics to ASU this Fall.

PHI 394: Sports Ethics

A study of moral issues in sports, including, but not limited to, the value of sport, the nature of sportsmanship, the prohibition of performance-enhancing drugs, the value of fandom, the social effects of sport, and the role of danger and violence in sport.

The class will meet Tuesdays/Thursdays 10:30 – 11:45 am.

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Filed under Arizona State, Classes, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies

IAPS at APA: Defining Sport

This year’s IAPS session at the Central APA meeting in Chicago is featuring three papers that tackle issues in defining the concept of ‘sport’. I hope to see you there!

Time: Saturday, March 5: 12:15–2:15 p.m

Topic: Defining Sport

Chair: Shawn E. Klein (Arizona State University)

Speakers:

  • Chad Carlson (Hope College) “A Three-Pointer: Revisiting Three Crucial Issues in the ‘Tricky Triad’ of Play, Games, and Sport”
  • Francisco Javier López Frías (Pennsylvania State University) “Broad Internalism and Interpretation: A Plurality of Interpretivist Approaches”
  • Kevin Schieman (United States Military Academy) “Hopscotch Dreams: Rectifying Our Conceptual Understanding of Sport with Its Cultural Significance” (Cancelled)

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Filed under APA, Conferences, Sports Studies, Uncategorized