A Philosopher's Blog

Costas & Guns

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 5, 2012
English: Jovan Belcher, a player on the Kansas...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While covering a football game the day after  Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed  his girlfriend and himself , Bob Costas quoted Kansas City sportswriter Jason Whitlock: “If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kassandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

As might be imagined, there was a range of responses to this. Some agreed with Costas. Others took issue with a commentator making such a political statement during a sporting event. Some responded with considerable anger at what they regarded as an attack on guns.

While the main point of concern is obviously guns, there is also the matter of whether or not sports commentators should engage in such political commentary.

On the one hand, people watch sporting events with the expectation that the commentary will be about the sporting events and they do not expect political, social, theological or philosophical commentary. Naturally, they also expect lots of commercials. Given that the purpose of such commentary is to comment on sports, it seems reasonable for the commentators to stick to what the show is supposed to be providing to the audience. To use an analogy, if one goes to a comedy club and a person gets on stage to lecture about engineering, then one would obviously be right to expect them not to do that. After all, one goes to a comedy club with a reasonable expectation of comedy. Likewise, one watches football with a reasonable expectation that it will be free of political commentary.

On the other hand, Costas commentary did relate to an event connected to football and sports and other areas (such as religion and politics) are often mixed. Also, it is not the case that the commentators make an explicit commitment to only discuss sports and to exclude everything else.

Obviously enough, however, the main point of concern is Whitlock’s claim that the two people would still be alive if Belcher had not owned a gun. The talking point response to this is to point out that by Costas and Whitlock’s reasoning, if OJ Simpson did not have a knife, then the people who were allegedly killed by him would still be alive.

This talking point does, in sort of a mean way, make a reasonable point. After all, people are quite capable of killing without guns. Knives have, of course, been used to commit murders. Obviously, many other tools have been used in domestic violence as well, including such bizarre ones as frozen animals (or their parts). As such, getting rid of guns would not eliminate murders, suicide or domestic violence.

Guns do, of course, make killing easier. After all, they are tools specifically designed for doing the work of killing. As such, if people did not have guns, they would have to use somewhat more difficult means of killing. This might reduce the number of killings in a way somewhat like taking away cars would reduce the likelihood that a person would go someplace. After all, if a person has to work harder to accomplish a task, he is somewhat less likely to attempt that task.

Another point worth considering is that a gun also makes impulse killing easier. After all, a person can simply point the gun and pull the trigger and this allows very little time for thought. If people had to use slower means of killing, they might pause between the impulse to kill and the act of killing. Then again, this might have little impact. After all, a person can stab with a knife almost as fast as pointing and shooting.

People also note that a gun can do a lot of damage, making death more likely than with many alternative means of violence. For example, a person who is shot would tend to more badly wounded than someone who is punched or hit with a club. Of course, there are plenty of other weapons that can match guns in lethality, such as a knife.

Overall, it does make sense that getting rid of guns would cause a reduction in deaths. However, there is the question of the significance of the impact and the costs associated with eliminating guns. After all, getting rid of automobiles would cause a very significant reduction in deaths, yet most would argue that this would not be worth the cost.

A final point of consideration is the usual talking point that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is, of course, true. After all, people do not (in general) kill simply because they have guns. Rather, they use guns to kill because they have a reason (or think they have a reason) to kill. As such, eliminating guns would not address the actual cause of violence.

In the case at hand, there has been some speculation that head injuries suffered by Belcher played a causal role in his actions. The sort of head trauma football players sustain has been linked to a variety of mental problems, including suicides and violence. As such, addressing this medical problem would seem more fruitful than pushing for the elimination of guns. After all, this would address a causal factor of violence rather than one of the tools used in violence.

Others have also noted that domestic violence is not uncommon in the United States and have expressed concerns about addressing the causes of this violence. While guns are sometimes used in domestic violence cases, people have clearly shown that they will use other tools, such as knives. As such, focusing only on guns would be a mistake. Rather, it makes more sense to address the underlying causes of such violence. While people do point to the fact that guns are used in many such cases, it must also be noted that there are millions of gun owners who never use their guns to kill other people. As such, the problem is not that people have guns. The problem is that some people are willing (or driven) to kill.

My Amazon Author Page

Enhanced by Zemanta

Athletes & God

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on January 9, 2012
English: This cross-country race course in Sea...

Did God knock those guys down?

While professional athletes get the most attention when they thank God for their successes and victories, athletes thanking God is not that uncommon. It is also not uncommon for this sort of thing to attract both negative and positive attention. As should come as no surprise, there are some matters of philosophical interest here.

I will begin in a somewhat non-philosophical vein by noting that I have no problems with people expressing their faith in the context of sports. When I ran in college,I  noticed that quite a few of my fellow runners were religious-I distinctly remember seeing people praying before the start of a cross country race (on some courses, divine protection was something well worth having and flipping their crosses from the front to the back (also a good idea-racing downhill can result in a cross to the face). I was, at that time, an atheist. But, as a runner, I have a respect for devotion and faith. Plus, most of these people proved to be decent human beings and I certainly respect that.

When I race now, some races I compete in are put on my churches or have religious race directors. As such, I participate in races that often have a prayer before the start. While I am not known for my faith, I am generally fine with the prayers-they tend to be ones that express gratitude for the opportunity to be healthy and express the hope that the runners will be watched over and come to no harm. I agree with both sentiments. What I find to be a matter of potential concern is, of course, when athletes credit God with their successes and wins.

On the one hand, if someone does believe in God it does make sense to give God a general thanks. After all, if God did create the world and all that, then we would all owe him thanks for existing and having a universe in which we can compete in sports. There is also the fact that such thanks can be seen as being the sort of thing one does-just as one thanks the little people for one’s success in the movies or politics one should thank the Big Guy for His role in literally making it all possible.

On the other hand, an athlete thanking God for his or her specific success over others does raise some matters of philosophical interest that I will now explore.

One point of concern that is commonly raised is that it seems rather odd that God would intervene to, for example, help a pro-football player score a touchdown while He is allowing untold amounts of suffering to occur. If He can help push a ball into the hands of a quarterback why could he not deflect, just a bit, a bullet fired by a murderer? Why could He not just tweak a virus a bit so that it does not cause AIDS? The idea that God is so active in sports and so inactive in things that really matter would certainly raise questions about God’s benevolence and priorities.

Another point of concern is that to thank God for a victory is to indicate that God  wanted the other side or other athletes to be defeated. While this would make sense if one was, for example, doing a marathon against demons or on the field against a team of devils, it seems less reasonable when one is just playing a game or running a race. When I beat people in a race, there seems to generally be no evidence that they are more wicked than I or any less morally or theologically deserving in the eyes of God (with some notable exceptions-you know who you are).  It seems odd to think that God regards some teams or some athletes as His foes that must be defeated by His champions (I will, of course, make the obvious exception for the damn Yankees).  So, if I beat you and I thank God for the victory, I would seem to be saying that God wanted you to lose. That would, of course, raise questions about why that would be the case. It seems to make more sense to say that I won because I ran faster rather than because God did something to bless me on the course or smite you.

The notion that God did something also raises an important moral point. A key part of athletic ethics is competing fairly without things like illegal performance enhancing drugs or outside intervention. If I win a race because I was blood doping and had people tackling other runners in the woods, then I would be a cheater and not a winner. If God steps into athletic events and starts intervening for one side or person, then God is cheating. Given that God is supposed to be God, surely He surely would not cheat and would thus allow the better team or athlete to win. He might, of course, act to offset or prevent cheating and be morally just. However, while  Jesus turned water to wine,God generally does not seem to turn steroids into saline.

As a final point, there is also the rather broad matter of freedom. If our athletic victories are due to God (and also our losses-but no one praises God for those on TV), then it would seem that our agency is lacking in these contests. God would be like a child playing with action figures (“zoom, Mike surges ahead or the win!” or “zap, Jeremy blasts past the Kenyans to win the NYC marathon!”) and the athletes would no more deserve the credit or the blame than the action figures. After all, the agency of both is simply lacking and all agency lies with the one moving the figures about. As would be imagined, this lack of agency would seem to extend throughout life-if God is responsible for my 5K time, then He would also seem responsible for my publications and whether I stab someone in the face or not. This is, of course, a classic problem-only now in the context of sports. Naturally (or supernaturally), the universe could in fact work this way. Of course, this would also mean that the athletes who praise God would be like sock puppets worn by a puppeteer who is praising himself or herself.

Now, if God does actually intervene in sports, I would like to make a modest request: God, could you see fit to shave two minutes off my 5K time this coming year? Oh, and as always, smite the Yankees. The Gators, too.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Should College Athletes be Paid?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on November 7, 2011
NCAA College Football 2K3

Hey, shouldn't the actual football players get a taste of the money?

I was an unpaid college athlete (well, aside from getting 2 credit hours, boxed lunches and some running stuff). In my case, this seems fine. After all, I did not generate any revenue for my college (watching cross country and track was free). However, some athletes (most notably football and basketball players at the top sports schools) do generate massive revenues for their schools. These revenues enable obscenely high salaries for coaches, the construction of massive stadiums, and so on. There is a massive gravy train of money and the players only see a minute fraction of this in terms of scholarships and some perks.

One stock argument against paying college athletes is that they are compensated by their scholarships. In some cases, this compensation is adequate. However, in many cases the scholarship payout is minuscule compared to what the player actually brings in. After all, the top sports schools have revenue streams that rival those of the professionals and, as is well know, the pros are very well paid indeed. As such, this argument has merit only in limited cases, such as for schools whose sports revenue is on par with what is paid out in scholarships.

Another stock argument is that the college athlete is supposed to be a noble amateur, unsullied by the stain of money. I do actually value this sentiment. After all, I was (and am) an amateur athlete who competes for the sake of the competition and to be better in my sport. I am not in it for the money (obviously enough). However, this notion is laughable when it comes to the big money sports. After all, the universities are quite willing to sully themselves with piles of cash and business deals with sponsors that come from their top sports. One suspects that this is a not so noble lie told to the players and fans so that certain folks can keep all the money. In any case, these sports are sullied with money and various other scandals to the degree that the noble amateur is a complete fiction in the cases of the top schools. The high end college teams are, in fact, professional in all respects other than actually having paid players.

This is not to say that there are not noble athletes at the top sports schools who play for the sake of the sport . There are. They are, however, being shamelessly exploited by the universities. Also, there are clearly professional athletes who are noble athletes-it is, obviously, possible to get paid and remain that noble athlete. An unpaid person is not thus made noble-just poor. Naturally, a player who accepts bribes to throw games would not be noble-but that is another matter. As such, the noble amateur story is a not so noble lie.

My view is that universities should drop the pretense and pay the athletes based on what they bring in for the school. Otherwise they are shamelessly exploiting these athletes and enabling others to profit massively on the work of others. That is, obviously enough, unfair.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The List

Posted in Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on September 3, 2011
Track and field

Image via Wikipedia

Back in the day, I was a pretty good runner. However, I made the mistake of trying to stay good in my 30s and beyond by using the strategy of my 20s. This mainly involved running 80-90 miles per week and training everyday. This worked great for a while, then I found myself getting worse. Foolishly, I responded by training harder and that merely made things worse. As luck would have it, this cycle was broken by an accident: I fell off my roof and tore my quadriceps tendon on March 26, 2009. This took me out of running for quite a while and had two major impacts (well, three if the fall is counted). The first is that I was forced to cross train (that is, do stuff other than running). The second is that I was forced to rest. Somewhat ironically, when I was able to get back to racing, I was faster than I had been in recent years. I am, in defiance of age, still getting faster. I’m obviously not as fast as I was in my youth, but it is great to be improving rather than declining with each race.

This improvement restored my competitive spirit and I found myself creating the List. The List is a list of my fellow runners, specifically those I want to beat. Being realistic, I actually have several lesser lists. After all, the List consists of everyone who is faster than me. My main lesser lists are my 5 List and my 10 List. As you might imagine, the 5 list consists of the next 5 people I want to beat and the ten list, well I am sure you get the picture. I also have a special list of people I really, really want to beat. Usually, these people are my friends. Yes, I do tell them that they are on the list.

Like some other athletes, I have a somewhat odd approach to what counts as beating a person. Merely finishing ahead of a person does not count (although I do accept any award that goes with doing that). To count as a beating, I have to finish ahead of the person and they must be at full strength. This means that if the person is sick, injured or suffering significant emotional distress (going through a divorce for example), then the beating does not count (unless the person insists that these conditions had no impact on their run). So, there are some people I have finished ahead of, but I do not accept that I beat them.  I don’t expect other people to follow my system. So, for example,  I don’t take issue with the people who say that they beat me when I started racing again after my leg was busted. After all, they did finish ahead of me and that is the standard view of beating.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Are NASCAR Drivers Athletes?

Posted in Philosophy, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on August 8, 2011
Shot by The Daredevil at Daytona during Speedw...

Image via Wikipedia

A while ago I got into an argument over whether or not NASCAR drivers are athletes. This argument was caused by NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson being nominated for male athlete of the year.  I am with Golden Tate on this matter: NASCAR is hard, but the drivers are not athletes.  However, fairness requires that I actually make a case for my claim.

Before getting to the main event, there is the question of why this matter is even worth considering. After all, why should anyone care whether NASCAR drivers (or anyone else) are considered athletes or not? One reason (which might not be a good one) is a matter of pride. Athletes often tend to regard being athletes as a point of pride and see it as being an accomplishment that sets them apart from others in this area. As such, they tend to be concerned about what counts as being an athlete since this is supposed to be an earned title.

To use an obvious analogy, consider the matter of being an artists. Like athletes, artists often take pride in being set apart from others on the basis of being artists. It matters to them who is considered an artist. Sticking with the analogy, to many athletes the idea that a NASCAR driver is an athlete would be comparable to saying to an artist that someone who does paint-by-number “art” is an artist.

Naturally it could be argued that this is all just a matter of vanity and that such distinctions have no real significance. If NASCAR drivers want to think of themselves in the same category as Jessie Owens or if paint-by-number folks want to see themselves keeping company with Michelangelo, then so be it.

While that sort of egalitarianism has a certain appeal, there is also the matter of the usefulness of categories. On the face of it, the category of athlete does seem to be a useful and meaningful category, just as the category of artist also seems useful and meaningful. As such, it seems worth maintaining some distinctions in regards to these sort of classifications.

Turning back to the matter of whether or not NASCAR drivers are athletes, the obvious point of concern is determining the conditions under which a person is (and is not) an athlete. This will, I believe, prove to be far trickier to sort out than it would first appear.

One obvious starting point is the matter of competition. Athletes typically compete and NASCAR clearly involves competition. However, being involved in competition does not appear to be a necessary or sufficient condition for being an athlete. After all, there are many competitions (such as spelling bees) that are non athletic in nature. Also, there are people who clearly seem to be athletes who do not compete. For example, I have known and know many runners who never actually compete. They run mile after mile and are in excellent shape, yet never enter a race. I also know people who practice martial arts, bike, swim and so on and never compete. However, they seem to be athletes. As such, this factor does not settle the matter. However, the discussion does seem to indicate that being an athlete is a physical sort of thing, which does raise another factor.

When distinguishing an athlete from, for example, a mathlete, the key difference seems to lie in the nature of the activity. Athletics is primarily physical in nature (although the mental is very significant) while being something like a mathlete or chess player is primarily mental. This seems obvious enough to not require any debate. However, the nature of the physical is a matter of legitimate debate.

NASCAR clearly requires physical skills and abilities. The drivers need good reflexes, the ability to judge distances and so on. These are skills that are also possessed by paradigm cases of athletes, such as tennis players and baseball players. However, they are also skills and abilities that are possessed by non-athletes. For example, these skills are used by normal drivers and people playing video games. Intuitively, I am not an athlete because I am able to drive my truck competently nor am I an athlete because I can play Halo: Reach or World of Warcraft with competence. Specifying the exact difference is rather difficult, but a reasonable suggestion is that in the case of athletics the application of skill involves a more substantial aspect of the physical body than does driving a car or playing a video game. A nice illustration of this is comparing a tennis video game with the real thing. The tennis video game requires many of the reflex skills of real tennis, but a key difference is that in the real tennis the player is fully engaged in body rather than merely pushing buttons. That is, the real tennis player has to run, swing, backpedal and so on for real. The video game player has all this done for her at the push of a button. This seems to be an important difference.

To use an analogy, consider the difference between a person who creates a drawing from a photo and someone who merely uses a Photoshop filter to transform a photo into what looks like a drawing. One person is acting as an artist, the other is just pushing a button.

Getting back to the specific matter of the NASCAR drivers, I am inclined to say that what they do is closer to what video game players do: they use a machine to do the actual physical work for them. As such, I would say that they are no more athletes because they race cars than someone is a soldier because he plays Call of Duty.

At this point a natural objection is to point to sports that involve the use of machines. One rather obvious example is cycling. On the face of it, cyclists like Lance Armstrong are clearly athletes. However, they make use of machines to multiply their efficiency.

Fortunately, this objection is easy to handle. While cyclists and others do use machines, these machines are not powered. The athlete still has to provide the physical effort to make it work and, as such, a cyclist is not just pushing buttons and letting the machine do all the work. In the case of NASCAR, the driver is guiding the car around the track, but the car is doing all the actual physical work. With the right technology, the driver could be a brain in a box, “driving” the car with mental impulses. This would involve the same basic skills and nicely shows the extent to which the physical body  is a key component of NASCAR. In contrast, a brain in a box could not be a runner or a football player. True, it could be given a robot body-but it would still not be an athlete.

It might be objected that it is the skill that makes NASCAR drivers athletes. However, the skill set seems to focus on operating a powered machine. Operating complex industrial equipment, programming a computer or other such things also require skills, but I would not call a programmer an athlete. Nor would I call a surgeon an athlete, despite the skill required and the challenges she faces trying to save lives.

I would, however, compare NASCAR drivers to sports fishermen and would classify them as sportsmen (or sportspeople to avoid being sexist since there are women drivers including one who was named the sexiest athlete by Victoria’s Secret). This is a worthy title and one that the NASCAR drivers should proudly accept.  Lest anyone think I am being sarcastic, I am not. What they do is hard and does require a degree of skill that I certainly do not possess. However, they are not athletes.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Lebron James

Posted in Philosophy, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on July 10, 2010
LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in...
Image via Wikipedia

While I haven’t been interested in basketball since I played (badly) as a kid, I inadvertently learned way too much about Lebron James. This was, of course, due to the recent obsession in the media about where he would sell his ball handling services.

Along with the rest of the world I learned that he would be going to Miami and leaving Cleveland.  When I went to school in Ohio, Cleveland was known as the place where the river burned, “the mistake on/by the lake”, and “Columbus’ idiot brother.” This made me wonder what James was doing there, but I’m fairly sure that large stacks of cash were involved. In any case, his departure has made me a little sad for the folks in Cleveland-after all, they are no longer the home of the King, but back to just being a city which had a flammable river.

Speaking of mistakes, the media obsession over James seems to fall into that category. Sure, he is a great player and he gets paid vast sums of money to do what he does (and does it very well). However, what he does should be put in  perspective: he runs and jumps around on a court with a rubber ball. This hardly seems to be something worthy of such massive media coverage-at least outside of media devoted to sports. It does make sense for ESPN to cover this “story”, but for the “real” news channels to devote so much time to the “story” shows that the media folks either have way too much time to fill or that they really have no real sense of what should be considered news.

I do admit that he does play with great skill. As a vastly inferior athlete (at my best I was only all conference in college and never went pro) I respect his abilities. I also do agree that impressive athletic performances can be newsworthy. For example, if someone sets a new record for the marathon, then that is something I would consider worth covering, preferably in a short segment stating the record and perhaps a clip of the finish. However, the news coverage of James has not been of an amazing athletic performance but rather an obsession about where he would go. Hardly the stuff of real news.

Then again, perhaps it is news. After all, as millions of people are unemployed, one man is able to demand and receive a fortune to run and jump around on a court. This says a great deal about our culture and our values.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Baseball Ethics

Posted in Ethics, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on June 4, 2010
The Major League Baseball logo.
Image via Wikipedia

Pitcher Armando Galarraga almost pitched a perfect game.  At the last moment a player got a hit and raced towards first base. The ball was hurled to the first baseman and it came down to one critical call by umpire Jim Joyce. Joyce judged that the runner was safe. Unfortunately, a review of the video showed that the runner was, in fact, out. Not surprisingly, Joyce has been savagely attacked in various blogs. Also unsurprisingly, some people have come to his defense.

While I find baseball to be really boring and was forced to endure years of Little League, I do find this situation interesting from an ethical standpoint.

One argument given against Joyce is that he should have decided a close call in favor of the pitcher, rather than the runner. One sensible reason for this is based on considering the consequences. In such a close call situation, a call in favor of the pitcher would yield an amazing achievement-the coveted perfect game. A call in favor of the runner would not provide such an achievement. As such, when the call is so very close it would seem to be right to let the tie go to the pitcher rather than to the runner.

What is, of course, rather critical here is the fact that the call is close.  That is, there are good grounds for going either way on the call.

However, the obvious reply to this is that the job of the umpire is not to judge based on which result will have the best consequences or be a “nice” or “generous” judgment. The duty of an umpire is, as the saying goes, to call it like he sees it. As such, each call must be considered in isolation, without such external factors coming into play. To do otherwise, to change judgment based on such factors, would be a failure of duty on the part of an umpire. Put into philosophical terms, an umpire must judge based on the rules rather than the consequences.

As such, Joyce acted correctly as an umpire. However, there is a rather serious matter to consider: the video showed that Joyce’s call was wrong. As such, the pitcher was unfairly denied his achievement. Or was he?

On one hand, the video shows that the call was mistaken. Oddly enough, the rules of MLB do not currently allow for a change in a call based on an instant reply. However, this situation shows that perhaps this is a good idea. After all, other sports use this and it hardly seems that it would sully the game. Rather, it would make the game more fair.

On the other hand, the game is based on a judgment by an umpire. Those are the rules and as such, that is how the game is to be played. Umpires will, of course, make errors. But, as long as the errors are honest mistakes, then that is all part of the game. Having umpires making calls in real time and not having a video review is part of the sport and to change this, it might be argued, would be to change the nature of the game.

My own view is that MLB should go to using such a review. After all, the technology is there and it would not seem to change the game in any negative way. Or would it? To be honest, I do not have a strong opinion on this aspect. However, I do have feelings about being “robbed.”

While I have never done anything as impressive as pitching a near perfect game, I do know what it was like to be denied an important accomplishment by a miscall. Years ago, I was racing a 10K on the track and set to run my fastest race ever. As you might imagine, 6.2 miles on a quarter mile track involves many laps and people have to carefully count them. In this case, the lap count was off and an official stopped the race early. I did not want to stop-I had been counting my laps. But, when the official calls it over, it is over. Even though it wasn’t. They had to sort out the results and this resulted in some bad feelings. After all, a lot can happen in a quarter mile. Also, since the race was not of the proper length the times did not count.

On the one hand, I was not very happy about this. After all, I had been “robbed.” On the other hand, I recognized that the official made an honest mistake without any malice. As such, I realized that although it was a bad situation, I had nothing against the official. Now, if there had been an attempt to shift blame or otherwise weasel out, then I would have been rather upset. But, an honest mistake is just that and the game must go on.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tiger Woods

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on March 21, 2010
Tiger Woods

Image via Wikipedia

The last episode of South Park focused on the Tiger Woods scandal. While Tiger Wood’s marital misdeeds are primarily between him and his wife (and all those other women), the episode did raise some interesting points about fidelity or lack thereof.

It has been argued that men are unfaithful by nature and that they seek multiple partners. That is, of course, rather a difficult thing to prove. After all, we generally do not find humans outside of society that can be studied to see what is natural, what is socialized, and what is choice.

However, even if it natural for men to be unfaithful, this does not entail that such behavior cannot be controlled. Nor does it automatically entail that such behavior is morally acceptable.

As the South Park episode illustrated, it seems that many wealthy men have had affairs.  This does make a degree of sense. After all, money makes it easier to engage in such behavior and it certainly makes it easier to find partners.

However, it seems to be an error to put the blame on money. After all, people who are not wealthy have affairs and most people who are wealthy do not have such affairs (or at least do not get caught).  As such, the causal power of money to make men cheat seems rather limited (or non-existent).

One reason why it seems that wealthy men are prone to affairs is that the affairs of famous men make the news and are often covered relentlessly. This tends to create the impression that such affairs are common. However, when the number of such affairs is considered relative to the number of famous men (and also men in general), then things can be seen in the proper perspective. That is, such affairs seem to be relatively uncommon.

Of course, people do tend to work hard to hide their affairs and hence it is rather difficult to know just how many people really are having affairs. Perhaps it is rather common and other folks are simply better at avoiding being caught (or just luckier that Woods and his fellows).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Hitchens on Sports

Posted in Ethics, Running, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on February 15, 2010
BEIJING - AUGUST 20:  Wilfred Kipkemboi Bungei...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

While I am a professional philosopher, I am also an amateur athlete and, as such, found Hitchens’ recent article on sports to be rather…interesting.

Hitchens does make some reasonable and valid criticisms of international sports. To be specific, he does point out that international sporting events have led to serious conflicts and some rather reprehensible behavior. However, he does not stop there. He moves on to attack sportsmanship itself by pointing out bad behavior on the part of athletes and fans. He also attacks the overuse of sports metaphors in politics, complains about the coverage afforded sports, and takes the usual shots at the overemphasis of sports in major universities.

His criticism of sports does have some merit. After all, the incidents and behavior he points to are quite real. Like him, I find the excessive coverage of sports a bit tedious and I also have been critical of how sports is often handled at the university level. However, Hitchens sweeping attack has a rather serious flaw, namely that he is engaging in a relentless straw man attack.

His specific form of a straw man is one that I point out to my students in my critical thinking class: one way to make a straw man of something is to focus entirely on the negative aspects of the target, while conveniently ignoring or underplaying the positive aspects.  To fairly assess something, such as sports, it is important to consider the positive aspects as well. After all, focusing merely on the negatives will produce a rather distorted assessment  (as would focusing only on the positive). Naturally enough, such a balanced assessment can lead to the conclusion that something is rather negative. But, at least such a conclusion would be properly justified.

This tactic is standard for Hitchens and one he routinely employs against religion.  Perhaps he honestly sees the world this way and is psychologically incapable of duly presenting a fair assessment. Perhaps he merely uses this tool because it works as a persuasive device (while failing as a logical method). However, his motivations are (obviously enough) irrelevant to assessing his case.

To begin with my reply, I am obligated to say once more that I am an athlete so as to allow people to be aware of this as a possible biasing factor in my views. I competed in high shool and college and still compete today. Of course, the merit of my case has no connection to my status as an athlete-to think otherwise would be to fall victim to an ad hominem fallacy.

My main contention against his case is, as noted above, that he seems to simply ignore any positive evidence in favor of sports. While my view of sports is based on my own experiences, these still count as evidence for the positive aspects of sports.

First, my own experience as an athlete has made me a better person. My coaches always emphasized fairness, good sportsmanship and character and they took all this very seriously. Through their guidance and through the lessons of competition I learned the importance of competing fairly, of maintaining integrity and showing respect to my fellow athletes.  I can honestly say that sports helped shape my moral character and much of what is best about me has come through sports.  I am not claiming to be a saint or exceptionally good. But, I do know that my experience in sports has, as Aristotle would say, has developed my virtues.

Second, my observations of my fellow athletes has shown that most of them have also benefited from sports. With some notable exceptions, the people I have competed with and against have shown good character. To see this for yourself, go to a local road race or even a large race and observe how people behave. To use just a few examples, runners will share water with their competitors, tell people they are racing against the right way to go, and even stop to help an injured competitor.  People also volunteer to work at such races, often getting up very early and sometimes enduring rather tough conditions. This is hardly a sign of bad character or poor behavior. Yes, there are some people who are jerks (I’ve taken a few needless elbows to the chest, for example). But, what I have observed has generally been rather positive in character. Lest I be accused of presenting a small sample or a biased one, I have competed in hundreds of races ranging from the Beach to Beacon 10K to the Columbus Marathon to high school meets to college meets and so on. As such, I have a fairly broad sample to work with.

Of course, I can still  be accused of presenting a biased sample. After all, my experience has been primarily with runners and often with runners I know. Perhaps running is different from other sports in significant ways. Also, there is the obvious concern about extending my experiences from this one sport to other sports. However, even if running is unusual it does serve as counterexample against Hitchens’ attacks on sports. Also, Hitchens can also be accused of using a biased sample: he focuses only on the negative while ignoring the positive.

To finish up, I do agree that Hitchens makes some points well worth considering. Sports can lead to rather bad behavior and serious problems. However, this is not a quality that seems to be inherent to sports. Rather, it is a problem with how people react to sports and how people behave. The fact that some athletes act badly and that some fans are true fanatics who engage in violence over sports merely serves to show their failings rather than the failings of sports. As noted above, my experiences with running have been very positive and shows that sports can be something very positive. Like everything else in life, sports is largely what we make of it. Those who bring vice to sports will find it there. Those who bring virtue will find that.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tiger Woods & Role Models

Posted in Ethics, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on December 3, 2009
A view of Tiger Woods as he walks off the 8th ...

Image via Wikipedia

When it comes to professional athletes, there is considerable debate about whether they are role models or not. Some athletes explicitly deny this while others embrace being role models. In general, of course, they are happy to profit from their fame and to use their influence as role models to sell various products.

The Tiger Woods “episode” has once again raised questions about this issue. As everyone knows, he was involved in a crash and there are rumors flying that he has been having an affair. There is also speculation that his crash might have been the result of a conflict between he and his wife. Obviously, there are people devoted to raking up muck and even if the speculations are false, Woods is taking a rather severe PR hit over this incident.

Obviously, this PR hit is not desirable. But, should Woods be regarded as potentially failing as a role model by acting in this way?

On one hand a case can be made that he can be regarded as failing in his duties as a role model. After all, he has carefully crafted a public image with the aid of his corporate sponsors. This image is used to sell products and services and it rests on him maintaining this image of excellence in sports and as a person. Since he is well paid for this image, he has let down those who pay him, thus failing in his duty to them. Of course, if he was just involved in a random crash and had handled it better, then the damage would have been minor (or non-existent). However, the way the situation is being handled is allowing the suspicions to continue and even grow. Of course, this might be something beyond his control and hence it might be best to not hold him accountable for the rumor firestorm.

His fans also look up to him and admire him. While this is mostly for his skill, it is also for his carefully crafted image as a decent, like able person. As such, this incident can be seen as harming his fans and as a failure in his duty to them. After all, he benefited greatly from his positive public image and if he was willing to reap the rewards, then he must also be willing to reap the negative effects as well.

On the other hand, he can be regarded as not failing in his duties. One way to argue this is that he does not actually have any duty (beyond the basic moral duty we all have) to act in an exemplary way. After all, his job is to hit golf balls and sell products. While damage to his personal reputation might impact his image, he can still play golf (once he recovers from his injuries). As long as he continues to play well, he can still count on corporate support and commercial opportunities. Pf course, he might need to be re-branded.

Another way to argue this is that his personal life should be kept distinct from his professional life. After all, as long as his actions to not violate the rules of the sport or his commercial contracts, then what he does would not be a professional failing. As such, the fans can expect him to play golf by the rules but cannot expect him to be a role model.

A final point is that while it is tempting to hold professional athletes to high standards, the fact is that they are just people who play sports. As such, they should not be held to any higher expectations than anyone else and what they do should be kept in proper perspective.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]