Sport as Humanity

Two story lines getting attention in the sporting world are Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia prior to the Australian Open and the recent legal changes to COVID vaccine requirements in France that seem likely to impact the Champions League.

I’ve resisted writing about sport and vaccine mandates or related topics. Partly this is because I am always reticent to step into (overly) politicized topics (see my An Argument against Athletes as Political Role Models for more on why). But mainly it’s because it is not really about sport. It’s about health, it’s about policy, it’s about the limit and role of government. It is not about sport as such.

But there is an angle I think worth looking at. COVID-19 has affected all of us, throughout the globe. Certainly, some much more significantly than others, but everyone has been touched by it. And from very early on in the pandemic, sport has been a focal point (and a flashpoint).

It was the cancellation of sporting events in March 2020 that signaled to the wider public the seriousness of this new illness. It was the return to play that offered a mix of hope and trepidation. As sports came back, there were questions about testing: who should be tested? How often? What do the test means? Then as the vaccines become available: who should get vaccinated? When? And how should an athlete’s vaccination status affect testing, playing, quarantining, etc. And now we see many sport leagues revising their COVID related polices to reflect the shift to the impending endemic nature of the virus. Some view this as some kind of surrender and a path towards greater illness, while many others see the need to adapt the norms and rules that we live by to reflect the reality that the virus is here to stay.

Each of these questions raised in regard to sport are the very same questions and concerns throughout society. Should we cancel schools? How should we deal with testing in schools?  Should vaccines be mandated in school children, college students? And how do schools adapt (should schools adapt) to a future with endemic COVID? Or switch to any industry. Or to religious institutions. To restaurants and movie theaters. And so on throughout society. These same questions and concerns are raised in each and ever one of these domains.

But sport is not just another domain, one among thousands, that is dealing with all these issues. Sport is the closest thing we have to something universal. Not everyone has a kid in school or attends religious services. Almost no one pays attention to what is going in industries beyond their own. Few people pay attention to policy fights on the municipal level. But almost everyone, everywhere in the world, cares about sport in some fashion. It could be as fans. It could be as parents with children in youth sports. It could be as a player at any level, from pick-up games to the pros. Our (near) universal interest in sport makes it impossible to ignore these questions.

To be clear: I’m not at all suggesting that sport is leading the way or that we should take the policies of sport and apply them writ large or use them as guidance in our lives. My point is that sport carries with it, exposes and reflects all the major trends, issues, topics, concerns, etc. of society. The pandemic has highlighted that to a degree I am not sure we have seen before. However, we can see the same thing in race relations, in gender issues, in drug policies, in parenting, in governance, in questions of access and opportunity, and so many other areas.  It is hard to come up with some societal issue that doesn’t find its way into a sporting context.

Why and how is sport so interwoven with our lives? There are many philosophical, psychological, and sociological reasons why this might be.

Let me just suggest one path. Sport is fundamentally about the pursuit of goals and the development of personal and social excellences to strive for and achieve those goals. And since sport is embodied, it requires, more or less, our whole being: our mental, physical, emotional processes and skills are united in sport. Sport does this in a repeatable, yet limited, context such that we can focus in on, analyze, and thoroughly examine each aspect of these skills and means towards the goals. In this way, it essentializes and concretizes what is so central to being human: we are goal-directed beings who have to develop habits, characters, relationships, and norms of conduct to achieve our goals and flourish. We only have one life to do this in: and hopefully it takes many, many decades to pan out. Sport, though, allows us to experience, in a stylized way, the whole of life in 90 minutes; and to then do it again the next day.

This is in part what makes philosophy of sport (and the study of sport more generally) so important. Sport shows us humanity. To study sport is to study human beings; how we live and interact with each other: what we strive for, what we love, what we hate, and what we are.


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IAPS 2022: Call for Abstracts

IAPS 2022 is scheduled for August 14-17, 2022. I hope to be there!

Below is the Call for Abstracts that has just gone out to the Philosophy of Sports distribution lists:

Call for Abstracts

International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Conference

August 14 – 17, 2022, Penn State University, University Park, PA, USA

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport invites the submission of abstracts to be considered for presentation at the 49th annual IAPS meeting and essays for the 2022 R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award. The conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of IAPS and will be held on August 14 – 17, 2022 in State College, PA, USA on the Penn State University campus, co-hosted by Francisco Javier Lopez Frias and Colleen English.

The conference is being planned as an in-person event, though there are plans for virtual components for those who are unable or unwilling to travel. Due to uncertainties about the global COVID-19 pandemic and availability of vaccines, alterations to this plan will happen as necessary and be communicated to attendees at the earliest opportunity.

Abstracts are welcome on any area of philosophy of sport (broadly construed), including metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics, and from any theoretical approach, including analytic philosophy and critical theory. While IAPS recognizes, values, and encourages interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies, acceptance is contingent on the philosophical content of the project. Emerging scholars are encouraged to submit works in progress.

Deadline for abstract submission is 25 March, 2022. Contributors will be notified about the status of their abstracts by 6 May, 2022.

Proposals for round table and panel discussions, including a tentative list of participants, are also welcome and should be directed towards the IAPS Conference Chair, Emily Ryall (

About IAPS

The International Association for the Philosophy of Sport (IAPS) is committed to stimulate, encourage, and promote research, scholarship, and teaching in the philosophy of sport and related practices. It publishes the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, which is widely acknowledged as the most respected medium for communicating contemporary philosophic thought with regard to sport. IAPS members are found all over the world and constitute a growing and vibrant international community of scholars and teachers. More information on IAPS can be found at

2021 R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award

IAPS is proud to support the “R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award.” Interested undergraduate and graduate students who will be presenting their paper at the conference should submit a full paper by 25 March, 2022 (in addition to an abstract, both through easy chair, see below).  A separate announcement is posted at the IAPS website ( The selected winner shall present their paper and receive the award at the annual IAPS conference. Previous winners are not eligible to receive this award. Please indicate on your abstract submission if you plan to apply for the essay award and/or student travel grant.

Conference Requirements

All conference presenters shall register for and attend the conference to have their paper included on the conference program. Presenters must also be members of IAPS (either student or full). New members may register for IAPS membership at the following

Abstract Guidelines

IAPS will be using the “Easy Chair” conference management system. Submitted abstracts should be 300-500 words long, in English, and must be received by 25 March 2022. Abstracts MUST follow the template (which can be found here) and include:

  • A brief summary of a philosophical research topic
  • Keywords (three to five)
  • At least three references to relevant scholarly publications that contextualize the topic.

Submission Instructions

To submit an abstract, go to New users for Easy Chair must create an individual account login. Please complete the submission information and upload your abstract.

Social Program

The organizers are planning for a social program throughout the conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of IAPS. Additionally, a pre-conference social program will be arranged.

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ASU Applied Philosophy Blog

The student-run Applied Philosophy blog interviewed me as part of their regular faculty profiles:

Philosophy lecturer Shawn Klein takes on applied philosophy while talking about his academic career and pursuits in philosophy. We discuss sports through the lens of applied philosophy while understanding the insights it has to offer regarding the value of sport, fair play and the place of sports in the American Educational System.

The site is pretty cool and not just because they profiled me. In addition to faculty profiles, they have an Ask Aristotle section as well as debates and other articles written by students and some faculty.



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CFP: College Sports and Ethics

This is an open call for College Sports and Ethics, an edited collection to be published as part of Lexington Books’ Studies in the Philosophy of Sport series.

This new anthology, edited by Chad Carlson and Shawn E. Klein, focuses on foundational ethical issues in college sports, including the fit of intercollegiate sports with the university and the question of professionalism. It will also tackle several important ethical topics that pertain particularly to college sports, such as athletes’ rights and recruitment. This edited collection brings together top scholars of sport to examine college sports and analyze the important ethical issues in college sport. We invite you to submit a proposal to contribute as well.

There are many possible topics to focus on and we are open to almost any topic so long as it directly addresses a normative issue within intercollegiate athletics. We are looking for papers that focus on the particular ways an issue affects or arises in college sports specifically.

Topics of particular interest or need:

  • Athlete mental health
  • Academic concerns in connection to athletics
  • Recruitment of athletes
  • Religious issues impacting college athletics
  • Team names/mascots
  • Spectatorship/fandom

These suggestions are not exhaustive and we welcome proposals on many other topics as well. Feel free to reach out to us before abstract submission to discuss a possible topic.

To contribute, please email the following:

  • An abstract (300-500 words)
  • A CV
  • Submit as a PDF
  • Email by Nov 1, 2021
  • Email: and/or

We will notify contributors of acceptance no later than January 2022, and look for manuscripts to be submitted by May 1, 2022. All contributions will go through peer-review. We are expecting publication in early 2023.

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ASU: Philosophy of Sport in Spring 2022

I will be teaching Philosophy of Sport again in Spring 2022 at ASU!

PHI 394: Philosophy of Sport

Course Description:

An inquiry into philosophical issues in sport. Topics and readings will vary, but may include: the nature and definition of sport, an examination of the main theories of sport, metaphysical and epistemological issues, and the aesthetics of sport. Since PHI 370 Sports Ethics examines ethical issues in sport, this course will not primarily deal with ethical issues.

This course counts towards ASU’s Sports, Cultures and Ethics Certificate.

Here is tentative schedule for the readings:

Week One: Introduction and overview

Week Two: Defining Sport

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Bernard Suits, “The Elements of Sport” in Osterhoudt, Robert G. The Philosophy of Sport: a Collection of Original Essays. Springfield, Ill., Thomas, 1973
    • McBride, Frank. “Toward A Non Definition of Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 2, 1975, pp. 4–11.

Week Three and Four: Sport and Play

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Suits, Bernard. “Words on Play.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 4, 1977, pp. 117–131.
    • Roochnik, David. “Play and Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 2, 1975, pp. 36-44.
    • Feezell, Randolph. “A Pluralist Conception of Play.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 37, 2010, pp. 147-165.

Week Five and Six: Sport and Games

  • Assigned Reading:
    • Suits, Bernard. “Tricky Triad: Games, Play, and Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 15, 1988, p. 1-10.
    • Meier, Klaus V. “Triad Trickery: Playing With Sport and Games.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 15, 1988, pp. 11–30.
    • C. Thi Nguyen, “Philosophy of Games.” Philosophy Compass, Vol. 12, No. 8, 2017, p 1-18.

Week Seven: Sport and Art

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Cordner, Christopher. “Differences Between Sport and Art.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 15, no. 1, 1988, pp. 31–47.
    • Holt, Jason. “Sport as art, dance as sport.” AUC Kinanthropologica, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 138–145.

Week Eight: Are E-Sports Sport?

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Hemphill, Dennis, “E-sports are Not Sports.” Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, Vol 13, 2019, pp 3-18.
    • Gawrysiak, Joey, “E-sport: Video Games as Sport” in Defining Sport, edited by Shawn E. Klein, Lexington Books, 2016, pp 207-221

Spring Break

Week Nine: Theories of Sport: Formalism

  • Assigned Reading:
    • D’Agostino, Fred. “The Ethos of Games.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 8, no. 1, Fall 1981, pp. 7–18.
    • Morgan, William J. “The Logical Incompatibility Thesis and Rules: A Reconsideration of Formalism as an Account of Games.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 1987, pp. 1–20.

Weeks Ten and Eleven: Theories of Sport: Broad Internalism/Interpretivism

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Simon, Robert. “Internalism and Internal Values in Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 27, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1–16.
    • Russell, John. “Are Rules All an Umpire Has to Work With?” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 26, 1999, pp. 27–49.
    • Dixon, Nicholas. “Canadian Figure Skaters, French Judges, and Realism in Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 30, no 2, 2003, pp. 103–116.

Week Twelve: Theories of Sport: Practices and Narratives

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Brown, W. Miller. “Practices and Prudence.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 17, no. 1, Jan. 1990, pp. 71–84
    • Gleaves, John. “Sport as Meaningful Narratives.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 44, 2017, pp. 29–43.

Week Thirteen:  Theories of Sport: Deep Conventionalism

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Morgan, William. “Broad Internalism, Deep Conventions, Moral Entrepreneurs, and Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 39, 2012, pp. 65–100.
    • Moore, Eric. “Against Deep Conventionalism.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 45, no. 3, 2018, pp. 228–40.

Week Fourteen: Mind and Body

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Breivik, Gunnar. “Zombie-Like or Superconscious? A Phenomenological and Conceptual Analysis of Consciousness In Elite Sport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, Vol. 40, no 1, 2013, pp. 1–22.
    • Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine, “Rationality and Caring: An Ontogenetic and Phylogenetic Perspective,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 29, no. 2, 2002, pp. 136-148.

Week Fifteen: Knowing in Sport

  • Assigned Readings:
    • Steel, Margaret, “What We Know When We Know A Game,” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 4, no. 1, 1977, pp. 96-103.
    • Birch, Jens Erling, “Skills – do we really know what kind of knowledge they are?” Sport, ethics and philosophy, Vol.10, no. 3, 2016, pp.237-250


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Examined Sport: Stephen Finn, “In Defense of the Playoff System”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I look at Stephen Finn’s article “In Defense of the Playoff System” (Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 2009). In this article, Finn sets out first to challenge critiques of the playoff system from Nicholas Dixon and William Morgan, and then to offer his positive defense of the playoff system.

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Call for Session Proposals: IAPS @ APA 2022

I am seeking proposals for the IAPS affiliated group session at the 2022 Pacific APA. It is set to take place in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 13-16, 2022

I am looking for either a proposal to present a paper or a proposal for a set of thematically connected papers.

Any topic within philosophy of sport is welcomed.

What I need for the proposal:

  • Name and institutional affiliation
  • CV
  • Paper title & short abstract
  • Deadline: Sept 30th, 2021

If you are proposing a theme:

  • Names and institutional affiliations of each participant
  • CVs of each participant
  • Paper titles & short abstracts for each paper as part of the theme.
  • Deadline: Sept 30th, 2021

All presenters will need to be IAPS members. (Joining is easy:

Also, if you are planning on attending the Pacific APA and are willing to provide comments to any of the potential papers, please contact me.

Please send proposals by Sept 30th to Shawn Klein: sklein at


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Examined Sport: Pam Sailors, “Mixed Competition and Mixed Messages”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I look at Pam Sailors’ “Mixed Competition and Mixed Messages.” Sailors takes up the question of sex segregation in sport by critiquing Jane English’s 1978 “Sex Equality in Sport”. Sailors then discusses how to deal with the complexity of gender in sport and how best to structure competitions.

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Examined Sport: Jane English, “Sex Equality in Sports”

In this episode of Examined Sport, I look at Jane English’s “Sex Equality in Sports,” published in Philosophy and Public Affairs in 1978. In this classic and influential paper, English examines what equal opportunity for women in sports means and what it implies.

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  • Jane English, “Sex Equality in Sports,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1978), pp. 269-277

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Filed under Examined Sport, podcast, Sports Ethics, Women's Sports

Brief Review: The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values

Though a bit dated, The Game of Life is an essential book for understanding college sports. The authors analyze datasets of colleges and universities from the 50s, 70s, and 80s to get a sense of the impact, costs, and benefits of college sports on college and beyond. Though they don’t go beyond the late 80s/early 90s in their data, much of what they find is still relevant today, probably more so. There is little reason to think that the trends they see in the data would have reversed.

Their focus is on selective colleges and universities. They compare data from Division 1A, both public and private, institutions, Ivy League schools, and coed liberal arts colleges. They look across the spectrum of sports: not just football and men’s basketball. The first several chapters focus on men’s athletics and then they shift to women’s athletics. They look at admissions, academic outcomes, and impacts on later careers and earnings. They also examine how participation in athletics affects the kind of leadership roles students take on as well as the impact on charity and public service. Their analysis ends with a look at the financial costs of athletic programs. They close the book with a discussion of “propositions” that the authors hope might guide reform attempts.

There are many interesting findings. Some not at all surprising: academic outcomes for most athletes is worse than the average student at their respective institutions; almost no athletics program is profitable. Others are more surprising (at least to me). For example, one of the things they trace through the data is that as women’s athletics, in particular basketball and softball, become bigger (more money, more recruiting, etc), they start to mirror their male counterparts in terms of outcomes and impacts (for good and ill). In retrospect, it’s kind of obvious that this would be the case, but seeing the data that, for example, as recruitment of women athletes intensifies, the academic outcomes start to look more and more like the outcomes of recruited male athletes was eye-opening nonetheless.

For the most part, the book is straightforwardly empirical. The authors present and discuss the data (There is an appendix of 30-40 pages that summaries the key points of the data). There’s little pontification, judgment making, or self-righteous criticism. It’s a serious attempt to bring together data to better understand the history and state of college athletics. It is really only in the last chapter that the authors share how they judge the state of things and where they think it ought to go. They self-consciously do not offer a “blueprint,” but they present nine propositions (which are more like aspirations) to guide reform. Personally, I do not think most of these are workable given the considerable impediments to reform that the authors themselves discuss.

The biggest takeaway, I suppose, of the book is that college athletics and the rest of the university are increasingly diverging. The authors see an important role for athletics as part of the overall mission and purpose of the university, and want to find ways to bridge this gap. However, the data they present doesn’t show a way to do anything about this widening gyre.

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