Category Archives: gamesmanship

Examined Sport: Leslie Howe “Gamesmanship”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I examine Leslie Howe’s “Gamesmanship.” Published in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport in 2004, this article quickly became a classic, the go-to article on the topic of gamesmanship. In the article, Howe defines the concept of gamesmanship and analyses the ethical dimensions of gamesmanship in sport.

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Related Links and Information:

  • Leslie A. Howe, “GamesmanshipJournal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 31, 2004, pp 212-225.

Opening and Closing Musical Credits:


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Conference: IAPS 2022 @ Penn State

I will be attending and presenting at the IAPS conference at Penn State in August.

The 49th IAPS 2022 Meeting celebrates the organization’s 50th anniversary. The meeting will be held from Sunday, August 14, 2022 to Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at Penn State University. More info about the conference here.

I am presenting my paper: “Gamesmanship as Discovery Process”

Here’s the abstract:

In her classic article, “Gamesmanship,” Leslie Howe argues that gamesmanship is wrong when it “subverts excellence in favor of wining” (216). She also acknowledges that certain forms of gamesmanship are compatible with the ideals of sports and excellence. Subsequent work on gamesmanship has explored what kinds of gamesmanship fit into this latter category.

In this presentation, I argue that a more permissive view of gamesmanship, of even the subversive type, is important for helping to discover essential features of sport. I will do this through an analogy to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is often described as a process by which individuals discover information about the needs, desires, or plans of market participants. This information is not known to anyone a priori; it has to be discovered. This entrepreneurial discovery process is one of speculative trial and error, daringness, imagination, and alertness. Acting from a place of imperfect and necessarily incomplete information, entrepreneurial discovery is essential for identifying the kind of knowledge needed for market success.

The entrepreneur is not primarily motivated to act in order to create this knowledge. She is first and foremost looking for profit opportunities. But through the discovery process of searching for and acting on such opportunities, this knowledge about our needs and desires and how to better satisfy them is identified.

By analogy, gamesmanship can also be a discovery process. This process is not, of course, about discovering anything about market participants. Instead, the process helps to discover the meaning of the rules and other central elements of our understanding of sport. It is widely recognized that the meaning, extent, and application of the rules of sport are underdetermined. We cannot foresee every possibility or relevant case. We also never have an authoritative or complete understanding of the underlying principles or norms of the sport. Gamesmanship can help to discover and form this vision.

Through trial and error and imagination, gamers, seeking mainly competitive advantage, push the boundaries of rules, discovering loopholes that were not intended or foreseen. This allows us to reflect: do we like what was done by the gamer? In so doing, we discover new things about the underlying vision, norms, and principles of the sport. More than that, this process helps us to form that vision.

For example, Coach Belichick lines up the running back as a receiver but has him declared ineligible. This confuses the defense and the Patriots score a touchdown. Is this a creative or cynic use of the rules? Is this the way we want NFL offenses to operate? Since the NFL later changed its rules, their answer seems to be no. But we didn’t know that until Belichick’s “artful manipulation of the rules” (Howe 213). His gamesmanship allowed us to discover something new about the rules and the underlying vision of the sport. In this presentation, I will argue that permitting such manipulation is valuable for discovering how to understand and evaluate sport.


Howe, Leslie A. “Gamesmanship.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 31, no. 2, 2004, pp. 212–25.

Johnson, Christopher, and Jason Taylor. “More Than Bullshit: Trash Talk and Other Psychological Tests of Sporting Excellence.Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 47–61.

Kirzner, Israel M. “Entrepreneurial Discovery and the Competitive Market Process: An Austrian Approach.” Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 35, no. 1, 1997, pp. 60–85.

Morgan, William J. Sport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist Theory, Temple University Press, 2020.

Russell, J.S. “Are Rules All an Umpire Has to Work With?” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 26, no. 1, 1999, pp. 27-49.

Simon, Robert L. “Internalism and Internal Values in Sport. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 27, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1–16.

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