Monthly Archives: January 2013

Final Call for Abstracts: Sports Studies Symposium 2013

Final Call for Abstracts. Deadline: Friday, February 1, 2013.

Fandom, Fantasy, and Fitness
The 2nd Annual Rockford College Sports Studies Symposium
Date: April 19, 2013

Grace Roper Lounge
Rockford College
5050 E. State. St.
Rockford, IL 61108

Fans play a central role at all levels and within various aspects of sport, so any study of sport would do well to consider their influences in connection to fandom, fantasy, and fitness. A specific and growing area of fandom, fantasy sports, illustrates a concrete and complex way fans relate to and even affect sport. Moreover, the implicit and explicit connection of sport to fitness offers another important way that fans interact with sport. This year’s symposium seeks to explore and examine these aspects of the relationship between fan and sport.

We invite scholars from all disciplines to submit an abstract on these themes. This symposium will then bring together several panels of scholars to discuss these themes. The focus of each panel will depend, in part, on the submitted abstracts. Each presenter on a panel will have 20 minutes for their presentation. This will be followed by 30 minutes of a combined Q&A.

Abstract Submission:
Submissions are welcome on this theme of Fandom, Fantasy, and Fitness, or other related issues arising in the study of Sport. Abstract should be 300-500 words. Send via email (as PDF) to

Deadline: Friday, January 25th, 2013. Extended Deadline: Feb 1st, 2013
Notification of Acceptance: Monday, February 4th, 2013. Extended to February 11th, 2013.

If you have any questions, please email, contact Shawn Klein (Assistant Professor, Philosophy Department) at 815-226-4115, or Michael Perry (Assistant Professor, English Department) at 815-226-4098.


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Filed under Conferences

Lance Armstrong Oprah Interview Initial Reaction

Here are some initial and preliminary reactions to Oprah’s interview of Lance Armstrong.

I was fascinated by the interview from the get go. Oprah asked tough questions. As one would expect, Armstrong looked very uncomfortable through most of it. My response is mixed: he seemed mostly straight with the doping aspects (most of which will come to light anyway). He was much more ambiguous on how he treated people, particularly Betsy Andreu. At times, Armstrong was evasive and maybe Oprah could have pushed harder on some points. But overall, I thought she did a great job.

Some of Armstrong’s responses suggested to me that he was sincerely regretful and contrite: for example, saying unequivocally that the doping was his choice. Other times he shifted to language that deflected his responsibility. He talked about his actions as “flaws” as though they were just things he couldn’t help. He used “we” instead of “I” making it seem less on him. This isn’t surprising to me. Armstrong is a mix—as he said—he is a jerk and a humanitarian. In the interview, he is taking some responsibility but also shirking some of it.

Although it allowed him to side step the question of USADA cooperation, I like the idea of a “truth and reconciliation commission.” Without fear of prosecution, many more athletes might come forward and bring to light just how pervasive doping is.

I’m looking forward to Part 2.

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Filed under Lance Armstrong, PEDs

CNN asks “Give Lance another chance?”

I provide my take on Lance Armstrong’s upcoming confession of doping here:

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Filed under PEDs, Site Announcements

Quick Thoughts: Bonds, Clemens, and MLB Hall of Fame

I love baseball, but I am not a baseball stat-head. I can’t recount how many bases someone stole or how much shutout innings someone pitched. I don’t go in for all those fine-grained analyses over who should and should not get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With that caveat, I think it is silly that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not voted into the Hall of Fame today. Yes they both cheated; they used substances that were prohibited by their sport. Their legacies are forever tarnished by this, and rightfully so. But both Bonds and Clemens were two of the greatest baseball players ever—PEDs or not. And given the alleged pervasiveness of PED usage in their era, one might argue that their dominance was even more impressive.

Moreover, there is little doubt that PED users and cheaters of other kinds are already in the Hall—having played in a time when knowledge of such things was harder to come by or just ignored. No one, as far as I know, has called for a purge of all cheaters and scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame (Let’s not!)

The voters who refused to vote for Bonds and Clemens seem to be trying to undo history or pretend like it didn’t happen. But it did happen. These men played the game. They dominated. How does one tell the history of baseball in the late 20th/early 21st century without talking about Bonds and Clemens? As ESPN baseball writer Jayson Stark puts it: “Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?”

Another view of why the voters voted the way they did is that the voters were taking out their frustration and anger at the whole so-called Steroids Era by punishing these men. But this strikes me as largely misplaced. It is not the voters’ role to dole out justice for such rule-violations. That role belonged to the league, owners, and players. They all failed in that regard, but that does not license the baseball writers to take it up.

I am of the camp that thinks we ought to put the best, most dominant players of their respective eras in the Hall and where appropriate note the admitted, alleged, or suspected PED use on plaques/signs by the players’ bust. Anything else seems to be either hypocrisy or evasion.


Filed under baseball, PEDs

Review of Homo Ludens

I am deeply interested in the concept of “play.” I think it is important as a practical matter for children and adults to engage in play; and I think it is key for understanding different aspects our lives. It also connects in obvious and important ways to one of my main research focuses: the philosophy of sport. Ever since getting interested in the philosophy of sport, I’ve wanted to read Johan Huizinga’s classic Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture.

It is a fascinating book; wide-ranging, almost epic in what it attempts to cover. Huizinga attempts to elucidate the different elements and qualities of play in civilization and culture. He sees civilization and culture as at once emerging from a kind of play and as being a kind of play. He says: “genuine, pure play is one of the main bases of civilization” (5) and “[civilization] arises in and as play, and never leaves it” (173).

So what is play? Huizinga does not provide a clear, simple to state definition. He does provide several essential characteristics of play. One, it is a voluntary activity; it is a kind of freedom. It has a dual sense of freedom: it is something freely engaged in and something that is an expression of one’s freedom.

Two, it is outside the ordinary life. It is a kind of step into another world with its own rules and boundaries. My favorite example that Huizinga uses for this is the notion of a playground. He compares this to the sacred grounds or spaces of religions. A space, in all other ways similar to other spaces, marked out for a specific and special purpose.

Third, play has its own space, and also its own time. Play runs its course: it has a beginning and an end. For many games and play, this time is not parallel to “real” time (think of how long two minutes in football takes to play).

Fourth, play, through its rules, creates an order. For much play, the rules and the order they create are absolute. To break the rules is to destroy the order and the play. Lastly, it is connected to social and community groups that engage in the play.

The features of special and separate space, time, and order create a paradox about play. Play is, because it is outside of ordinary life, not serious. Play, as it is conceived by Huizinga, is not engaged in to gain the values that one needs for life (it has its own internal ends). At the same time, play is not mere frivolity. It has to be taken seriously by the player. Within the game, the rules and the play are absorbing and near absolute. Outside of the game, these are arbitrary and even meaningless. It is this paradox, I think, that makes play so fascinating to think about.

Huizinga’s first chapter digs into this paradox of play and seriousness, and he returns to it throughout the book. The middle chapters of the book are sweeping discussions of the different elements of play in different parts of civilization and culture (ritual, religion, philosophy, language, art, etc.). These are for the most engrossing and fun (sort of like play itself?). I cannot attest to the accuracy of his claims and accounts, and given their sweeping presentation I am sure there is some simplification going on, but it is worthwhile even if he may be somewhat inaccurate because it helps clarify the elements of play that he sees operating in culture.

The last two chapters look at the modern world. Huizinga has some biting criticisms of the way modern culture has lost or perverted the sense of play. It is here he begins to address issues with direct relevance to the philosophy of sport. He sees contemporary sport as having lost much of the play-spirit that he thinks is so important to culture. It is, he claims, neither something completely seriously, nor is it play: it has become something of its own category. He also doesn’t think that sport of today is a “culture-creating activity” (198). I think there is some truth in his criticisms here, but I am not sure I would go as far as Huizinga. In part, the phenomenon of contemporary sport is still something very new in human culture. What its effects are and will be is still being discovered.

I think this book is, for those interested in play, culture, or sport, an important work. I fear, nevertheless, that Huizinga is too far-reaching in thesis and sees play nearly everywhere. He recognizes this potential fault and tries to avoid it, but I am not sure he does. To the extent that he is identifying elements of play that are a part of the features of culture and civilization, I think his thesis is better supported. But to the extent that he is trying to make the case that civilization is itself a kind of play, I think his argument falters.


Filed under play, Reviews

Rule Violations and Playing As If

As one might imagine there is a decent-sized literature in the philosophy of sport on cheating, rule-violations, and tactical fouls. (Two good papers reviewing the positions: Fraleigh, Water. “Intentional Rule Violations—One More Time” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 2003, XXX, 166-176; and Simon, Robert. “The Ethics of Strategic Fouling: A Reply to Fraliegh” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 2005, XXXII, 87-95)

Roughly the distinctions between these three categories are the following:

  • Rule-violations: The general category of actions where one violates in some manner the accepted rules of the game. These can be accidental (one is pushed out of bounds by an opposing team member) or intentional (one holds a wide receiver to prevent a catch resulting in touchdown).
  • Cheating: an intentional rule violation done for an advantage in a contest that typically involves deception and attempts at avoidance of the penalty for the violation. For example, the use of a prohibited performance-enhancing substance. This is done in secrecy with the goal of keeping the use secret.
  • Tactical foul (also strategic, good, or professional fouls): an intentional rule violation done for an advantage in a contest (or to prevent/mitigate a disadvantage) that is typically done in the open with the goal of the foul being called or acceptance of penalty as price worth paying to prevent a worse outcome. The paradigmatic example is the time-stopping foul near the end of a basketball game. This is done quickly and obviously in order to stop the clock with the hope of closing the point gap.

I am interested in identifying a class of actions that while they might in some ways be rule violations do not seem to fit into the categories of the literature on intentional rule violations.

Here is an example of the kind of action about which I am thinking. During the Texans-Lions NFL matchup on Thanksgiving 2012, Texans’ running back, Justin Forsett, is down by contact. However, there is no whistle by the officials and Forsett proceeds to run 81 yards for a Texans’ touchdown. To a layman’s eye, it looked obvious and clear that Forsett was down and that the play should have been over. (Due to a quirk of the NFL instant replay rules, this play was not reviewable.)

In this case, it seems that Forsett knew he was down and thus knew the play, by rule, was over and that he did not actually score a touchdown. While this is not a rule violation of the sort involved in the commission of a foul or penalty, it is (or at least appears to be) a case where the rules that govern what count as a runner being down or scoring a touchdown are ignored. Forsett, and the Texans as a team, appeared willing to accept a touchdown that by the rules really wasn’t a touchdown.

Similar cases that fit into this category are where a player clearly steps out of bounds but continues to play as if he did not or where a baseball player “traps” the ball and proceeds as if it is a catch. A soccer player who knows she touched the ball with her hand but plays as if she did not. These are all cases where the player appears to have knowledge that he or she has done some action X (that would result in some negative result for him or his side) but continues as if he or she had not (resulting in some advantage for his or her side).

I call these “Playing As If” (I’m not crazy about this name) since one is playing as if they have done one thing while they have in fact done something else. I think these cases are very common in most sports at all levels. Evaluating them, however, is not an easy or clear matter.

It seems, at first glance, that the honorable thing to do in all these cases is to acknowledge the action done. So Forsett should not have run for a touchdown. The baseball play that traps the ball ought not to field the ball as an out. The player who runs out of bounds ought not to continue the play. If this is true, then athletes playing as if, like Forsett, ought to be criticized.

There are two related reasons, however, that moderates against such a judgment.

First, all these cases involve officiating error(s). The officials are charged with ending the play after a player runs out of bounds or is down in football. They have failed to make the correct call and the players continue to play based on the officiating crew’s application of the rules to the game. Many athletes that I have spoken with about such cases put the onus on the officials to make the call. Their responsibility as players is to play, not to officiate. Many have gone further, claiming it would be wrong on the player’s part to engage in self-officiating. In Forsett’s case, his job is to run with the football until the officials blow the whistle signifying the end of the play. It is not his responsibility to determine if he was down or not and he would be wrongly encroaching on the officials’ job were he to do so.

Second, there is an epistemic issue here. In describing these cases, I have been presuming that the player knows that he is down, out of bounds, trapping the ball, etc. The player, though, is not likely to be in a position to know this (or to know with enough certainty). This is part of the reason we have officials. Officials are there to offer an unbiased application of the rules, but also to be responsible for paying attention to these kinds of situations. The player is more likely to be focused on other game situations.

Returning to Forsett’s case, it is not fair to assume that Forsett knows he is down. In conversations with several football players, they shared that in similar situations they couldn’t tell whether they made contact with the ground or another player. If the latter is the case, they are not down and so ought to keep going with the play. Maybe the athlete suspects he is out or down, but to make the further step of making such a call against himself and his team, he needs, I think, more certainty than is typically available to him.

While I think there are cases where a player knows full-well that he is down or out of bounds, etc., in most cases of this sort the athlete deserves the benefit of the doubt. This combined with the well-defined role of the officials as the keeper and adjudicator of the rules mitigates against a straightforward negative moral judgment against athletes in these cases.


Filed under Football, Officiating, rule-violations