CFP: Fantasy Sports Panel

This interesting looking call for a panel at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting (Chicago, November 9-12, 2017) came my way, so I’m passing it on:

The Humanities on Fantasy Sports

From humble beginnings, fantasy sports have grown into a cultural phenomenon in which more than 57 million North Americans now participate. Given their immense popularity, however, the scholarly attention dedicated to them remains modest by comparison, particularly in the humanities. The vast majority of research done on fantasy sports derives from the social sciences and generally focuses on legal, economic, and sports management issues. This panel seeks to expand the parameters of fantasy sports scholarship, to give scholars within the humanities an opportunity to intervene in current debates on the subject and to generate their own. It is an attempt to open previously unexplored avenues for fantasy sports research that will broaden the philosophical, theoretical, cultural and intercultural, geographical, historical, and/or disciplinary scope of the field. To this end, I seek contributions on the intersection of fantasy sports and philosophy, critical theory, history, rhetorical theory, cultural studies, game studies, and/or literature. I am especially interested in abstracts that address issues of internationalization, unconventional gameplay, uncommon fantasy sports, philosophical and theoretical approaches, alternative genealogies, community and communities, and ethics. All abstracts with a clear relationship to the humanities will be strongly considered.

If you would like your work to be considered for this panel, please send 300-word abstracts to Andrew J. Ploeg at aploeg@bilkent.edu.tr by Sunday, January 29th, 2017.  If you have any questions, feel free to email.

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Crash Course: Games

There’s a sweet spot at the end of the day between not being quite focused and energized enough for reading but still not quite ready to shut down for some mindless TV. I fill this some days by watching things like TedEd on YouTube. Recently, I came across John Green’s Crash Course channel: a wide-ranging short format educational video series. (Side note on Green: he writes bestselling books especially beloved by teenage girls, he is the leader of Nerdfighters, and is a huge Liverpool fan. A man of many talents and interests.)

I started watching Crash Course’s series on Games hosted by Andre Meadows.  Its primary focus is on video games, but the introductory course starts with the question of “what is a game?” As a philosopher, I was really curious how they would approach this.

Meadows starts where many would start: the dictionary. I don’t like starting there. Dictionaries are great for capturing usage, but that’s not the same as defining the concept (see my introduction of Defining Sport for more of my thoughts on that). Nevertheless, the goal in this video is not necessarily the conceptual or philosophical definition, so I’ll grant Meadows some slack there.

The dictionary definition he quotes is: “a game is a construct that organizes play through a series of rules, for the purpose of achieving a set of goals, overcoming an obstacle, and/or obtaining an objective.”

As Meadows says, that’s a decent definition. Indeed, it looks a lot like Bernard Suits’ well-known definition: “To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude]” (The Grasshopper).

Suits’ definition is a standard in philosophy of sport (though it has some issues) and personally the philosophy nerd in me would have liked to see the Crash Course video engage more in some of the questions and issues raised both by Suits’ definition and Suits’ discussion of games. But that’s probably more than the course needed or wanted.

Meadows’ dictionary definition is missing a few key elements. Meadows notes this with his discussion of entertainment and its role in defining games. Now, depending on what he is getting at with entertainment, that might be captured by the placing of games in the genus of organized play. We can see that, I think, in his discussion of noted game developer Chris Crawford’s analysis of games as a kind of interaction with a ‘play thing.’ Crawford, as Meadows tells us, starts with the play thing: the object with which one interacts and entertains one’s self. Add goals, challenges, and a kind of conflict and you get a game. The core idea starts with the goal of entertaining one’s self through a kind of play. So, by making ‘game’ a species of organized play, the entertaining aspect seems already to be there.

I like that Meadows makes a point of explaining that play has to be voluntary. You have to want to play or it’s not play. However, he makes what I consider to be, an all too common, error when he says, “Voluntary participation is essential. Otherwise, it’s work.” Voluntary participation is essential to play and games, but it’s also essential to work: otherwise we are talking slavery. The Work/Play relationship and distinction is a fascinating one. I think it is often also a confused one. While it is true that work comes with obligations and restrictions we might not otherwise choose in isolation, we still are choosing them as part of the package of choosing to work (and what work and how we approach our work, etc.).

One key element that the video misses—though I think Meadows’ discussion implicitly is trying to get at—is the notion of the lusory attitude. The lusory attitude, as first set out by Suits, is our attitude of accepting the rules, challenges, goals, restrictions of the game. Namely, we accept these for the sake of the game itself – as opposed to accepting them for some other purpose external to the game. Here’s an example that comes up frequently in my classes. War has many features that might make it look like a game: there are goals, there are rules, there are challenges. I always have a few students who want to make the case that war is a kind of game. One of the reasons why this fails though is that participants are not accepting the goals or the rules of war in order for there to be a war. The war exists for the goals; while in games the goals exist for the game. In particular, the rules of war are accepted by the participants for the sake of something else such as morality or law. They are not accepted in order to make war possible: that would be really disturbing. In games, though, we accept the rules, the constraints on behavior, just in order to make the game happen. This is the lusory attitude. (This is why, in part, Katniss is not in a game in the Hunger Games, she is just trying to survivor a cruel and sadistic regime.)

Because we are talking about an attitude, this does make identification of games a little tricky. If you have the right attitude, war (or the Hunger Games) can be seen as and treated as a game. I see this as an advantage for the definition, however, since I think it better captures the reality of games. There are those who treat and engage in war or other activities as if they are games—and so, their actions and behaviors can be explained and understood in similar ways to those who are engage in more standard games. And when someone treats standard games as life and death, or as externally imposed, then it is harder to compare those participants’ actions and behaviors to normal game players. So it makes sense to put these under different conceptual headings at least in part because of the different attitudes.

The video ends with a discussion of value of games and game play. There is a lot good stuff here (maybe I’ll blog about that later), and the rest of the series is an informative and entertaining history of video games. I highly recommend it.

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Defining Sport Published

I’m proud to announce the publication of my edited volume: Defining Sport: Conceptions and Borderlinesbf77d-coverdefiningsport

This is the first volume in Lexington Books’ Studies in the Philosophy of Sport series. [As editor of this series, I’d love to hear ideas for contributions to this series. Contact me with ideas.]

Part One examines several of the standard and influential approaches to defining sport. Part Two uses these approaches to examine various challenging borderline cases (e.g. bullfighting, skateboarding, esport, Crossfit). These chapters examine the interplay of the borderline cases with the definition and provide a more thorough and clearer understanding of the definition and the given cases.

See the full listing of chapters and contributors on my blog.

It is available from Lexington, Amazon, and other booksellers. There is also an ebook version.

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CFA: IAPS 2017

[I am so excited that IAPS is back in the USA this year! See the Call for Abstracts below.]

International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Conference

September 6-9, 2017 at Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi USA

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport invites the submission of abstracts to be considered for presentation at the 45th annual IAPS meeting and essays for the 2017 R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award. The conference will be held September 6-9, 2017 in Starkville, Mississippi USA hosted at Mississippi State University.

Abstracts are welcome on any area of philosophy of sport (broadly construed), including metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics, and from any theoretical approach, including analytic philosophy and critical theory. While IAPS recognizes, values, and encourages interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies, acceptance is contingent on the philosophical content of the project. Emerging scholars are encouraged to submit works in progress. See Abstract Guidelines below for template and instructions.

Deadline for abstract submission is March 31, 2017. A Program Committee of three IAPS peers will blind review abstracts. Contributors will be notified about the status of their abstracts by May 12, 2017.

Proposals for round table and panel discussions, including a tentative list of participants, are also welcome and should be directed towards the IAPS Conference Chair, Pam Sailors at pamelasailors@missouristate.edu.

About IAPS

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS) is committed to stimulate, encourage, and promote research, scholarship, and teaching in the philosophy of sport and related practices. It publishes the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, which is widely acknowledged as the most respected medium for communicating contemporary philosophic thought with regard to sport. IAPS members are found all over the world and constitute a growing and vibrant international community of scholars and teachers. More information on IAPS can be found at www.iaps.net.

2017 R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award

IAPS is proud to announce the fourth edition of the “R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award.” Interested undergraduate and graduate students who will be presenting their paper at the conference should submit a full paper by April 15, 2017 (in addition to an abstract, both through Easy Chair, see below).  A separate announcement is posted at the IAPS website. The selected winner shall present their paper and receive the award at the annual IAPS conference.

Conference Requirements

All conference presenters shall register for and attend the conference to have their paper included on the conference program. Presenters must also be members of IAPS (either student or full). New members may register for IAPS membership at the following www.iaps.net/join-iaps/

Abstract Guidelines

IAPS will be using the “Easy Chair” conference management system. Submitted abstracts should be 300-500 words long, in English, and must be received by March 31, 2017. Abstracts MUST follow the template and include:

  • A brief summary of a philosophical research topic
  • Keywords (three to five)
  • At least three references to relevant scholarly publications that contextualize the topic.

Submission Instructions

To submit an abstract, please download the IAPS Abstract Template. When you are ready to submit the abstract, go to https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=iaps2017 . New users for Easy Chair must create an individual account login. Please complete the submission information and upload your completed IAPS Abstract Template.

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Reason Papers: Philosophy of Play

The latest issue of Reason Papers, which I co-edit with Carrie-Ann Biondi, has a symposium on the philosophy of play.

Gadamer, Dewey, and the Importance of Play in Philosophical Inquiry
Christopher C. Kirby and Brolin Graham compare how play is crucial in the philosophical inquiry of Hans-Georg Gadamer and John Dewey.

Child-Centered Play Therapy
William Schultz looks at the evidence of the emotional and psychological benefits of play therapy for children.

Reflections on the Presence of Play in University Arts and Athletics
Aaron Harper looks at the parallels of play in the arts and athletics and argues for more integration of play into the university.

The Reconstructive and Normative Aspects of Bernard Suits’s Utopia
Francisco Javier Lopez Frias re-examines Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper and his conception of Utopia.

The full issue is available here.

 

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CFA: The 10th Anniversary Summit on Communication and Sport

The International Association for Communication and Sport (IACS) is hosting the 10th Summit on Communication and Sport. The Summit is scheduled for March 30 – April 2, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.

They recently sent out the Call for Abstracts for papers and panels. The deadline is October 14, 2016. Information on submission is at the IACS website.

For conference events inquiries, please contact Dr. Jeff Kassing (jkassing@asu.edu) or Dr. Lauren Smith (LS35@iu.edu)

For conference submission inquiries, please contact Dr. Lauren Smith

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Sportsmanship: The good, bad, and hateful

There have been many great examples of good sportsmanship at the Rio Olympics. USA gymnastic teammates Simone Biles and Aly Raisman cheering each other on even as they compete against each other. USA’s Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin helping each other finish a race after colliding in a 5000 meter qualifier. Galen Rupp falling back from the pack in the 10,000 meter to check on Mo Farah after accidentally tripping him. Athletes throughout the games, winning or losing, acknowledging each other and the crowd.

There have been some bad examples too. Two stands out: USWNT goalie Hope Solo’s unfortunate comments after losing to Sweden and French sprinter Wilhem Belocian ripping his bid off in disgust after being disqualified for a false start. I understand both Solo and Belocian’s frustration and can easily see myself being overcome by disappointment or anger and responding as they did. These were not their best moments. Poor sportsmanship for sure, but these actions speak more to being overcome in the moment by emotions not necessarily to deeper character flaws.

But there were a few other examples of bad sportsmanship that fall under a different heading and require a different kind of analysis:

These sorts of actions regarding Israel are nothing new. Even just prior to the Olympics, Syrian boxer Ala Ghasoun refused to participate in an Olympic qualifying event in June against an Israeli. Similar refusals happened in the London, Beijing, and Athens Games.

While there are examples of bad sportsmanship no matter the event, at the Olympics where the philosophical basis and purpose is fundamentally about peace, these examples are especially egregious.

There are real problems and conflicts in the Middle East. There is a lot of violence and fighting and killing. This ought not to be denied, hidden, or ignored. Israel and her relationship to her Arab and Muslim neighbors, citizens, and residents is a complicated, complex issue on which rational people can and do strongly disagree. There are dangerous and violent conflicts all over the world.

But the point of the Olympics is to find a space beyond all this. The crazy idea is that we take a break from real life—a life where unfortunately conflict and violence might still rule–to play games, to watch humans excel and compete at the highest levels of ability and talent.

Here are two quotes from the Olympic Charter on the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.

  • “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
  • “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Olympism and the Olympic spirit calls for people to step outside their normal routine and see that there is a possibility of peace, a possibility of mutual understanding and prosperity. As Heather Reid writes “Playing sports together seems to humanize ‘the other,’ by overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers and demanding mutual respect”(1) Through sport, where individuals must cooperate to compete under a set of rules and norms, people can come to see that cooperation, respect, understanding, and dignity are indeed possible—even with people you are ‘supposed’ to hate.

It is this explicit hope and spirit of peace that makes the Olympics different from World Championships or the World Cup. This is not just another event on one’s pro tour. Its specialness comes from the underlying philosophy of Olympism and its explicit call for peace and mutual respect among and between nations and individuals.

It is this that the Lebanese delegation, the Egyptian, and Saudi Arabian violated. Their lack of sportsmanship is a denial of the very purpose of the Olympics. It doesn’t merely reflect poor judgment or an overflow of angry disappointment. It is rooted in hate and antisemitism. It is a refusal to even consider the possibility of peace and mutual respect. There is no more un-Olympic way to be.


(1) Heather Reid, “Defining Olympic Sport,” in Defining Sport, ed. Shawn E. Klein (Maryland: Lexington,  Forthcoming December 2016).

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Sports Ethics at ASU Fall 2016

Here are the topics and readings for my Sports Ethics this fall at ASU.

What is Sport?
Reid, “Socrates at the Ballpark”

How can Sport affect Society?
Eig,  Excerpt from Opening Day;
Leavy, Excerpt from Sandy Koufax;
The 16th Man (Video)

What is Sportsmanship?
Keating, “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category”;
Feezell, “Sportsmanship”

Is it ethical to run up the score?
Dixon, “On Sportsmanship and ‘Running Up the Score”;
Feezell, “Sportmanship and Blowouts: Baseball and Beyond”

Is it wrong to foul?
Fraleigh, “Intentional rules violations”;
Simon, “The ethics of strategic fouling”

Is competition moral?
Kretchmar, “In Defense of Winning”;
Simon, “The Critique of Competition in Sports”;
Kohn, “Fun and Fitness w/o competition”

Is violence in sport okay?
Dixon, “A Critique of Violent Retaliation in Sport” ;
Zakhem,  “The Virtues of a Good Fight”

Should football be banned?
Russell,  “The Value of Dangerous Sport” ;
Sailors,  “Personal Foul: an evaluation of moral status of football”

Should PEDs be banned?
Savulescu and Devine, Oxford Debate: PED;
Simon,”Good competition and drug-enhanced performance”;
Hemphill, “Performance enhancement and drug control in sport ethical considerations”

What is the role of money in sport?
Duncan, “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? Yes!”;
Shuman, “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? No!”;
Collins, “Does the Salary Cap Make the NFL a Fairer League?”;
Sheehan, “Salary Cap”;

Is it ethical to be a sports fan?
Dixon, “The Ethics of supporting sports teams”;
The Philosophy of Sports Fan by Stephen Mumford (videos);
Aikin, “Responsible Sports Spectatorship and the Problem of Fantasy Leagues”

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

Why I Love Baseball

I was emailing with a friend today and the subject of why Americans like baseball came up. He was not born in the States and doesn’t quite get baseball. That conversation gave me the opportunity to put into words some ideas of why I love baseball. And now that’s given me a topic for a blog post.

I think most like baseball (along with many of our other preferences: other sports, music, tv, etc.) for nostalgic reasons. Many grow up playing the game, watching it, or going to the ball park with their parents or friends. One’s current spectatorship is tied into those memories and brings us back to that state of mind. It becomes a connection to one’s history and place. Quoting —(you have to by law, I think, quote Field of Dreams when you write about baseball)— the Terence Mann character in Field of Dreams:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.

Though I don’t think the quote is precisely right, there is a lot of truth in it. Every time I emerge from a tunnel in a ball park, I am taken back to those first few times I passed from the dark of the tunnel under Fenway Park into the bright sunshine and pleasant cacophony of the crowd. I get a rush each and every time and feel like I am 10 years old again.

Moreover, being a Red Sox fan keeps me tied to my home state. It’s been roughly two decades since I lived in Boston, soon I will have lived more outside of Massachusetts than in it. But donning my Red Sox hat makes me feel a little like I can hop on the T to Quincy Market for some Pizzeria Regina any time I want.

I also like baseball for some other, more intellectual reasons.

One of the things I love most about baseball is the battle between pitcher and batter. This is the point of tension that the whole game turns on. What is the pitcher going to do? What kind of pitch will he throw? What about the runner on first? How will the batter respond? Will he let it go for a ball? Foul it off? Put it in to play?

Each pitch is its own game in a way and the strategy of what to pitch/how to hit changes depending on the number of outs, strikes, balls, men on base, etc. With each passing moment as the pitcher looks into the batter’s box the tension builds. The pitch is thrown and you wait on the batter’s swing–what’s going to happen? Will it be strike? A foul? A hit? A HR? Swing! And then the release of tension as this moment of the duel resolves itself but it immediately starts to build again for the next pitch. This rise and release of tension is, for me, the basic piece of enjoyment of watching the game. (This is one reason I am completely against a pitch clock.)

Another element of baseball I love is that it is a kind of a fractal. Stay with me here… You have the pitcher-batter tension point but that takes place within a whole at bat which is part of an inning, which is in a game, which is in a series. Each level has a similar repeating pattern: three strikes, three outs, nine innings, a best of three series. It’s not really a fractal but it is a kind of complex spontaneous order arising out of a set of simple rules, repeating each pitch, each at bat, each inning, each game, and each series. And yet despite repeating this pattern, each at bat, inning, etc., is unique and its own thing. There is something beautiful and satisfying in experiencing the infinite variety that arises while being constrained by a set of simple rules.

There are many other reasons to enjoy baseball: the excitement of a HR; the beauty of a double play; the amazing skill of chasing down a fly ball in the outfield. And if you are at a live game, forget about it! The beauty of the ballpark is worth the ticket in itself. But one shouldn’t feel that they have to like baseball. It’s one particular form of beauty and enjoyment among the endless assortment of human activities and endeavors worth admiring and enjoying. Whether it is baseball or something else, the important thing is to revel in what you love.

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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