Category Archives: Books

Review: Sporting Gender

One of the most contentious issues in sport is that of transgender and intersex athletes. It is an extraordinarily complex and fraught mix that often seems like it pits two important values against each other: opportunity and fairness. Sport should be open to all those who wish to complete and to compete at the highest levels they can. Sport, at its best, also seeks to create fair and meaningful competitions. So, on one hand, sport should be open to all athletes able to complete: it would be wrong to limit the opportunities of transgender and intersex athletes. But, on the other hand, there is a concern that if those opportunities aren’t limited in some way, specifically that if trans and intersex women compete without limitations against cisgender women, it could undermine the fairness of such competitions.

I don’t think there is a straightforward or obvious answer on these issues: and there are good, reasonable arguments (and many bad arguments too) for many different positions on all the various aspects of these issues. That said, my default position is towards the liberty of athletes to compete in the sport of their choice. [My interview with Tracey Holmes on these issues] I don’t mean to say that is the answer: but only that it is my starting point. It is the presumptive position that I think any argument to limit this liberty and opportunity needs to overcome.

Joanna Harper’s Sporting Gender is a good starting point for looking at many of the issues and arguments that might defeat or sustain this presumption. Harper’s book, as the subtitle indicates, takes you through the history, science, and stories of transgender and intersex athletes.

Starting in the early part of the twentieth century, she presents many stories of the individual trans and intersex women and their struggles to compete in sport. Many of these stories are tragic; too often rooted in ignorance and prejudice. For those that think these issues start and end with Castor Semenya, this history is essential.

Harper also discusses the science of sex and its impact on exercise and athletics. She details the many different ways that one might not fit neatly into either of the more familiar categories of male and female. Biological sex is nowhere near as simple as one might assume. (Not to even get into issues of gender.) There is some technical stuff to wade through, but the general gist should be digestible by those without much science background. This is summary, though; there are better places to look for more detailed discussions of the science (much of which can be found in the book’s endnotes).

Another important element of the book is Harper’s discussion of some of the legal cases that punctuate the history of trans and intersex athletes. The details and decisions of these cases are historically important and they had direct influence on the current regulations and guidelines of the major sport organizations like the IOC and IAAF.

Much of the latter half of the book focuses on two recent important Court of Arbitration cases involving intersex athletes (Chand and Semenya). Harper was involved in both cases as an expert witness. While I appreciated the inside look into these cases, this is where the book was at its weakest. I wasn’t all that interested in Harper’s evaluation of the various lawyers involved and whether their closing remarks were powerful or not. There was a lot of that sort of thing in these sections and that took away from the more important issue of rehearsing the arguments presented.

Harper is a trans woman and a runner, and she uses her own experiences to help frame parts of the book. This is both a blessing and a curse. It helps to contextualize and humanize much of the more abstract history and science. But it also means that the book is part memoir and so there are various tangents about her own life that were not part of my reasons for reading this book.

Harper’s ultimately position is that elite competitive sports needs to find the right balance of rules and methods to maximize “the possibility that all women can enjoy equitable and meaningful sport” (247). Furthermore, that there are good reasons to keep separating athletes in to male and female divisions and that the use of testosterone levels is the best current method to make this distinction (247). Though she does provide reasons for why this is her position, the book is not really set up to be a clear and cogent argument to support these claims. Its focus is more on presenting the history (both personal and legal) and the science. And on that front, I’d recommend it for those interested in this issue.

I don’t think the book deals enough with the philosophical and ethical aspects of trans and intersex athletes. What makes for fair and meaningful competition? Why are male/female divisions important? If there is a performance advantages by being trans or intersex, why should that matter and how is it different from other kinds of (non-doping) performance advantages? Harper broaches these questions to a degree, but she is not a philosopher and so the discussion is, in my view, too superficial and limited. There is also almost no engagement with the sport philosophy literature that discusses these issues. I still would recommend the book for the history and science angle, but it is not going to answer the meatier questions of philosophy or ethics.

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Defining Sport Reviewed

When a book you edited gets a positive review in the top journal in your field, a little tooting of your own horn is justified. So: Toot! Toot!

The Journal of the Philosophy of Sport published a review by Steven Piper of my Defining Sport: Conceptions and Borderlines (Lexington Books). If you have access to the journal, you can read the review online.

Here’s the closing paragraph:

There is an endearing honesty of endeavour to this book that renders it difficult not be persuaded by many of the claims made by its various contributors. That is not say that this book is naïve or lacking philosophical ‘heft’, indeed, quite the opposite is true. One of the main strengths of this book is that it has achieved something fundamentally necessary for any philosophical work to be successful: it has taken complex concepts and ideas and distilled them into something palatable enough for students to understand, but robust enough for scholars to refer to. It has also successfully taken work by philosophers fundamental to the discipline (Suits, Meier and Huizinga most notably) and found fresh ways to build on their fundamental ideas and concepts. This book is a fine addition to the philosophy of sport, and will ensure that students and academics alike will continue to engage in the questions that surround any attempt to define what sport is or could be for years to come.

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The Sum Less Than the Parts: A Review of The Ethics of Sport: Essential Readings

Idrottsform.org, Nordic Sport Science Forum, published my review of The Ethics of Sport: Essential Readings, edited by Arthur L. Caplan & Brendan Parent (Oxford University Press).

Here’s the opening of the review:

Most of the papers collected in The Ethics of Sport are interesting and informative. They provide insight into many different aspects of the study of sport and of sport itself, and they do so from different disciplinary perspectives.

Nevertheless, this collection as a whole is a disappointment.

Writing a critical, negative review is difficult. There are many things I liked about the book, and I tried to highlight these even as a point out the book’s many flaws.

You can read the rest of the review here: http://idrottsforum.org/klesha_caplan-parent170906/

 

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Review of _Defining Sport_

Anne Tjønndal of Nord University, Norway writes a kind review of my anthology Defining Sport at idrottsforum.org, Nordic Sport Science Forum. From the penultimate paragraph:

In my opinion, it has great potential to be a standard tome for many of these groups of readers. If you are looking for a book to give you a short but full introduction to theories of what sport as a concept is, and empirical contributions based on these theoretic approaches, this is the book for you.

Full Review

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Golf As Meaningful Play: A Philosophical Guide

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new book in the Studies in Philosophy of Sport series from Lexington Books:

Golf As Meaningful Play: A Philosophical Guide by W. Thomas Schmid

Golf as Meaningful Play offers a philosophical introduction to golf as a sporting practice and source of personal meaning. It is intended both for scholars interested in the philosophy of sport, and for intellectually curious golfers who seek a better understanding of the game.

This book describes the physical, emotional, mental, and ethical aspects of the game and how they influence golf instruction. It looks at golf as play, game, sport, and spectacle, discusses golf’s heroes, communities, and traditions, and analyzes the role of the virtues in golf, linking them to self-fulfillment, the ultimate good of golf experience. The book concludes with discussions of classic works of golf literary and film art, including Caddyshack, Missing Links, Tin Cup, and Golf in the Kingdom, which celebrate its follies and glories.

The fact that golf can serve as a playful laboratory to test oneself is a deep part of the game’s attraction. Golf, if played well, conveys an experience which unites happiness, excellence, and interpersonal flourishing. This book strives to give an account of golf both as it is and as it ought to be—how golfers may improve their games and even themselves, in meaningful play.

Available at Amazon, Lexington, and other book sellers.

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Blog of the APA: Golf as Meaningful Play

I was interviewed about the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport’s session at the APA Central Division Meeting in March 2017 in Kansas City. The session, as readers of the blog are probably aware, was an Author Meets Critics on Golf As Meaningful Play: A Philosophical Guide (forthcoming) by W. Thomas Schmid (University of North Carolina at Wilmington).

You can read the Blog of the APA interview here.

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IAPS at APA: Golf as Meaningful Play

This year’s IAPS session at the Central APA meeting in Kansas City, MO is Author Meets Critics: Golf as Meaningful Play: A Philosophy and Guide by W. Thomas Schmid.  This book is part of the Lexington Book Studies in Philosophy of Sport Series. It is in production and should be out soon.

Time: Saturday, March 4: 12:15–2:15 p.m

Topic: Author Meets Critics: Golf as Meaningful Play: A Philosophy and Guide by W. Thomas Schmid.

Chair: Shawn E. Klein (Arizona State University)

Critics:

  • Seth Bordner (University of Alabama)
  • Francisco Javier Lopez Frias (Pennsylvania State University)
  • Pamela Sailors (Missouri State University)

Response:

  • W. Thomas Schmid (University of North Carolina at Wilmington)

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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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