Monthly Archives: August 2013

Brief Review: _Fantasy Life_ by Matthew Berry


Matthew Berry’s new book, Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It is aptly titled. The stories are outrageous; some are downright insane. They are uplifting, both in the sense of being funny but also in the sense of being sweet and heartwarming. There are more than a few heartbreaking stories included as well. I admit I was moved to tears a few times (but any story involving dads&kids will do that to me!). And lastly, Berry structures the book with his own unlikely and funny biography of how he got into the business of fantasy sports.

Fantasy sports are certainly not for everyone (what recreation is?) but for those who have played casually or obsessively, Berry’s book lets you know that you are not alone in enjoying it–and that more than likely there is some one way more crazed and obsessed than you! And if you are friend, family member, or spouse of a fantasy player, this book can give you a bit of insight into why he or she plays fantasy.

The single biggest focus of Berry’s book, and this is something Mike and I brought up in The Sports Ethicist Podcast and Dr. Andy Koehl brought up in his symposium talk, is that fantasy sports is something that brings people together. Old friends, college buddies, families, co-workers all come together to play fantasy sports of various kinds. As Berry says:

…the truth is it’s all about the people. It’s not the draft, it’s not the trash talk or the punishments, it’s not even the winning (okay, maybe it’s a little bit the winning). It’s the people. It’s the people who make the draft and the trash talk and the punishments and the winning what it is.

This is a big part of why so many people play fantasy (over 30 million in US and Canada). It is fun and it is a community. Much of Berry’s book are just the stories of people having fun and partaking in this fun within a community of folks who share the fun (and the winning!).

Now, you don’t have to be a hard core fantasy player to appreciate this book, but, be careful, you might want to be when you are done.

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A-Rod, Dempster, and Beanballs

My readers, listeners, friends, and students all know I am a Red Sox fan. I am from Boston and root for all things Boston sports. I also do not like Alex Rodriguez. I am glad the Sox dodged that bullet in the failed trade for “A-Rod” in 2003. I am not a fan A-Rod more because of his on-field tactics (slapping at Arroyo’s glove and shouting “Mine” while rounding third to confuse the defense) than his alleged PED use. His public, off-the-field personality is not one Dale Carnegie would likely recommend. If the charges prove true regarding A-Rod’s PED use and obstruction of MLB investigations into Biogenesis, that certainly adds to my (and many other’s) disdain for him.

All this said, I do not think Ryan Dempster should have (if he did—and for the purposes of this post, I will assume he did) throw intentionally at A-Rod.

Pragmatically, it was not a wise thing to do. The Red Sox are trying to hold on to first place in the division and have been struggling to win as of late. Throwing at A-Rod gave the fading Yankees life, encouraged them to rally around A-Rod, and A-Rod ended up having a great game at the plate (and the Sox lost).

But this was not merely a bad tactical decision. Whatever the justification might be for the tradition of bean balls in baseball for on-field retaliation and justice, throwing at a batter for off-field reasons is wrong. There may be a place for on-the-field, player policing of the game—and this might actually help to reduce overall violence in the game. But it violates the spirit of the game to bring the outside world into the game.

Here are two main reasons for thinking this.

  1. A game is in part something set apart. It is distinct, in significant respects, from the rest of life: it has its own time, it is own space, its own internal structure (not entirely so, of course, it is still a part of existence). When the external world interferes with a game, the game suffers. Think of the absorption one has while playing a game that is destroyed when the phone rings. By bringing in to the game retaliation for activities external to the play, one undermines (at least partially) the ability of players to play the game. (Admittedly, this point rests on a theory about play and games that I can’t elaborate on here).
  2. The player, in this case Dempster, is not in the appropriate position to be judge, jury, and executioner. Is Dempster in a position to know about A-Rod’s PED use? His obstruction of the investigation? His reason for appealing his suspension? Is the “punishment” appropriate to the “crime? Obviously, I think the answer to all of this is no. These issues have to be determined through the league and its processes, not a player on the field in the middle of game.

Some in Boston and around the nation have said that Dempster made a lot of fans and that he is a hero for throwing at A-Rod. You want to be my hero? Strike the bastard out; don’t put him on base.

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The Sports Ethicist Show: The Ethics of Fantasy Sports

The Sports Ethicist Show airs tonight at 6 pm (Central) on Rockford College Radio.

Fantasy Sports are huge: a billion dollar industry that over 30 million North Americans play every year. Why is it so popular? What are its virtues? What are its vices? Shawn E. Klein and Mike Perry discuss these questions and more on this episode of the Sports Ethicist.

Related/Discussed Links:

Listen on Rockford College Radio (6pm Central):
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/ (Click on the Listen Live button)

A podcast of the show will be available after the show airs.
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/category/thesportsethicist/

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Brief Article Review: “‘And That is The Best Part of Us:’ Human Being and Play” by Drew Hyland

Drew A. Hyland, “’And That is The Best Part of Us:’ Human Being and Play”
Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 4:1, 36-49, (1977).

Drew Hyland sets out to present a rather unique conception of ‘play’. His notion is that play is a kind of “stance” or attitude of “responsive openness” (38). So play is not, on this view, a particular kind of activity. Almost any activity can be play or non-play; what marks the activity as play is the presence of this stance on the part of the participant(s). So a basketball game can be play or not, depending on one’s attitude. Going fishing, doing the dishes, or doing philosophy can all be play or not (on the latter point Hyland has an interesting discussion of Socratic philosophy as a kind of play).

What is this responsive openness? The openness is the heightened awareness of the environment/situation one is in. In playing chess, one is open by being acutely aware of the location of all the pieces on the board, their potential moves, and the time one has to move. The responsiveness is the willingness on the part of the participant to respond, appropriately, to what one is aware of in the environment/situation. One is responsive by responding to the opponent’s move of her bishop into a check of your king by moving the rook to block check. One fails to be open if they aren’t paying enough attention to be aware that his opponent is positioned to check your king and one fails to be responsive if he doesn’t appropriately move his pieces to prevent check.

Hyland argues that play and non-play exist across a continuum depending on the amount of responsive openness in the activity (39). All human activities have some measure of responsive openness: walking down a crowded street would be quite difficult if wasn’t aware of his situation and respond to the objects in it. But as this responsive openness is turned up, we move out of non-play and into play.

Obviously Hyland is not intending to draw any sharp distinctions between kinds of activities or between non-play and play. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how such a project will be successful. As Hyland notes, responsive openness on its own cannot mark out all and only play. There are other dimensions that need to be elucidated to identify more clearly what play is and what non-play is (even if it is along a continuum: even continuums can have demarcation points).

Much of the rest of the paper focuses on two issues. (1) He wants to incorporate the idea of a stance of play with a Platonic notion of striving for completion of self. (2) He contrasts the stance of play with what he calls the stances of mastery and submission. These are interesting, but I am not going to say much about them here.

One noteworthy aspect of his paper (especially for my research interest) is that Hyland doesn’t seem to see play as incompatible with productivity or compensation. He discusses, approvingly, a claim from Plato’s Laws that “the real opposite of play is neither work nor seriousness, but war” (44). Work it would seem, with the appropriate attitude or stance, is not incompatible with play. He doesn’t develop that here, but it is a difference between Hyland and other play-theorists such as Suits and Huizinga.

I do think there is something to this stance conception. One can bring an attitude of play to nearly any activity (e.g. cleaning your desk becomes a race against an arbitrary and artificial deadline). Nevertheless, as presented in this paper, it is far too sweeping to be satisfying for me.

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Brief Article Review: “Words on Play” by Bernard Suits

Bernard Suits, “Words on Play”
Journal of Philosophy of Sport, 4:1, 117-131 (1977)

In this classic article, Suits sets out to provide a “tentative definition of play” (117). After taking some humorous snipes at Wittgensteinians and Huizinga, Suits sets out to differentiate ‘play’ from other autotelic activities. Autotelic activities refer to those activities which are ends in themselves; that is, they are engaged in for no external reason or justification. The activity is its own justification/meaning/purpose. (It’s Greek, literally meaning self-end)

Suits assumes that play itself is a kind of autotelic activity and sets out to find the appropriate differentia that won’t include other activities that are thought to be autotelic: contemplation of the God and a cat chasing his tail (his examples).

His first task is to argue that ‘play’ and ‘autotelic’ are logically independent. This seems pretty straightforward. He then goes on to assert that “all instances of play are instances of autotelic activity” (119). I don’t think this is as straightforward or obvious. It may be true (though I am not so sure), but I think it needs an argument. This is more than a quibble because getting the genus correct here is essential. If there is play that is not (exclusively?) autotelic, then his differentia isn’t going to work properly to differentiate between the kinds of activities with which he (and other play scholars) are concerned. It will also generate problems when trying to apply the concept.

He also seems to be begging the question by separating out from his discussion some uses of “play”: such as uses of ‘play’ that appear to mean more like ‘perform’ or ‘participate’. Ultimately, I think he is probably correct in doing this, but I don’t think he can just do it without more of an argument.

Suits takes his main cue from Schopenhauer who said “the play of animals consists in the discharge of superfluous energy” (119). Suits modifies this, first, by analyzing superfluous and then energy. Superfluous isn’t quite right, argues Suits. Play, in humans, sometimes isn’t based on superfluous energy, but on using energy that ought to have been used for some other purpose. So, Suits sees this insight of Schopenhauer to be more about the use of energy that was committed (or ought to have been) to some other activity (something not autotelic).

The notion of ‘energy’ isn’t quite right either for Suits. Claiming that it is too narrow, he proposes ‘resource’. This subsumes energy, but also includes other resources besides energy that are relevant to human life (in particular, time).

He arrives then at his definition: “X is playing if and only if x has made a temporary reallocation to autotelic activities of resources primarily committed to instrumental purpose” (124).

This definition (and his whole project) rests on the dichotomy between autotelic and instrumental. It is built into his choice of the genus. The differentia of superfluous/redirected resources seems to rest on there being a sharp and clear difference between engaging in something autotelic and something instrumental.

There are a few main problems here. (This is not exhaustive, but my main issues)

(1) Is there a clear difference? Do all activities admit of being wholly autotelic or clearly instrumental? Most of activities seem mixed (is blogging on a subject matter one finds interesting autotelic? Or is the fact that one is trying communicate with others make it instrumental?)

(2) Are there really any autotelic activities beyond life itself? Suits examples (the Roman solider contemplating God or the tennis players) don’t help at all. In fact, they point me in the direction of thinking how meaningless the idea of autotelicity (outside of life) is.

(3) The analysis misses completely the idea of constitutive activities: one’s that are not merely instrumental and are treated as or are a part of one’s ultimate end(s). They are not wholly or purely autotelic because they are engaged in for purposes beyond the activity itself, but yet they are also pursued as ends in themselves. Consider helping a friend out of a jam of some kind. One does this as an end in itself: the helping of a friend doesn’t require any further justification than the friendship. At the same time, one does this activity for reasons beyond the activity itself: maybe to increase the closeness of the friendship, to be a better friend, to do the kind of things that one wants done to them, or because such help is seen as a part of one’s virtue or duty (or a way to increase one’s virtue or fulfill duty). Moreover, friendship itself does need a justification beyond itself. Without addressing this third (and I’d argue largest) category of activities, Suits arguments rests on a false dichotomy.

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Defining Competition

As part of a recent seminar, I went through the exercise of creating a genus-species definition of competition. A couple of interesting questions were raised by the discussion of the definition, so I am posting the definition exercise along with some elaboration points.

Definiendum: Competition
Examples of particular units of concept:

  • Monopoly, Battleship, Chess, Checkers (Games)
  • Baseball, football, sports, foot races, etc. (Sports)
  • AT&T and Verizon; Apple and MS; (economic)
  • Job applicants for a job/promotion. (economic)
  • Presidential election (political)
  • Chopped, Survivor. (entertainment)

Contrast Objects from which to discriminate units:

  • Two males in a herd battling for dominance (Biological)
  • Two different species of cats in same location, same prey (Biological)
  • War
  • No-elimination Musical Chairs
  • Group ride (bikers touring); fishing, hunting.
  • Singing games: ring around the rosy, etc.

Genus:
Activities involving multiple parties

Differentia of the units with respect to the contrast objects or the characteristics the units have in common (and that the contrast objects don’t have):

  • Goal is exclusive/rivalrous: cannot be held in common or shared among the parties
  • Means are constrained by some set of rules or guidelines.
  • Participation is also constrained by these.
  • Rules, guidelines are acknowledged or agreed to (at least implicitly) by parties.

Definition:
Competition is an activity involving multiple parties that are attempting to achieve an exclusive goal, one which cannot be held in common or shared among the parties, and in which there are some set of rules, guidelines, or constraints on the means for participating and achieving the goal.

A few points of elaboration
I have included economic competition as unit of this concept. A possible objection here is that in economic competition, between two businesses or between two applicants for a job, is not bound by rules. Nevertheless, there are normative constraints on one’s actions in these contexts and to some degree these are agreed upon (legislation). No doubt these are different than the rules of a game, yet they are similar enough to be classed together.

This definition leaves out “biological competition.” This seems justifiable because although it is sometimes described as a kind of competition, it is sufficiently different from these other activities that biological competition is picking out something very different in the world. Some of what we say about competition as it exists in sports, business, and politics cannot apply to the biological: is their unfair competition between two types of fungi? Do we really think of the surviving species as “winning”? The use of competition to describe these biological interactions strikes me as more metaphorical.

At the same time, I can see the basis for the following objection (raise by William Thomas). I ought to identify, instead, a general concept of competition that subsumes both the biological interactions and the kinds of competition I have picked out. In that case, the definition is just: “Competition is an activity involving multiple parties that are attempting to achieve an exclusive goal, one which cannot be held in common or shared among the parties.” The further differentia of “in which there are some set of rules, guidelines, or constraints on the means for participating and achieving the goal” would identify a subset of the concept.

I am somewhat sympathetic to this objection. There does seem to be a more general idea of an activity of parties vying for some good or goal. Some of these activities are governed by some set of rules and others might not. Part of conceptual analysis here is to figure out what makes more sense as “competition.” I think I would be more sympathetic if there were more examples outside of biological competition that illustrated activities of parties vying for some goal independent of any set of rules.

A similar objection might be raised about characterizing war as competition. Might this be another member of the more general genus? Whatever superficial similarities there might be, the activities and goals of war are quite a different thing than anything one finds in sports or games (or business or politics or even biological interactions). I am not sure it belongs in the same genus or even nearby conceptual space. The goal is the death and destruction of your enemy (the prey of a predator is only metaphorically an enemy). There is no necessity of agreement on rules, means, or even on particular goals. It can persist without any particular actions of either other party. It can exist without any response from one party (e.g. an aggressor makes war on a pacifistic village). The use of competition here is much more clearly metaphorical. There is little conceptual gain, efficiency, or clarity by grouping these kinds of things together.

(Note: this definition method is one based on Ayn Rand’s account of definitions in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and developed by David Kelley and William Thomas)

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