Examined Sport: Scott Kretchmar, “From Test to Contest: An Analysis of Two Kinds of Counterpoint in Sport”

After a long hiatus, Examined Sport is back! Look for new episodes every two weeks.


In this episode of Examined Sport, I discuss Scott Kretchmar’s “From Test to Contest: An Analysis of Two Kinds of Counterpoint in Sport” published in the Journal of Philosophy of Sport in 1975. One of the foundational papers of the discipline, Kretchmar examines the distinction between tests and contests. The paper introduces several ideas that are influential on Kretchmar’s later work and on other thinkers in the field.

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Brief Review: From Ritual to Record

Guttmann’s classic From Ritual to Record is, in many ways, two books. The first “book” fits the title: it explains modern sport as something that comes out of but differs in essential ways from pre-modern sports. He provides a context and theory that attempts to account for the change. This first part of the book is (has been) the more important one for scholars of sport.

The second “book” is an attempt to try to account for the (somewhat) unique popularity of baseball and (American) football in America. Although this discussion is personally interesting, both because I’m a fan of both sports and because Guttmann makes extensive use of literature and film to provide illustrations and support of his ideas, it ultimately is too out of date to be all that relevant. Writing in the late 70s and appealing to data and sources from even earlier decades, Guttmann identifies some of the origins of some of the trends we see today (e.g. the slower growth of baseball relative to the growing popularity of football). But to be useful in a contemporary discussion of how American sports differ from the sports of other nations (and what that might tell us), we’d have to update most of that data.

Guttmann starts the “main” book with an attempt at a definition of sport. Working through the ideas of various thinkers, including Suits, Huizinga, Callois, Sutton-Smith, and others, Guttmann draws distinctions between play, games, and sport; and defines sport as a playful physical contest. I have several quibbles with his topology of play, games, and sport, in particular in the manner in which he treats play. He follows the line of thought (which I think is mistaken) that treats play as purely autotelic, with no room for the instrumental or the purposive. This leads, I think, to several errors in how Guttmann conceptualizes sport and its role in our lives. That aside, the general thrust of his description of sport are sufficient to make sense of his argument about the shift from pre-modern to modern sport. His discussion examines how sports modernized in terms of seven main characteristics:

  • Secularism
  • Equality of opportunity to compete and conditions of competition
  • Specialization of roles
  • Rationalization
  • Bureaucratic organization
  • Quantification
  • Quest for records

While discussing all of these, secularism and quantification seem to be the essential characteristics. These are the ones he focuses on the most, and in many ways they undergird and explain the other characteristics. For example, the quest for records seems to me to be a function of quantification – since the statistics and measures used for the records are things quantified.

Guttmann explains secularism as the long term shift from the origins of many sports and games in terms of the sacred towards sports as secular. In most cultures, athletic contests were, like most things, bound up with religion, the sacred. The games honored the gods or the contests were themselves sacred rituals (not recreation). Most know that the ancient Olympics and other Pan-Hellenic games were (at least in part) sacred religious events.

As he argues, part of the development of the modern world is a process of secularization. By this Guttmann doesn’t mean an outright rejection or eschewing of religion. It is that things that were sacred move in to the mundane. Sport modernize by moving from the sacred realm into the ordinary, everyday world.

Guttmann does briefly touch on the idea that sports have become a kind of secular religion, that it involves many rituals and myths of its own (26). After all, what sports fan hasn’t prayed to the “sports gods” at some point! But Guttmann argues that the point and role of sport in our lives is secular: it’s not about the transcendent or the sacred. It’s about fun, play, and profit.

I think this might dismiss the idea of a sacred secular, if such a thing makes sense. It’s not a transcendence that is mystic or other-worldly; it’s of this world and time but still sacred insofar as it is acknowledged and seen as extraordinary and special. A sacred secular just might be an essential aspect of modern sport. We all, I think, have the need for the sacred and sport might be a secular, non-supernatural way to experience the sacred. Towards the end of chapter 2, Guttmann seems to suggest something like a sacred secular: “Once the gods have vanished from Mount Olympus or from Dante’s paradise, we can no longer run to appease them or to save our souls, but we can set a new record. It is a uniquely modern form of immortality” (55).

The other key element of modern sport is the quantification: the desire to measure and quantify each aspect of sports. Again this is a broad modern trend we see in most aspects of modern life. It deeply impacts sport because there is so much to measure! And these measures become a (or maybe even the) means of comparison and evaluation. How many yards? How many baskets? How many strikes? And this is before we even step in to the age of advance metrics!

Another element of the book is Guttmann’s critique of Marxist (and neo-Marxist) analyses of modern sport. Though he takes pains to point to some positive contributions, he rejects these approaches as the nonsense they are. (In the Afterword, added in 2004, he walks this critique back a little bit and is a bit more accommodating, while still nonetheless rejecting these approaches).

Guttmann’s conclusion about the development of modern sport is best summed up by his claim that: “The emergence of modern sports represents neither the triumph of capitalism nor the rise of Protestantism but rather the slow development of an empirical, experimental, mathematical Weltanschauung[a kind of world-view]” (85). The modernization process, in sport and elsewhere, is a function of this world-view: a view that looks to reason and evidence to understand, make sense of, and organize the world in which one lives. Modern sport is an outgrowth of this process. I’m inclined to think that capitalism (understood as the freedom of consenting adults to produce and freely trade goods and services) is equally a result of the same modernization process. But Guttmann’s point still holds that modern sport is not the result of market economies per se; it is rather a parallel, inherently modern development.

Guttmann’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of sport and how modern sport is different from early forms of sport. Though I am less convinced that modern sport is different in kind from earlier forms (though that may not be Guttmann’s point), I think Guttmann is right about the slow development of the world view that ultimate brings about what we recognize as modern sport.

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Foul Strike Rule Change Proposal

Many in baseball think there is a need for rule changes to help create more action and excitement in baseball. There are many rule experiments going on in the minor leagues and some recent changes in the major leagues as well. Personally, I think most of these are terrible ideas. They are artificial feeling (starting the tenth inning with a running on second base); they require changes to the make-up of the field (moving the mound back), or they introduce new and external elements to baseball (a pitch clock – an abomination). So, I want to offer a rule change that fits with the history of the game as it has evolved.

In 1901, the National League introduce a rule that required the first two foul ball hit by a batter to be counted as strikes. The American League adopted the rule in 1903.

In part this was introduced to prevent batters from endlessly hitting foul balls. It was meant to incentivize putting the ball into play to help create more action and excitement.

My proposal is to further restrict the number of foul balls allowed. I am not sure what the precise number should be, but let’s say, after the first two foul strikes, the batter is allowed four more fouls before the next foul is a third strike and the batter is out. This incentivizes the batter to put the ball in play, creating more action. It shortens the at-bats, creating a quicker game pace. By reducing pitch counts, it allows the starting pitcher to stay in the game longer (reducing the delay from changing pitchers).

This fits with the evolution of the foul strike rule. It doesn’t require any changes other than tracking the extra fouls.

A full count would be 4-3-2 (fouls, balls, strikes). And it really would be a full count. We would have an actual pay-off pitch: the next pitch will either be in play, be a walk, or be an out. This creates more tension and excitement as well: rather than the anticlimactic foul ball on the ‘pay-off’ pitch, we know something is going to happen.

The only downside I can see is that this tilts advantage to the pitcher/defense. The batter cannot simply foul off pitches waiting for ‘his’ pitch. And in line with that, we would lose some of those epic batter-pitcher battles at the plate. But the trade-off seems worth it to me. We get the faster paced game many want without doing anything radical to the sport.

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Fall 2021: Sports Ethics (PHI 370) @ ASU

I will be teaching PHI 370: Sports Ethics at ASU in fall 2021.

For ASU students: Check with your academic advisor, but this course may be used to meet your HU general studies requirement and your general upper-division hours requirement. It may also be used as one of your upper-division electives in both the Philosophy and the Morality, Politics and Law majors, as well as the Ethics Certificate.

This course is also one of the required courses for the Sports, Cultures and Ethics Certificate.

 

Course Description:

A study of moral issues in sports, including but not limited to the nature and application of sportsmanship, the prohibition of performance enhancing drugs, ethical issues in the economics of sports, the role of violence, and fandom.

Prerequisite(s): ENG 102, 105, or 108 with C or better; minimum 25 hours; Credit is allowed for only PHI 370 or PHI 394 (Sports Ethics)

The class is scheduled for T/TH 9-10:15 am on the Tempe campus (COOR 199). SLN#: 91210

Tentative Weekly Reading and Unit Schedule
(subject to change)

Module: Course Introduction

Module: Philosophy and Sport: What is ‘sport’ and why study it?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Carson, Chad. “A Three-Pointer: Revisiting Three Crucial Issues in the “Tricky Triad” of Play, Games, and Sport.” Defining Sport. Edited by Shawn E. Klein. Lexington Books: Maryland, 2017, pp 3-21.
    • Reid, Heather, “Socrates at the Ballpark.” Baseball and Philosophy. Edited by Eric Bronson. Open Court: Chicago, 2004, pp 273-283.

Module: What is Sportsmanship?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Keating, James, “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category,” Ethics 75, No 1, 1964, pp 25-35.
    • Feezell, Randolph, “Sportsmanship,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 13, 1986, pp 1-13.

Module: Is it ethical to run up the score?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Dixon, Nicholas, “On Sportsmanship and ‘Running Up the Score”; Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 19, 1992, pp 1-13.
    • Feezell, Randolph, “Sportmanship and Blowouts: Baseball and Beyond” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 26, 1999, pp 68-78.

Module: Is it wrong to foul?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Fraleigh, Warren. “Intentional rules violations — One more time,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 30, No, 2, 2003, pp 166-176.
    • Simon, Robert. The ethics of strategic fouling: A reply to Fraleigh,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 32, No. 1, 2005, pp 87-95.

Module: Is competition moral?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Kretchmar, R. Scott. “In Defense of Winning,” Sports Ethics: An Anthology. Ed. By Jan Boxill. Blackwell Publishing, 2003. pp. 130-135.
    • Simon, Robert. “The Critique of Competition in Sports,” Fair Play: The Ethics of Sport. 2nd Edition. Westview Press: 2004. Pp 19-35.
    • Kohn, Alfie. “Fun and Fitness w/o Competition,” Women’s Sport & Fitness, July/August 1990.

Module: Are playoffs fair?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Torres, Cesar R., and Peter Hager, “The Desirability of the Season Long Tournament: A Response to Finn,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 38, pp 39-54.
    • Harper, Aaron, “’You’re the best around’: an argument for playoffs and tournaments,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 43, no 2, 2016, pp 295-309

 Module: Should fighting in sport by allowed?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “A Moral Critique of Mixed Martial Arts,” Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol 29, No 4, 2015, 365-384.
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “A Critique of Violent Retaliation in Sport,” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, Vol 37, No. 1, 2010, pp 1-10.
    • Zakhem, Abe. “The Virtues of a Good Fight: Assessing the Ethics of Fighting in the National Hockey League,” Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2015, pp 32-46.

Module: Can playing dangerous sports be justified?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Russell, J.S. “The Value of Dangerous Sport,” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, 32, No. 1, 2005, pp 1-19.
    • Findler, Patrick, “Should kids play (American) football?” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 42, No. 3, 2015, pp 443-462.
    • Pam Sailors, “Personal Foul: an evaluation of moral status of football,” Journal of Philosophy of Sport, 42, No. 2, 2015, pp 269-286. (focus on pp 269-76)

Module: Should performance-enhancing drugs be banned?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Savulescu, Julian, Roger Crisp, and John Devine, “Oxford Debate: Performance enhancing drugs should be allowed in sport” University of Oxford, 2014.
    • Simon, Robert. “Good competition and drug-enhanced performance,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 11, 1984, pp 6-13.
    • Hemphill, Dennis. “Performance enhancement and drug control in sport: ethical considerations,” Sport in Society, Vol. 12, No. 3, 2009, pp 313-326.

Module: How should sport deal with sex and gender equality? 

  • Assigned Readings:
    • English, Jane. “Sex Equality in Sports” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol 7, No 3, 1978, pp 269-277
    • Sailors, Pam. “Mixed Competition and Mixed Messages.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2014, pp 65–77.

Module: Where should transgender athletes compete?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Coggon, John; Natasha Hammond; and Søren Holm, “Transsexuals in sport – fairness and freedom, regulation and law,” Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol 2, No. 1, 2008, pp 4-17.
    • Gleaves, John and Tim Lehrbach, “Beyond fairness: the ethics of inclusion for transgender and intersex athletes.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol 43, No. 2, 2016, pp 311-326.

Module: What ought to be the social impact of sport?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Eig, Jonathan, “Some Good Colored Players” Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. Simon and Schuster: New York, 2007, pp 26-34.
    • Leavy, Jane, “The King of the Jews,” Sandy Koufax. Perennial: New York, 2002, pp 167- 174, 193-4.
    • Sailors, Pam, “Zola Budd and the Political Pawn.” FairPlay, Revista de Filosofía, Ética y Derecho del Deporte, vol. 10, 2017.

Module: What should the role of money be in sport?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Duncan, Albert. “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? Yes” Baseball and Philosophy. Ed. by Eric Bronson. Open Court: Chicago, 2004. pp 297-299.
    • Shuman, Joel. “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? No,” Baseball and Philosophy. Ed. by Eric Bronson. Open Court: Chicago, 2004. pp 300-302.
    • Collins-Cavanaugh, Daniel. “Does the Salary Cap Make the NFL a Fairer League?” Football and Philosophy. Ed. Michael Austin. The University Press of Kentucky, 2008. pp 165-180.
    • Sheehan, Joe. “Salary Cap,” Baseball Prospectus. Feb. 19, 2002.

Module: Is being a fan moral?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “The Ethics of Supporting Sports Teams,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, 18, No. 2, 2001, pp 149-158.
    • Mumford, Stephen, “The Philosophy of Sports Fans,” PhilosophyFile, The University of Nottingham, 2011, video.
    • Aikin, Scott F., “Responsible Sports Spectatorship and the Problem of Fantasy Leagues” International Journal of Applied Philosophy 27, No. 2, 2013, pp 195-206.

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Arizona Legalizes Sport Gambling

Followers of my blog will know that I support the legalization of gambling, including wagering on sports. So I was excited to learn this morning that the governor of my state (Arizona) signed into law a bill that legalizes sports betting. The bill also includes daily fantasy sports and other forms of fantasy sports wagering. This site has a good summary of the legal changes.

Some of my blog posts on sports, gambling, and fantasy:

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Review: Play Ball!: The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime

This is a great course. Wonderfully delivered by Bruce Markuson of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the course covers the early years of baseball. From the early beginnings to 1920, the course looks at rules changes, equipment changes, field changes, as well as many of the social and culture changes that impacted baseball. As an overview course, it doesn’t go into as great detail as one might want for some topics, for example, the history of the Negro Leagues. While this is discussed, the history of these leagues is much richer (as admitted by Markuson) than could be covered here.

Markuson examines the different theories of where baseball comes from: the different pre-baseball ball games that were played widely in America and England in the 18th century and how they may have influenced the development of what become known as baseball. He covers how the professional leagues developed in the second half of the 19th century. He discusses how the baseball itself changed the game as the baseball changed. It even goes into how baseball fields themselves changed and developed as baseball evolved (and the changing fields drove some of the changes in the game as well).

If there is one thing you can take away from this course is that Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams was wrong. I love the movie and the speech Mann makes, but he was wrong. He says: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” Sorry, but the history of baseball shows that it has changed again and again just like America. As America rebuilt and reinvented itself through the decades, baseball has changed right along with it, reflecting America’s greatness and her worst faults.

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Book Review: Big-Time Sports in American Universities by Charles T. Clotfelter

In his Big-Time Sports in American University, Charles Clotfelter aims to do several things: first, demonstrate that commercial sport is one of the core functions of American universities. Second, explore how big-time college sport figures in the outcomes of the university (both of the negative and positive variety). Third, make use of recent data and statistical studies to support the previous two points. Lastly, Clotfelter makes some recommendations for reforms.

The book starts with an examination of how sports fit into the university. The American system of commercial sport within universities is unique and part of what Clotfelter wants to do is sort out why and how we end up with the system we have. This helps set up some of his main questions: why, given the many problems that seem to come with commercialized college sport, do universities keep these programs and seek to grow them? Where do (and do) these programs fit into the mission of the university? His conclusion is that commercial sport play important and crucial roles in the modern American university and these shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed. Part of his diagnosis for some of the problems of big-time sports is precisely because the centrality of college sports has not been fully and honestly acknowledged.

Clotfelter then turns to teasing out the consequences for the university of having college sports. He explores, using some clever statistical studies, the impact that college sports have on the academic outcomes, social and community outcomes, and financial outcomes of the university. Some of these are concerning (the negative impact on academic standards and progress) and some of these are positive (the entertainment and happiness produced for the broad community of fans). But in the end, not much of what he finds is all that surprising but seeing it connected to data helps sort out the various ways high-level commercialized sport can impact the university and what it does.
Lastly, he looks at some possible reforms. Some of these are likely to happen soon(ish) though with unknown consequences (such a name, likeness, and image reform). Others are more radical and unlikely to move beyond the pages of academic works.

One of the more interesting conclusions Clotfelter suggests is that while money drives a lot of what goes on in college sport, it doesn’t seem to be the ultimate end or purpose. That is, what he finds is that university leaders and stakeholders that support big-time college sports are ultimately doing it because they want to win. Money is essential to building successful programs, but the end goal is not profit, it is wins: “Despite the palpable commercial value of college athletics, however, it bears repeating that the primary objective of athletic departments is not to make for its own sake. Rather, it is to produce winning teams, for which money is virtually an ironclad necessity” (153).

I appreciate that Clotfelter walks a balanced line. He is quite critical of many aspects of big-time college sports, but also notes the value it brings to the university and society more generally. He brings forward data to help figure out both the harm and the value so that we can better evaluate college sport, but also to more helpfully target criticism and reform. Those looking for either a morbid focus on salacious scandals or enthusiastic cheerleading of the wonders of college sport will need to look elsewhere.

This is an important and helpful work for those interested in understanding the context of big-time college sports. It is not overly technical or mathematical, but it does rely on statistics and other tools of the social scientist. It’s not a casual, beach read, but it’s not a difficult read either. I could also see pulling specific chapters out for assignment in a course. With a little context, many of them can stand alone. In the final analysis, I do not think one walks away with a clear path to realistic reform or even definitive answers to the main questions about college sports, but the book, just as the title indicates, provides a solid foundation for understanding the relationship of big-time college sports to American universities.

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IAPS @ Pacific APA 2021: Ethics for Sports Fans

The IAPS meeting at the Pacific APA will focus on Ethics for Sports Fans. The Pacific APA is being held remotely, April 5-10, 2021. To attend the session, you will have to register for the APA.

April 6, 3-5 PDT

Chair: Shawn E. Klein (Arizona State University)

Speakers:

 “A Fair Shake for the Fair-Weather Fan”

  • Kyle Fruh (Duke Kunshan University)
  • Marcus Hedahl (United States Naval Academy)
  • Luke Maring (Northern Arizona University)
  • Nate Olson (California State University, Bakersfield)

“Fanmanship”

  • Jack Bowen (Independent Scholar)

You can register for the APA: https://www.apaonline.org/event/2021pacific

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Surfing and the Philosophy of Sport

I’m thrilled to announce the publication of the newest book in the Studies in Philosophy of Sport Book Series.

Surfing and the Philosophy of Sport uses the insights gained through an analysis of the sport of surfing to explore key questions and discourses within the philosophy of sport. As surfing has been practiced dynamically, since its beginnings as a traditional Polynesian pursuit to its current status as a counter-culture lifestyle and also a highly professionalized and commercialized sport that will be included in the Olympic Games, it presents a unique phenomenon from which to reconsider questions about the nature of sport and its role in a flourishing life and society. Daniel Brennan examines foundational issues about defining sport, sport’s role in conceptualizing the good life, the aesthetic nature of sport, the place of technology in sport, the principles of Olympism and surfing’s embodiment of them, and issues of institutionalized sexism in sport and the effect that might have on athletic performance.

Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: Surfing and Sport
  • Chapter 2: Waves and Wipeouts in Utopia
  • Chapter 3: Drawing Lines on Waves; surfing and the aesthetics of sport
  • Chapter 4: Making Waves: Surfing and Technology
  • Chapter 5: Surfing’s Olympian Moment
  • Chapter 6: Surfing like a Girl: Sexism in Surf Culture and Feminine Motility

Available now at AmazonLexington, and other book sellers.

Studies in Philosophy of Sport Book Series

Series Editor: Shawn E. Klein, Ph.D. (sklein@asu.edu // sportsethicist@gmail.com )

The Studies in Philosophy of Sport series from Lexington Books encourages scholars from all disciplines to inquire into the nature, importance, and qualities of sport and related activities. The series aims to encourage new voices and methods for the philosophic study of sport while also inspiring established scholars to consider new questions and approaches in this field.

More on the series.

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Outside the Studio: Sports Betting

I had a fun conversation with Matthew Blittner, Daniel Green, and Walt Bonné from the Outside The Studio radio show/podcast on Friday. We talked about how the perception of sports betting has changed over the last few years and what some of ethical implications of the legalization of wagering on sports are.

The podcast is available on Apple, Spotify, and elsewhere: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/outsidethestudio/episodes/2021-02-12T14_21_55-08_00

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