Category Archives: Football

Should You Watch (NFL) Football ?

Concussions. CTE. How can a moral person watch (NFL) football?

There is no simple or singular answer. But there are a number of considerations that people ought to weigh to start getting at an answer. This is a first pass at these considerations, but there are at least four: empirical questions, athlete autonomy, mitigation/education, and fan responsibility.

Empirical Questions

The main empirical question is what is the causal relationship between concussions (and sub-concussive hits) and CTE (and other long-term brain injuries and conditions).

We know there is a significant risk of concussions in football. We know that there is some relationship between concussions and long-term brain injuries like CTE. But we are still learning about the nature and extent of this relationship. There is a lot that remains unknown.

As stated in the 2017 Concussion in Sport Group Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport:

 The literature on neurobehavioral sequelae and long-term consequences of exposure to recurrent head trauma is inconsistent. Clinicians need to be mindful of the potential for long-term problems such as cognitive impairment, depression, etc in the management of all athletes. However, there is much more to learn about the potential cause-and-effect relationships of repetitive head-impact exposure and concussions. The potential for developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) must be a consideration, as this condition appears to represent a distinct tauopathy with an unknown incidence in athletic populations. A cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been demonstrated between CTE and SRCs or exposure to contact sports. As such, the notion that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE remains unknown. (McCrory P, et al. Br J Sports Med 2017;51:838–847)

  • What is the causal relationship? How deterministic is it?
  • What is the nature of the risk for CTE (etc.) from a given number of concussions (&sub) in a given time-frame?
  • What other factors: environment, genetic, age, sex, number of impacts, type of impact, etc., can affect this causal relationship in significant ways?

How these questions get answered are essential for drawing conclusions about the danger and risk of football. And we don’t have answers yet. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be cautious and work to reduce concussions in sport. Of course we should (and the above consensus report has extensive recommendations on this front). We know there is danger here—we just don’t how much, how far-reaching it is, or what the extent of the risk is.

Athlete Autonomy

The ethics of watching (or playing for that matter) football is not merely an empirical question. Football might be quite dangerous and risky, but that in it of itself is an insufficient warrant to prevent the activity. We still need to weigh the value of individual autonomy and liberty for choice in the projects of one’s life. For most, the presumption is that autonomous choice cannot be interfered with except where it causes harm to others. Several hundred years of political philosophy has tried to clarify every aspect of this: What counts as autonomous choice? What counts as interference? What counts as harm? Can we draw a line between harm to others and harm to self?

Leaving aside those important thorny issues, if we assume the playing of football is sufficiently autonomous then it is hard to see what objection there would be for those wishing to watch it. If it fails to be sufficiently autonomous, then that should give us strong reasons to stop watching (or playing).

The autonomy question is one of the reasons that the concern about concussion and CTE is different from the long-term debilitating injuries to knees, backs, shoulders, and so on that ex-football players suffer with. One might have to use a wheelchair to get around because his knees are so shot, but he still have his mind. He can still make choices and plan his life. But this might not be true for one suffering from CTE or other serious long-term brain injuries. So if there is a strong link between concussion and CTE or other brain-debilitating conditions, then this raises the question of just how autonomous football actual is.

  • If we assume the worst about the connection between concussion and CTE, does this undermine autonomy (either now or in the future)?
  • Should we interfere now in order to prevent someone from depriving himself of autonomy later in life?
  • Can one freely and reasonably choose to deprive himself of autonomy later in life?


Another question that fans should ask themselves is: are the leagues, players, and other stakeholders working towards dealing with, controlling, preventing, and/or treating concussions? If they are not, that might give a fan a good reason to withdraw support for the sport by no longer watching.

Fan Responsibility

Does one’s watching of football causally contribute to concussion/CTE? What responsibility does the fan have?

Let’s say we are reasonably confident that there is high risk of long-term brain damage to those playing football. Let’s further say that this is still compatible with athlete autonomy. A fan might still be concerned that his or her watching is contributing in some way to the damage being done to the player (even if, ex hypothesis, it is autonomously chosen).

This raises complex philosophic questions about collective and aggregated responsibility that can’t be addressed here. Nevertheless, it is obviously true that without fans there is no professional sport. But one’s individual contribution to the practice is beyond minuscule. It is the proverbial drop in the ocean. So if one’s minuscule contribution hardly marks a causally difference one way or the other, then it is reasonable to ask whether withdrawing one’s fan support has any meaningful effect. If it doesn’t, then it seems unreasonable to say that, other things being equal, one has an obligation to stop watching.


How do weigh and balance all this? That’s something worth thinking more about, but I do think that to get to the conclusion that it is wrong to watch football, you have to have good reason to think that at least one or two of the following (if not all) are true:

  • The risk of CTE (or other serious long-term brain injury) is severe, significant, and far-reaching.
  • That this danger is too severe to be sufficiently autonomous or that the danger has sufficient effect on future autonomy such that we ought to be preventing or significantly restricting the activity.
  • The leagues, etc., are not doing even the moral minimum to mitigate, prevent, or educate about concussions.
  • Fan responsibility is sufficient that one has an obligation to withdraw their support.

While there is much room for rational disagreement and the need for continual reassessment of these issues, I am not yet prepared to assent to any of these claims.

Further Reading:


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Filed under concussion, Fandom, Football

Don’t Apologize for being a Patriots Fan

I was recently interviewed for The Outline by Ann-Derrick Gaillot about the morality of watching the Super Bowl. The article focused on four ethicists and their responses to three questions:

  • Ethically speaking, which team should people root for in the Super Bowl?
  • Is it ethical to watch the Super Bowl at all?
  • Is it ethical to watch Super Bowl commercials?

You can head over to The Outline to read all of our responses.

In this post, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the first question. Here was some of my response that they published:

(Full disclosure: I grew up in New England and root for the Patriots) In general, there isn’t a “should” here. Morality, for the most part, is just not the place to look for a rooting reason. We root for teams that we have a connection to — through family, regional connections, style of play. Those are all good reasons to root for one team over another. Assuming one is a neutral, flipping a coin is just as moral as choosing the Eagles because you like the color green.

There are, though, two other direction one could to take this question.

One might be the claim that one should root against the Patriots because of the scandals around so-called Deflate-gate and Spy-gate. But that seems based on some inaccurate beliefs about these scandals. Science has largely exonerated Brady and the Patriots of any wrongdoing regarding football deflation, and Spy-gate is also widely misunderstood. It was a violation of a policy regarding where a team is allowed to tape the activity of a game. In other words, the problem was where in the stadium the videographer stood — not that he was taping. It was a violation of a policy and the Patriots were wrong to do it (and they were harshly punished). But that seems a thin reed on which to rest one’s moral disapprobation.

A second is that if one admires and respects excellence, then they have a good reason to root for the Patriots. For nearly two decades, the Patriots have excelled in a way no other NFL franchise has or arguably ever will again. Tom Brady is getting ready to start his 8th Super Bowl. Since an NFL season is 16 games, Brady in essence will have played half a season of Super Bowls. The work, effort, and discipline that goes in to that level of sustained excellence is worth admiring and rooting for. Along similar lines, one might value the tenacity and perseverance of a team playing at a high level after losing their star quarterback and so choose to root for the Eagles.

Almost all of the ethicists, myself included, in the piece said something along the lines that whom you root for isn’t really a focus of ethical analysis. Notice, though, I couched my response in terms of “in general” and “for the most part.” This was not an academic’s attempt to weasel out of saying something definitive.

The standard case of fandom is not one where one choice is morally better than another, but that doesn’t mean that rooting for a team with a history of abuse or wrongdoing is beyond the scope of ethics. Unfortunately, because of subpar media reporting and general ignorance many think this applies to the Patriots. That is why I thought it necessary to explain why the two major Patriots scandals are based on misinformation. Deflate-gate was a joke and Spy-gate was overblown. All the other “questionable” deeds often attributed to the Patriots are either blatant and exposed lies (e.g. the illicit taping of other teams practices) or rumors without evidence.

If it were true that the Patriots were a corrupt and cheating organization, it would be wrong to root for them. But it is not true, so that cannot be a reason to root against them. And Patriots don’t need to apologize for being Pats fans (not that many of us actually feel the need to).newenglandvseveryone

I also thought it important to discuss another way in which ethics might guide one’s fandom. Ethics is too often treated as all about wrongdoing. The focus is exclusively on people behaving badly and why that is bad. Without denying the importance of such inquiry, it is also just as, if not more important to focus on value. Ethics should also be about understanding value creation, what it means to be good (beyond just not being bad), and how to live well.

In this light, ethics can guide one to root for a team based on the values it represents or exemplifies. As I said in the interview, it can lead you to root for the Patriots because of the unparalleled, historic excellence and achievement of the nearly twenty-year period of the Kraft-Belichick-Brady era. It can also lead you to admire the perseverance and tenacity of the Eagles this year.

Lastly, there is something disturbing about rooting against the Patriots because they have been so great. I am not talking about Buffalo fans or Pittsburgh fans who are surely rooting against the Patriots this Sunday. I get that. I’d root against their teams in reverse situation. That’s just sport rivalry and its part of what makes being a fan fun. I’m talking about the ugly envy that targets the Patriots just because they are so good; just because they achieve at the highest level. Resentment and spite is not psychologically or morally healthy. Let go of the hate!

I’m sure there are many reasons for non-Pats fans to root against the Patriots: ignorance or envy shouldn’t be one of them.

Go Pats!

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Filed under Achievement, Boston, Football, Patriots

Leicester City Semantics: Upset? Champion?

(With the end of the semester overload, I didn’t get to write this up last week, so here it is this week.)

jamie-vardy3_35303_3551503bLeicester City winning the Premier League is very cool. I think it’s great for soccer/football. It’s great for the EPL. It weakens the claim that money = wins in sports. It is an inspiration to witness the achievement of a team that had to battle up from the lower divisions and then stare down regulation last season. And they were a fun team to watch. Jamie Vardy is a little crazy, but an exciting player to watch play.

And as every commentator from here to Mars has pointed out, the Foxes were 5000 to 1 to win the league at the start of the EPL season. And their championship is being hailed in the media as the greatest upset in sports history. Upset?? Don’t make me go all Inigo Montoya on you all.

It’s an amazing feat. It’s unheralded. It’s a “Cinderella” story even. But “upset”? No.

Leicester were in first place for the last third of the season, and despite a few slips here or there, they’ve pretty much been top of the table since November. They were in the top 5 wire to wire.  By January, the odds of the Foxes winning had come down from 5000 to 1 to 8 to 1 and by February they were one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to win the league.

I am not sure how a team that is one of the favorites to win becomes the greatest upset of all times.

As in so many things, this turns on what we mean by “upset”. I take an upset to refer to a situation when the unexpected team/player wins; when the team or player that is not supposed to win, that is not favored to win, wins.

This doesn’t seem to apply to Leicester City after January. From that point to the end of the season, Leicester was top of the table and one of the favorites. So they were not unexpected, not the underdog.

Sure, back in August Leicester was not expected to win, they were not supposed to win, they were certainly not favored for anything but regulation. That is part of what makes their championship so amazing and historic. But by January, we knew that Leicester was going to at least challenge for the championship. And by April it was nearly (unless you were a Spurs supporter) a foregone conclusion. So I ‘upset’ doesn’t apply.

Speaking of Championships. I’ve also seen some criticisms of crowning Leicester City a champion without a championship match. Granted this usually comes from quarters less familiar with the structure of European soccer/football, but it is an interesting question. Does a champion need a championship match?

I don’t think so. There is nothing incomplete about a league crowning the league winner as its champion. Playoff systems are exciting and thrilling, but they have their own concerns. (Podcast: The Value of Playoffs and Championships) One major one is that a weaker team can win if it gets lucky, gets hot at the right time, or because it gets an easier bracket.

If a league doesn’t have a well-balanced schedule, then there is a good basis for needing a playoff system/championship game to determine the champion. If there is a team that the eventual champion didn’t play, that raises questions about the legitimacy of the champion. But in the Premier League every team plays every other team home and away. The EPL is a really long round robin tourney, so in many ways a championship match would be superfluous. And European soccer fans hungry for a playoff system get that in Champions league, the FA Cup, and other similar tourneys.

Recap: Upset, no. Champions, yes.



Filed under Achievement, Football, playoffs, soccer

Eye-opener at University of Missouri

A lot has been written already and a lot more will be written about what the University of Missouri football team did. For those who have been doing campus visits to Hogwarts this weekend and missed this story, the football team at the University of Missouri threatened not to play if the president of the university didn’t step down. The president resigned on Monday. This was part of a campus protest regarding racism and other issues on campus.

This story has a lot of twists and turns. It is not simply—in some ways it is barely about—the football team. It’s about race, racism, campus politics, free speech, ‘safe zones’, and institutional control and leadership—among other things. Most of this doesn’t have to do with sport, so I’m not going to comment on it here.

The interesting sports angle to this story is the football team and the immense power they demonstrated. In just about two days, the football team pushed the president of a large state university out the door. Wow. Whatever one might think about the complicated underlying issues that gave rise to this protest, this is huge. It is a potential game-changer.

College athletes, well, the elite division 1 football and basketball players, are waking up to the potential power they have. As many commentators and columnists have noted, including Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel on the Dan Patrick Show, the whole NCAA system rests on the players always playing. If they refuse to stop playing, the whole system grinds to a halt. That’s quite a sword to dangle over Mark Emmert’s head.

I doubt, though, we will see athletes walk out this weekend or in the near future in order to get paid, to get better health insurance, or something similar. The Missouri situation is not so much a blueprint as it is an eye-opener. It was a special circumstance we are not likely to see in the unionization of the college-athletes. The Missouri team was linked with other campus groups and importantly had the backing of the coach. This was, at least in part, about race and so had a unifying effect of bringing the campus, the public, and the media together. But, being about race, it had a silencing effect as well: criticism of the football players for engaging in this protest would almost certainly be framed as being racist and so there was very little criticism. That will not be the case when the issue is more about the pecuniary interests of the players. There will be many vocal critics and the coaches likely will not give their support either. At Missouri, the team was apparently standing with and joining with the campus; the focus was on the university and racism. There was a clear and straight-forward demand that could be met or not: the university president resigning. In walk-outs related to pay-for-play, the players will largely stand alone and the athletes will be the focal point. The demand for pay, share of revenue, unionization, etc., is something that will require months of negotiations and the rewriting of countless rules. It’s a lot more complicated of a goal, one that is harder to know if it has been attained. It will require athletes holding out for a lot longer than two days with many losing scholarships and positions. All of this, along with the huge logistical difficulty of organizing players at different campuses, suggest we are not going to see a college-athlete strike anytime soon.

That said, the players see that they have this power. It will be tested again. How and when they wield it, and what it accomplishes, will be intriguing.


Filed under athletes, Football

All Is Not Well: Responding to the Wells Report on Deflategate

Opening Statement

Let me get this out of the way. I am a life-long Patriots fan. Many will surely dismiss anything I have to say based on this. (See ad hominem). But as a sports fan, as a philosopher of sport, I take this issue quite seriously. I read the Wells’ report closely. I endeavored, as always, to read it objectively, fairly, and charitably. If you know me, you know that I mean that and that I would never try to defend something I didn’t think I had good reason to believe. If you are going to dismiss my thoughts on the basis of my fandom, let me suggest that you are the one failing to be objective.

Overall Response to the Report

I read the Well’s report except for the more detailed scientific appendices. I think the report provides convincing evidence that (1) something more than natural processes affected the inflation of the footballs and (2) that Jim McNally and John Jastremski are the likely culprits for that something.

This is a change for me. Before the report, I didn’t think there was any intentional tampering. But I am now convinced that McNally and Jastremski did tamper. (I should note that some are challenging the validity of the scientific claims or at least the credentials of the scientists used by the NFL. I am not in position to evaluate these claims and so I leave it aside.)

What Brady Knew

I am, however, rather surprised by the report’s hasty conclusion that is more probable than not that Tom Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.” The evidence in the report, while not inconsistent with such a conclusion, doesn’t establish this as the most plausible and probable conclusion. It rests on the following claims (in no particular order):

  1. McNally and Jastremski mention Brady in their texts while seemingly discussing matters of football inflation. In Wells’ words “Brady is a constant reference point” (127)
  2. Brady and Jastremski had several phone and in-person meetings following the AFC Championship game. Wells says there was “a material increase in the frequency of telephone and text communications” (127).
  3. McNally received various autographed materials.
  4. Brady didn’t turn over his phone or emails to investigators.
  5. The investigators assumption that McNally and Jastremski would not act alone. (128)
  6. Brady claimed that “he did not know McNally’s name or anything about McNally’s game-day responsibilities” (129). Wells thinks this claim is contradicted by McNally and Jastremski.

Claim (1): Referencing Brady
This is the more salacious aspect of the report and the one most are jumping on. It is also, I think, entirely ignorant of texting norms. It treats texts as sequential and linear conversations. Anyone who regularly texts knows this is not true. Texts are often out of order and can refer to various conversations. I regularly have text sessions with friends and family that can contain 3 to 4 different ‘conversations’ concurrently. In addition, texting is more like casual conversation where people use a lot of hyperbole, exaggeration, sarcasm, etc. It is a little scary to image how the texts my friends and I have sent could be interpreted. Although Wells’ acknowledges that many of the texts where attempts at humor, he doesn’t think this affects the conclusion. But if McNally and Jastremski are referencing Brady in a joking, hyperbolic, or farcical manner, then Wells interpretation utterly fails. Wells doesn’t offer independent reasons or evidence for his view that these should be taken the way he takes him.

But even on Wells’ treatment of the texts, there is nothing in there that implicates Brady or suggests that he knew anything about McNally’s monkeying with the footballs after the officials’ review. The one getting the most attention is Jastremski’s text “Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done…” (126). This is a smoking gun? Jastremski denies that the ‘him’ is Brady, but even if we go with Wells view that the ‘him’ is Brady: this does not support a claim that Brady knew that McNally and Jastremski were engaging in anything untoward or against the rules. Wells suggests that the text “attributes to Brady knowledge of McNally’s efforts to get the footballs ‘done’ and the stress involved” (127). Ignoring the difficulties of attributing to Brady knowledge because of something Jastremski refers to in a text, it can easily and plausibly be understood as Brady referring to the legitimate work in preparing the footballs. This is not evidence that Brady was aware that anyone was violating the rules.

As whole, the texts do not provide evidence that Brady had some general awareness of the wrongdoing. Should it be surprising that two guys who work at Gillette and work with Brady’s footballs often reference Brady? Most the texts seem to be referring and reacting to a time when the footballs were over-inflated. The ones referring at all to deflation do not reference Brady or suggest Brady awareness of the wrongdoing.

Claim (2): Increased Communication
I am not clear why this is at all damning or suspicious. So the Patriots and Brady get accused of deflation and Brady has several conversations with the guy who takes care of Brady’s footballs. Isn’t that what one would expect? Wells writes that the increased communication “suggest that Brady was closely monitoring Jastremski” (127). Well, of course, wouldn’t you? Why is this suspicious? If I were Brady, I would have called Jastremski to find out what happened, what was going to happen in the future, making sure preparations were all on the up and up going forward, etc.

Claim (3): Autographs
Why is this suspicious? It would be suspicious if Wells provided evidence that Brady didn’t provide such materials to various staff members. In fact, quite the opposite is implied in several places (83, 88). By all accounts, Brady seems like a generous guy to the staff at Gillette, so that McNally received some items is not in itself suspicious. The texts between McNally and Jastremski might suggest a quid pro quo arrangement; however, it just as probably that this putative arrangement was solely between McNally and Jastremski with no knowledge on Brady’s part that the items were some kind of payment. The report provides no evidence to rule this out.

Claim (4): Not turning over cell phone
This is by far the most unsettling. To many, this looks like a tacit admission of guilt or having something to hide. At the same time, I don’t think that conclusion is fair or just. Brady has a right to privacy and am I sure that his lawyers said no way! [A constitutional protected right by the way] And when one sees the hash Wells makes of the texts he does get, I suspect Brady was right not to turn over this phone and emails. (Add to this the apparent suspicion on the part of the Patriots organization that the NFL was targeting them: would you think it best to turn over your personal effects to an investigation you thought was out to get you?) Wells sees this as being uncooperative; however, he does acknowledge Brady’s extensive cooperation in other areas of the investigation.

Claim (5): Wouldn’t Act Alone
This is a flatly ridiculous claim. There are no grounds to think the McNally and Jastremski wouldn’t act alone unless you are already believed Brady was involved. It seems quite credible and plausible that McNally and Jastremski, wanting to please Brady so badly (especially after how pissed Brady seemed to be over the 16 psi Jets game), went too far without Brady’s direction or knowledge. The fact that these guys come off as schnooks makes it more likely, in my eyes, that they would do something this stupid.

Many also claim that because Brady is very particular and meticulous about the footballs he uses and his preparation process in general that he had to have known about the tampering. I don’t think this follows. It seems reasonable to conclude based on the evidence available that Brady made clear his preferences for the condition of the football and that he knew that Jastremski and others handled making sure they fit his preferences (rubbing the footballs down, expressing his preference for the low end of the psi spectrum, etc..) But, where is the evidence that he knew they were tampering with the footballs after the officials’ inspection? That is what is at issue and for which we have no evidence.

Claim (6): Brady and McNally
A good chunk of the report is directed at showing that McNally and Jastremski were intentionally and knowingly violating the inflation rule and lying to investigators to cover it up. Yet, it is the statements of these two that are then provided as the evidence that contradicts Brady’s claim. This would be convincing if someone else provided testimony that Brady knew McNally’s name and responsibilities. But as it is, we are asked to take as credible statements by those, if we believe Wells, we ought to think are no longer credible.

So, what do we have that contradicts Brady’s claim? McNally tells an NFL Security that “Brady personally told McNally of his preference” for psi (129). First, this is not inconsistent at all with Brady not knowing McNally’s name or that he knew that the guy he told about this preference was McNally. It is reasonable that Brady told someone he knew to handle footballs his preference without knowing or remembering his name. Second, given the portrayal of McNally in the report, it seems plausible that he could be misrepresenting a relationship with Brady. Wells doesn’t even consider this possibility and just takes McNally’s word.

Then we have the Jastremski text above suggesting that Brady referred to McNally suggesting that Brady knew McNally, his name, and his responsibilities. We have the same issues here. First, the text is ambiguous as to whether Brady brought up McNally by name. It is just as plausible that what Brady said to Jastremski was something like: “you guys are working hard to get the footballs right for me, thanks.” Second, Jastremski could be exaggerating his relationship with Brady by leading McNally to think that Jastremski and Brady were tight (akin to a sort of humble brag). There is evidence for this kind of exaggeration in regards to Jastremski’s misrepresentation of the 50,000 yard autographed ball, yet Wells doesn’t consider this possibility.

It is unclear why Wells takes Jastremski and McNally as credible on these claims. Here are two guys who already seem to be lying about other things and have something to gain by playing up a relationship with Brady. What is Brady’s motive in lying about knowing McNally? What could he gain? Knowing McNally or not is irrelevant to the question of Brady’s awareness of wrongdoing.

In any case, this is a flimsy reed on which to rest a claim of general knowledge of the actions of McNally and Jastremski to circumvent the rule. If I were Brady I would be exploring a defamation lawsuit.

I know many will say I am grasping at straws here or that I am reading these in the most positive and charitable light (which in general seems fairer to me anyway). But let me be clear. I am not suggesting my reading or account is the only one, the right one, or that is “more probably than not” to be the right one. What I am suggesting is that Wells doesn’t meet his own stated standard. His preferred account is as probable as the ones I suggest here. But if this is the case then the preponderance of evidence does not support his conclusion—or rather, it does not support his conclusion better than other plausible conclusions. He rejects these others as “not credible” but doesn’t provide independent reasons for this. That is, these other accounts are, he claims, not credible because they don’t fit his account. But that begs the question. He needs first to establish his account before he can use it to reject the others. But he can’t establish it without rejecting these other ones. But that rejection is based on his account. And we come full circle.

Most in the media seem to have made up their minds (often it seems without having read the report) that Brady lied. I’ve looked at the evidence in the Wells report and see no reasonable basis for such a conclusion.


Filed under Cheating, Football, NFL, Patriots

Deflate Gate Media Appearances

Who knew under-inflated footballs would cause such a stir! Over the last week, I’ve had a number of media appearances related to this issue. I’m trying to get a post out soon (this coincided with the first of class so I’ve had to attend to my ‘real’ job). Here’s the list of my ‘deflate-gate’ appearances (I will update as necessary):

Reed, Phillip. “Sports Ethics Expert From Rockford University Discusses ‘Deflate gate'” FOX WQRF 39 & ABC WTVO 17. Air Date: January 30, 2015. Web:

Lothian, Dan. “Sports Ethicist Sees Honest Lesson in Deflategate” January 26, 2015. Web:

ESPN The Classroom, Marist College Center for Sports Communication. 1220 ESPN. January 24, 2015. Web (podcast):

Huffpost Live “The Latest on Deflate Gate” January 23, 2015. Web:

CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello. January 23, 2015. Transcript: Video Archive:

Maese, Rick. “Patriots, Bill Belichick walk, sometimes cross, line between competitiveness and cheating” Washington Post, January 22, 2015. Web:

Spewak, Danny. “Science Claims Deflategate Was No Accident!” WGRZ, Buffalo, NY. January 22, 2015. Web:

Alesia, Mark. “Sports ethics experts analyze Belichick, ‘DeflateGate’” Indianapolis Star, January 22, 20`5. Print (January 23, 2015) A1; A6. Web:

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Filed under Football, media, NFL

Chris Conte and Achilles

In comments to WBBM Newsradio in Chicago, Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte said that “I’d rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life.”

This sparked an interesting discussion on ESPN’s Mike and Mike morning show about the choice of professional and elite athletes to engage in their sport. Many sports, not just football, pose health risks to players. Football, though, is most salient because of its popularity, the physical and violent nature of the game, and the greater attention on concussions. Football players are likely more aware of the dangers they face in playing their game than other athletes and so they are in a better position to make the explicit trade off that Conte is talking about. And Conte is not alone in choosing the glorious short life over the quiet long life. The Mike and Mike show highlighted several football players who seemed to concur with Conte’s view.

What was particularly interesting, though, was that both Greenberg and Golic looked at this choice from the perspective of being in their late 40s and early 50s. Golic, a former professional football player, said something to the effect that when he was in his 20s he thought like Conte, but now as father at 52 he wouldn’t want to give up the longer life. In particular, he wasn’t willing now to forsake the values achievable in his more mature years: such as seeing his children grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. The Mikes took care not to invalidate the choice made by Conte and others, but expressed a warning that they might not think the same way when they got older. The trade-off might be obvious in one direction when you are 22 years old, but it might be just as obvious the other way when you are 50.

The discussion of this trade-off and which choice is better choice is not new.

In Book 9 of the Illiad, Achilles tells us of his fate:

“My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive but my name will live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.” (

Achilles obviously travels the path of staying at Troy and fighting. And we know that he dies after the close of the Illiad. And, of course, his name has not died. He is one of history’s greatest warriors and heroes.

In the Odyssey, Homer shows us Odysseus meeting up with Achilles in the underworld. Odysseus asks Achilles, essentially, if death is so bad. Achilles was great in life, remembered by all, and he holds an honored place even in the world of the dead, so surely death can’t be that bad for him. Achilles response is fascinating.

“Nay, seek not to speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose, so I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, of some portionless man whose livelihood was but small, rather than to be lord over all the dead that have perished.” (

Another translation that hammers this point home:

“I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead.” (

So Achilles, with the perspective of hindsight, seems like he would have chosen a different fate. If he knew back on the fields of Troy what death was truly like, maybe he would not have entered the fight. Maybe he would have gone home to Phthia and lived out a quiet life of obscurity.

Homer seems to be giving us the same warning that Greenberg and Golic are. Be careful how you make this choice. Try to imagine what it will look like on other end of the choice.

This is central to how we live; and so central to ethics. We all make this trade-off in some way, every day. We choose paths in life balancing the long and short term interests, benefits, costs, and harms. We forgo tasty treats out of a concern for our longer term health. Or one chooses to continue to smoke cigarettes because they derive an irreplaceable joy from them, despite knowing the long-term health risks. A young woman chooses to forgo time and money in the here and now to invest years (decades even) of her life in medical education and residency so that she can be a great surgeon. We choose to drive cars knowing the risks because of the benefits we can get. Examples are everywhere: every time we choose something for the short-term benefits at the sake of longer-term interests, we choose like Achilles and Conte. This trade-off might be worth it. Short-term goods and benefits are after all goods; we have to live in the now and there may be many good reasons to risk tomorrow for the now (see my post on violence and football). But someday far-off tomorrow will be now and that has to be considered as well.

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Go Goodell, Go! Soon.

The controversy swirling around Roger Goodell’s suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is precisely why the NFL Commissioner needs to resign or be fired. I happen to think he got this one basically right, but that is not the real issue here. Goodell has no credibility with the players, with media, or with fans. It doesn’t matter what the decision ended being, the conversation would be the same. People would still be shouting: “He is overreacting because of the bungling of the Ray Rice case.” “He is being too harsh.” “He is being too lenient.” “This is more about Goodell than the particular case or the good of the NFL.”

I am not claiming that a new commissioner wouldn’t face criticism or get every decision correct. But the focus would be more on the merits of the case. With Goodell in charge, it is about Goodell and his tenure. No action he takes can be understood except through the prism of a year of disastrous decisions. A new commissioner who comes with some gravitas would not have that baggage – at least not directly. At some point, enough owners will realize this and Goodell will be gone.

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Sports Ethics Show: The Value of Playoffs and Championships

New Sports Ethics Show Episode
Baseball playoffs are in full swing with both American and National League Championship Series opening this weekend. For baseball fans, this is one of the most exciting parts of the baseball season. But are we getting something wrong? Is there something wrong with having playoffs decide champions? Are there better ways of determining champions and organizing sport competitions? Dr. Aaron Harper of West Liberty University discusses these questions and related issues with Shawn E. Klein.

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The Sports Ethicist Show: Boston Breakdown with Joe

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

 Joe Danker and Shawn Klein discuss things Boston sports in this episode of The Sports Ethicist. What defines a successful season? How important is it for the Bruins to get to and win the Stanley Cup this year? Are the Red Sox in a grace period after winning the World Series? Is it wrong for the Celtics to be tanking their season?

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Filed under baseball, basketball, Boston, Football, Hockey, podcast, RadioShow, soccer