Category Archives: Sports Ethics

Sports Ethics at ASU Fall 2016

Here are the topics and readings for my Sports Ethics this fall at ASU.

What is Sport?
Reid, “Socrates at the Ballpark”

How can Sport affect Society?
Eig,  Excerpt from Opening Day;
Leavy, Excerpt from Sandy Koufax;
The 16th Man (Video)

What is Sportsmanship?
Keating, “Sportsmanship as a Moral Category”;
Feezell, “Sportsmanship”

Is it ethical to run up the score?
Dixon, “On Sportsmanship and ‘Running Up the Score”;
Feezell, “Sportmanship and Blowouts: Baseball and Beyond”

Is it wrong to foul?
Fraleigh, “Intentional rules violations”;
Simon, “The ethics of strategic fouling”

Is competition moral?
Kretchmar, “In Defense of Winning”;
Simon, “The Critique of Competition in Sports”;
Kohn, “Fun and Fitness w/o competition”

Is violence in sport okay?
Dixon, “A Critique of Violent Retaliation in Sport” ;
Zakhem,  “The Virtues of a Good Fight”

Should football be banned?
Russell,  “The Value of Dangerous Sport” ;
Sailors,  “Personal Foul: an evaluation of moral status of football”

Should PEDs be banned?
Savulescu and Devine, Oxford Debate: PED;
Simon,”Good competition and drug-enhanced performance”;
Hemphill, “Performance enhancement and drug control in sport ethical considerations”

What is the role of money in sport?
Duncan, “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? Yes!”;
Shuman, “Does A-Rod Deserve So Much Money? No!”;
Collins, “Does the Salary Cap Make the NFL a Fairer League?”;
Sheehan, “Salary Cap”;

Is it ethical to be a sports fan?
Dixon, “The Ethics of supporting sports teams”;
The Philosophy of Sports Fan by Stephen Mumford (videos);
Aikin, “Responsible Sports Spectatorship and the Problem of Fantasy Leagues”

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Filed under Arizona State, Classes, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies

MPR Podcast: sports and domestic violence

On Thursday morning (April 28), I took part of a discussion of sports and domestic violence on Minnesota Public Radio. MPR archived the show as a podcast, available here: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/04/28/sports-ethics

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Injuries, Future Selves, and the Difficulty of Goodness

I had an interesting conversation with a student today. She runs tracks but had been injured for a good chunk of the semester. I asked her how her foot was doing and she said it was okay now although it still hurt. Moreover, she thought there might be some more serious damage to the bone. After she went into some detail as to why, she said she would see someone after the season. When I asked why not now, she said she can walk and run without too much pain at the moment, so she’ll compete and wait to get things looked at later. Even though she knew she was risking further and possibly permanent damage, she had made the decision–with the apparent sign-off her training staff–to compete in the last two track meets.

What struck me as interesting here, from a sports ethics perspective, is the difficult balancing of interests in cases like this. The trainers and coaches have an interest in her competing now. They also have an interest in protecting her for future meets in seasons to come. And, of course, they have an interest (obligation?) in protecting her in the here and now from doing this further damage.

She has these same interests and obligations to herself. She has an interest in competing now and in the future. She ought to be taking care of herself in the here and now as well.

I don’t have any deep insight into what (if any) of these interests ought to be decisive. Inclined towards a kind of Aristotelian virtue ethics of some sort, I veer towards individual phronesis (practical wisdom) to weigh these different interests and obligations ought for the individual in her circumstances given her goals in life. That said, an 18 or 19 year old is still developing phronesis and needs the help of those more experienced and more wise than she from whom she can learn. And as members of an academic institution, her coaches and trainers have an obligation to help her develop this phronesis (that is, in theory,part of their central purpose at the institution).

Although the question of what she really ought to do is an important one, I am not going to explore it here. There are two more comments that I want to make.

First: One of the tensions is the interests of the person today: she wants to compete now; and the interests of the person down the road: when she is 30, 40 years old, how will this decision affect her. This kind of issue comes up all the time. Most people, in my experience, tend to think that the future person has a kind of trump. That is, let’s say she does some permanent damage to her foot that makes it more likely that she have early arthritic pain in her foot. Not so much that she is incapacitated, but enough that it is a regular feature of her experience. Most people seem to want to say that she was wrong or foolish to take this risk because of this future damage. Similar cases abound from issues like concussions and other injuries in sport. Since the future person is going to experience pain and some level of damage in the future, the present person ought not to engage in that behavior. “You’ll regret it later” we say.

I am skeptical that this is universally true. That is, I am not convinced there is a good argument for why we ought always to privilege the interests and concerns of our future selves. Certainly in many cases we should—that’s a big part of learning how to be a rational adult. But always? That I am not so sure about. Is it true that an athlete engaging in risky sporting activities today at the expensive of his or her future self is always in the wrong? If it is not, then this seems to cast doubt on many of the arguments against dangerous and risky sport.

Second: This case, and ones like it, highlight just how complicated things in ethics (and life) really are. This is not some acquiescence to what Ayn Rand called the cult of moral grayness.  It is to point out that even in a single case where everyone, let’s presume, is trying to do what is best and right, it is not easy or obvious to know what to do; let alone actually follow through and do it. As Aristotle said: “it is no easy task to be good”.

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Filed under athletes, coaching, Sports Ethics, virtue

PHI 394: Sports Ethics (Fall 2016)

SportsEthicsFall2016After having taught Sports Ethics at Rockford University for many years, I’m bringing Sports Ethics to ASU this Fall.

PHI 394: Sports Ethics

A study of moral issues in sports, including, but not limited to, the value of sport, the nature of sportsmanship, the prohibition of performance-enhancing drugs, the value of fandom, the social effects of sport, and the role of danger and violence in sport.

The class will meet Tuesdays/Thursdays 10:30 – 11:45 am.

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Filed under Arizona State, Classes, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies

The Sports Ethics Show Announcement

The Sports Ethicist Show is relauching as “The Sports Ethics Show”

What’s the same?

The content will remain the same. Shawn E. Klein, Ph.D. will still host show and discuss the ethical and philosophical issues in sport with experts in and out of academia.

What’s different?

Most of the changes are on the backend. In order to grow and develop the show, it will strictly be a podcast. It will no longer be broadcast on Rockford College Radio.

If you current subscribe through iTunes, you will need to subscribe to this new show.

The old shows will all still be available.

Sample of Upcoming Shows:

  • Mike Perry on Athletes as Role Models
  • Aaron Harper on the pros and cons of playoffs
  • Joan Grassbaugh Forry on the ethics of animal sports
  • Joey Gawrysiak on Sports and video games

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Sports Ethics Fall 2014

The semester has started up at Rockford University and I am teaching Sports Ethics again. I thought I would post the syllabus for anyone who was interested:

PHI 223 Sports Ethics Fall 2014

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Emily Ryall on Philosophy of Sport

The University of Gloucestershire Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics website has several good short videos about the Philosophy of Sport with Dr. Emily Ryall. Dr. Ryall is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Gloucestershire.

I don’t agree with every take, of course, but the videos are nice introductions to some interesting questions and important issues in Philosophy of Sport.

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Filed under art, Philosophy, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies

The Sports Ethicist Show: Sports Studies Symposium 2014

A new episode of The Sports Ethicist Show is available!

The 3rd annual Sports Studies Symposium was held April 25, 2014. In this episode, the symposium participants discuss the ideas raised by the papers given at the symposium. In the first part of the episode, Mike Perry and Shawn E. Klein talk with Sean Beckmann and Kevin Schieman about the 10,000 hour rule and what distinguishes sport from other kinds of physical games. In the second part, Shawn E. Klein, Zachary Draves, Huston Ladner, and Carl Robinson discuss the relationship between sport and society, cyborgs, and the value of spectatorship.

Related links:

You can download the podcast here:
http://www.rockfordcollegeradio.com/the-sports-ethicist-show-sports-studies-symposium-2014/

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.

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Filed under Conferences, Fitness, games, NASCAR, Philosophy, play, podcast, RadioShow, Sports Ethics, Sports Studies, wrestling

Reflections on the Case of Oscar Pistorius

Update September 12, 2014: Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of culpable homicide. This is a lesser offense than premeditated murder, but it still carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison (but as little no jail time). Pistorius has not been sentenced yet.

As has been widely reported, Oscar Pistorius is accused of murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, in his home on February 14. Currently, he is out on bail awaiting trial. He asserts his innocence, claiming that it was tragic case of mistaking her for a home intruder. (The Guardian’s dedicated page for news regarding the case)

Pistorius’ fame reached a pinnacle during the 2012 London Olympics when he became the first Paralympic running in the Olympic Games. Like many Olympic athletes, Pistorius’ path to the Olympics was a challenging road filled with multiple obstacles. Unlike most Olympians, however, Pistorius faced legal challenges and public opinion battles regarding his right to compete as a double amputee against able-bodied athletes. This made Pistorius a story of inspiration, hope, perseverance, and justice. (My earlier blog on Oscar Pistorius) He inspired disabled and able-bodied athletes and spectators across the globe. This admiration and respect was concretized by Grenada’s Kirana James exchanging his bib numbers with Pistorius after the 400-meter semifinal. He seemed to be the most popular South African athlete, period.

Then came the news of the murder: a young woman dead at the hands of a national hero. Images, ideals, and idols shattered. Hope and goodwill turned to anger and outrage.

So what does this have to do with Sports Ethics or Philosophy of Sport? As tragic as it is, it doesn’t raise any special or novel issues for sport as such. Nevertheless, this case has led me to think about an issue that does somewhat relate to Sports Ethics. For several years, I have used Pistorius’ push to race in the Olympics as a part of my Sports Ethic course. We spend several classes examining the questions that arise in his case: issues of disabled athletes generally; should disabled athletes compete against able-bodied athletes; does running on the blades as Pistorius does, count as running; etc. It also connects nicely with the class’s discussion of doping and PEDs. Should arguments against PEDs apply to the technical aids used by a disabled athlete to compete? The case of Oscar Pistorius frames the whole discussion of these questions. I am hardly alone in this. Much of the literature that focuses on these questions is framed by Pistorius’ case.

After processing the shock of the news of Pistorius’ arrest and his girlfriend’s murder, I started to wonder: should I (or any teachers) continue to use Pistorius as the main case-study for my classes?

I am reluctant to do so. Historically, Pistorius racing at the Olympics is still an important and inspirational event. All the ethical and philosophical questions that it brings forward remain worthy of inquiry. But I am not comfortable using a murderer (assuming he is guilty) as the case to bring these issues up for discussion. Moreover, I am not sure my view would change if he is ultimately acquitted. Why?

  1. Part of what makes Pistorius’ case so powerful is Pistorius himself. We feel sympathy for him because he is a normal-seeming guy who just wants to compete. His story pulls at our sense of fairness: it is easy for us to imagine being him and in his situation. But if he is found guilty of murder, this doesn’t work anymore. Maybe this just requires a re-framing of the narrative, but it is hard to imagine that one can frame the story in a way that wouldn’t downplay the murder and do further injustice to the memory of Steenkamp.
  2. A practical concern is that trying to use Pistorius as a central figure here creates a huge distraction. Students will want to focus on the murder, not the issues.
  3. Even if he is acquitted, he is no longer the sympathetic figure he was. The practical concern would remain because students would likely be more familiar with him as someone charged with and associated with a murder. Moreover, even if acquitted of a murder charge, he still seems, based on released evidence and testimony, morally culpable for her death (more on this in the appendix below).

I do not expect nor demand that the figures discussed in class be moral saints or ideals. That is unrealistic, unnecessary, and contrary to the goals of education. However, Pistorius’ case raises a special problem because so much of the narrative of the disabled athlete triumphing in the quest of fairness is celebratory.

Innocent or guilty, I do not think Pistorius should be ignored in sports history. He was the first to do something significant in sport. He has helped and inspired countless athletes and others to overcome their own obstacles. (In this way, his situation is similar to another fallen sport hero: Lance Armstrong.) But now this narrative includes murder, and that forever changes it.

Whether I continue to use Pistorius or not in my class (I have not decided yet), he can no longer be an inspiration or story of hope and triumph. The loss of an inspirational figure to talk about in Sports Ethics does not even rise to the level of a tiny, micro-tragedy. A woman is dead. Her family and loved ones have suffered an incalculable loss. Obviously, that is rightfully where most of our focus and concern should be.

Appendix: What I think about the case itself
I admit I find Pistorius’ account, as reported, of Steenkamp’s killing unconvincing and even if true not exculpatory. On the other hand, the bail hearing revealed what looks like police negligence and incompetence in handling the investigation. Such mishandling might lead to, and if extensive demand, an acquittal. Nevertheless, it looks to me like he is still morally on the hook for her death.

This is what has been reported as Pistorius’ account: that he thought there was an intruder locked in the bathroom, and given both the crime rate in South Africa and past threats against Pistorius, he feared enough for his safety to fire his weapon four times through the closed door. (Graphic representation of Pistorius’ testimony).

The use of deadly force is justifiable in self-defense, but not without conditions. What these conditions would be and how they are justified is a complicated matter of social and legal philosophy. For that reason, I’ll assert, without argument, what I take to be at least two essential conditions for the justified use of force (deadly or not). (These are likely not equivalent to the South African legal requirements for the use of deadly force)

  1. There is the use of or imminent threat of use of force against one’s person or property (and by extension persons who in some way one is responsible for: children, loved ones).
  2. There are no reasonable or effective alternatives to defend one’s person or property (and extensions).

I think he fails to meet these conditions. Counterfactual, if he was right that the person in the bathroom was an intruder and not his girlfriend, this intruder would be initiating force against Pistorius by trespassing. This trespass, then, might meet the first condition. However, before using force, one has a responsibility to confirm (or try to confirm) one’s suspicion (at least as much as one can in a given set of circumstances). Nothing in Pistorius’ account so far suggests that he attempted to confirm that the person in the bathroom was indeed an intruder or a threat.

But even if he meets the first condition; he fails utterly on the second. At least based on the testimony so far reported, there seems to have been several alternatives Pistorius could have used to protect himself and his property instead of force. He could have removed himself from the perceived immediate danger from the intruder behind the door, called security and/or the police, and waited with his weapon in case the supposed intruder came out of the bathroom. Shooting blindly through a closed door hardly seems like the only (or more strongly, even a) reasonable and effective option for self-defense in this case.

This doesn’t establish that Pistorius is guilty of murdering Steenkamp. There are many legal hurdles and standards that need to be met to establish that. Moreover, I suppose evidence could come out that would show Pistorius was facing at least a perceived imminent threat with no reasonable or effective alternatives. Still, nothing like that seems forthcoming at this point even from Pistorius himself. My point is, guilty of premeditated murder or not, Pistorius is morally culpable for Steenkamp’s death.

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