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The early philosophers were much involved with sport, in particular Aristotle

The early philosophers were much involved with sport, in particular Aristotle who used the Olympic games as metaphor for society. Why does sport feature little, if at all, in modern philosophy? From John L.

That's a very good question, John, and one without a better answer, I suspect, than the limits of practicality. So many topics for philosophical reflection, so little time! As a matter of practicality, many philosophers feel the pressure of researching and publishing in the more traditional philosophical categories, in the interest of a respectable and marketable curriculum vitae.

But like other "philosophies of" areas of ordinary human life, like food and wine, philosophy of sport seems to be gathering a number of citations in recent years. The Philosopher's Index returns 189 hits for abstracts published since 2001 with "sport" in the title (a better indicator of topic than if "sport" appears anywhere in the text), and there is a semi-annual Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, which also began publication in 2001.

Why are performance-enhancing drugs seen negatively for athletes, but no problem

Why are performance-enhancing drugs seen negatively for athletes, but no problem for musicians? Why do we worship The Beatles (big-time drug takers and their creativity amplified substantially through drug use) and attack Ben Johnson?

Do you think that it is correct to teach physical education in separate-sex

Do you think that it is correct to teach physical education in separate-sex classes? Isn't this just keeping the sexist divide between girls and boys, where boys say girls cannot play sport?

I went to an all-girls high school. Girls from that school outperformed girls from the nearby coeducational school in both athletics and academics. Same-sex physical education can be good for girls, challenging them against the highest standards of female athleticism. But of course sometimes it isn’t, especially if girls-only athletics is not as well supported as boys-only athletics, or if girls are held to less demanding standards than boys (relative to those achievable by top female and male athletes). The best solution here may be complex: some activities in some age-groupings are best pursued within a single-sex framework (e.g. rugby once in high school); others can be pursued in mixed groups (e.g. swimming, orienteering, and soccer, where players are grouped by skill level). Another important part of overcoming gender-bias in sport is recognizing the genuine athletic achievement in those sports that are predominantly pursued by women and girls. This is starting to happen in New Zealand where netball (a female-only sport, somewhat like basketball) is beginning to receive the level of recognition previously given only to rugby (an overwhelmingly male-only sport). Just putting girls and boys in the same physical education classes by itself is unlikely to change these entrenched attitudes and may even risk reinforcing them.

College sport is big business, and generates a tremendous amount of revenue.

College sport is big business, and generates a tremendous amount of revenue. Should the player receive some share of that money?

Before I begin, let me issue a quick reminder: Not all college sports is big business. Some of it is, to be sure: Big-time college football, basketball, and the like. But college golf, tennis, swimming, and gymnastics don't generate much revenue, except perhaps at the most elite programs, and college sports don't generate much revenue at all at institutions like, say, MIT. So when I talk about college sports and "student athletes" below, I'm talking about only some college sports programs.

So, that said, I used to be a huge fan of college basketball. (I went to Duke. Go figure.) Now I hardly watch at all, and the reason you mention is perhaps the most significant. The rules governing (that is, prohibiting) the compensation of "student athletes" were put in place many years ago to protect the interests of such students. For example, there was concern that a student might decide to go to school X rather than school Y, not because school X would better serve that student's long-term interests---which probably have little to do with sports---but rather because school X is offering certain kinds of financial incentives. That made a certain amount of sense.

But that was a long time ago, when the term "student athlete" didn't need scare quotes. Now, as you say, colleges and universities make large sums of money from their sports programs, and their "student athletes" are essentially prohibited from receiving any compensation. Of course, the "student athletes" do receive scholarships and limited amounts of subsidy, but the real value of these forms of compensation are trivial compared to what the coaches, atheltic directors, and the like make. (Compare professional sports, where the players typically make more money than the coaches and front office staff.) That's all the more worrying when so few "student athletes" graduate, and it's even more worrying when the graduation rate for black "student athletes" is so far below that of white "student athletes" at most programs. (Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson publishes such statistics every year as regards football and basketball.) The simple reason for this is that "student athletes" are admitted to colleges and universities absolutely all the time who have, and are known to have, absolutely no chance whatsoever of receiving a degree. Some of them, indeed, cannot even read.

One might well reach the conclusion that "student athletes" are being exploited for four years and that the fruits of their labor are going to enrich the colleges and universities that claim to be protecting their interests.

Do games rest on an unresolvable contradiction? On the one hand, they are

Do games rest on an unresolvable contradiction? On the one hand, they are social affairs, designed to unite people. In chess clubs, for example, people of all ages, races, creeds, etc., come together and enjoy each other's company. On the other hand, games are competitive affairs, appealing to our most raw and neanderthalic impulses to clobber our enemies. To become good we must prey on and exploit every weakness of the opponent, and to do this we must make him the enemy, else we won't be motivated.

A knife may be used by one person for farming and another person for killing. There is no contradiction here, it's just that the same thing may serve different purposes at different times. Moreover, you may play a game both for the purpose of trying to win and as a social affair, at the same time. You can badly want to beat your opponent without disliking him. When I play squash with my regular partners, I try very hard to win (with more enthusiasm than skill, as it happens); at the same time, I find the match a bonding experience.

In many sporting competitions (and other types of competition) people will pray

In many sporting competitions (and other types of competition) people will pray to God for help. Would it be fair to call such help cheating if it were granted? Is it ethical to even ask for what would be an unfair advantage over an opposing side in what should be a purely human competition? The critics of performance enhancing drugs seem to say nothing on this issue.

I don't think that it's possible for God to cheat, even if he answered the competitor's prayer for victory. However, I agree with Richard Heck that there is something unseemly about praying for someone else's defeat (or misfortune). If we think about real conflicts, rather than sporting competitions, it is even more unseemly to suppose that God is on our side. Our enemies are just as sure that God is on their side. Many religious people think that they see God's handiwork in various events. However, I doubt if we can understand God's Providence. We should never underestimate God's subtlety.

I realize that I shifted the question from whether you would have an unfair advantage if you appealed for God's help in winning a sporting contest, and the help was provided. I don't see grounds for thinking that there is an *ethical* problem, but as Richard Heck said, a prayer for victory may be religiously inappropriate.

Aaron Meskin provided this as part of his response to a question about

Aaron Meskin provided this as part of his response to a question about performance enhancing drugs: "...But there might be other sorts of reasons. Professional athletes are entertainers, and one of the things we value in entertainment is the manifestation of human skill at a very high level. Sport and other forms of entertainment are like art in that way. The use of performance enhancing drugs tends to undercut our sense that sport is valuable and enjoyable because it allows us to experience high levels of skill and human achievement." I think this is a reason IN SUPPORT of performance enhancing drugs! There are individuals who are biologically high on these same hormones, who no doubt enjoy enhanced performance over those who are naturally lower on these same hormones. Why not level the "playing field"? We would see enhanced performance from all players, but the highest from those who have perfected their technique. I don't see how use of these drugs "undercuts" our appreciation of sports. I fully...

I think it's not just that we take joy in "high levelsof skill and human achievement" that are the result of "extraordinaryand undeserved pieces of luck" but, perhaps even more so, in such performances that are the result of extraordinary dedication. Suppose it turned out that, shortly after he was diagnosed with cancern, Lance Armstrong sold his soul to Satan in exchange for the cycling skills requried for a sequence of Tour de France victories. (Obviously, I am not suggesting that any such thing might have happend.) Speaking just for myself, I'd regard that as a form of cheating, and I'd take no pleasure whatsoever in Armstrong's accomplishments. They wouldn't have been his accomplishments, in the relevant sense. What makes his story gripping is precisely the fact that he was able to return from death's door to dominate his sport because of his dedication to doing so and not because Satan was giving him an unfair advantage.

Now obviously, if Armstrong took "performance-enchancing" drugs (and, again, I am not suggesting that he did), then his dominance would hardly have been entirely the result of his doing so: Work was still required. But, speaking for myself, my admiration for his accomplishments would be diminished to the extent that his taking such drugs was a factor. And given the small margins involved, one would suppose it quite possible that they were a large factor indeed.

There also seem to me to be some false empirical assumptions here. The use of, say, amphetamines in baseball does not "level the playing field" in any plausible sense I can imagine, and I don't myself see why the use of human growth hormone does so, either. Were Mark McGwire and José Canseco just "leveling the playing field"? With whom? Hercules? In their drug-laden primes, the two of them hardly looked like people. The plain truth, I'm afraid, is that people who use such substances are not trying to "level the playing field". They're trying to gain an advantage.

The crucial question, to me, however, is whether someone who is not prepared to accept the significant risks the use of "performance-enhancing" drugs imposes ought therefore to be denied the ability to compete. And although I do not find it entirely easy to say why—obviously, some of the preceding is relevant, but hardly sufficient—I myself have a strong intuition that the answer is "No".

Is it fair and reasonable to say that one sport is more difficult than another?

Is it fair and reasonable to say that one sport is more difficult than another? Sure football may be more athletic than golf, but does the ladder require more mental strength? Is it possible to rank the difficulty of sports?

Some comparisons may be possible, but I don't seen any particular reason to suppose that relative difficulty, for sports, is what mathematicians would call a total order: There may be questions of the form "Is A more difficult than B?" that simply do not have answers. The case of golf and football may well be such a case: Golfers and football players (and footballers, for that matter) use very different sets of skills. Perhaps one could ask whether it is more difficult to perfect the one set of skills than the other, but even that question might not have an answer. What is involved in perfecting the relevant sets of skills might, again, be very different.

What exactly is the moral/ethical problem with a professional athlete taking

What exactly is the moral/ethical problem with a professional athlete taking performance enhancing drugs? I'm talking about a talented professional who carefully weighs the known risks and side effects of such drugs and decides their use is necessary for him/her in order to be competitive in their sport. Shouldn't this just be a personal decision? Aspiring beauty queens are allowed to get plastic surgery, and athletes are allowed to get "corrective" laser eye surgery (significantly improving their perfectly normal distance vision)...

I agree with Aaron that a central reason why taking performance enhancing drugs is wrong is that this action violates existing rules and so undermines standards of fairness that are so important to sport and to the enjoyment of sport by others.

With respect to the content of these rules, I imagine that an historian of sports would have an interesting story to tell about the differing conceptions of competition that have been in place at various times and places, and I would bet that "fair sport" in the past has encompassed a variety of personal risks by athletes and many approaches for maximizing athletic skill and achievement. One could certainly imagine ethical defenses of rules and practices that admit more risk than our current rules--reducing harm is an ethical basis for those rules, but need not be the only basis for constructing rules about sport.

Loyalty. Is it unethical to move loyalty to another sports team just because the

Loyalty. Is it unethical to move loyalty to another sports team just because the current team you're rooting for isn't doing well?

Most fans of the New Orleans Saints (football team) remained loyal to 'dem Saints even though the Saints were almost always a losing team. Loyalty in The Big Easy for the Saints was fierce. But now that Katrina has destroyed much of New Orleans, the team's owner, car franchise hot shot Benson has decided to move the team to San Antonio or California permanently -- at precsiely the time when New Orleans dramatically needs the team to stay, for both financial and spiritual reasons. For all the loyalty shown to the Saints by the N.O. community, Benson returns a kick in the testicles.

Update February 14, 2006: Benson seems to have come around. But the Hornets -- who have been playing in Oklahoma City (Oklahoma????), except for 3 games in New Orleans this season -- are now the culprits. They plan to play all of six games in N.O. next season, and N.O. might get the NBA all-star game as compensation. Big deal.

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