Do Sports Evolve?

Every sport has a specific set of rules, and in general, these rules are not supposed to change. Sports and games are considered to be constant. No matter where or when you are playing the game, it is supposed to be the same set of rules. But as society and culture evolve over the years, do the sports we play change with it? In his article in The New Republic, Marc Tracy discusses the recent rule changes in the NFL and explores whether or not they affect the integrity of the sport of football. However, I believe Tracy overlooks that almost all sports have been altered and changed since their creation.

In his article Tracy suggests that if a game changes too much, it is no longer considered the “same” game. He points specifically to three rule changes in the NFL, all of which are designed to increase player safety. But Tracy argues that if we go too far in that direction, we might lose the core foundation of what makes football football. But Tracy writes the article under the assumption that sports are not supposed to change. He recognizes that while these few changes alone may not jeopardize the sport, if changes like this continue, football may lose its core definition.

I would argue that these changes don’t jeopardize the sport, because it is natural for sports to change with time. If we look at any sport that has been around for more than one hundred years, we can see a vast difference between how the sport is played now versus how it was played when it was first created. For example, Major League Baseball has undergone a number of rule changes since its creation in 1869. Throughout its existence, MLB has altered the rules of the game to better suit the interest of the fan base. The period from around 1900 to 1919 was considered the “dead-ball era” in baseball because games were extremely low-scoring. Because the games were so low-scoring, interest in baseball declined because it was considered boring when no one scored. Major League Baseball reacted to this by changing a number of rules to favor hitters and allow for more runs to be scored. For example pitchers were no longer allowed to spit on the ball to make it harder to hit, and baseballs were changed more often so that they stayed harder and were easier to hit farther. Another important rule change in baseball was the addition of the designated hitter. In 1973, the American League allowed pitchers to substitute a hitter so that they didn’t have to hit. Because pitchers are generally worse at hitting, this was another rule that was meant to encourage more scoring. However, some of these rules seem like they jeopardize the integrity of baseball. Hitting is perhaps the most defining quality of the sport, and the designated hitter rule allows a player to participate in the sport without ever having to pick up a bat. But just because the rules are different doesn’t mean it is a different sport, it just means the sport is evolving.

Sports can evolve for a number of different reasons. Baseball decided to change the rules because they were losing fans and wanted to increase scoring. In the NFL, player safety has become a hot topic that has determined many rule changes. Some sports don’t even have to change rules for the sport to evolve. Sports like golf and tennis have changed dramatically simply from the changing technology in equipment. Tennis racquets have changed dramatically over the past several decades which has changed the nature of the sport. Tennis players can now hit the ball much faster. The 10 fastest serves ever recorded have all occurred in the last four years. Golf has experienced a similar change as golf equipment has gotten more advanced. Nike’s new golf commercial shows how much golf ball technology has changed over the years.

Perhaps sports simply change naturally with time. There is no “right” way to play football. It has changed continually since its creation, and it will continue to change as our society changes. Today we are more aware of the problems with player safety in sports, especially with full-contact sports like football, so we act accordingly. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s bad to change the rules of football in order to protect the long term health of its players, and that’s exactly what has happened. It is natural for sports to evolve, and it doesn’t hurt the integrity of the sport.

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Mill Would Support Our Stoners

First person to legally purchase recreational marijuana in Colorado

For decades the United States has spent billions of dollars and put millions of people in jail in an effort to fight the sale and use of illegal narcotics. The most popular of these drugs is marijuana. In 2012, almost 19 million Americans used marijuana, which is about 5% of the entire population. With minimal side-effects and such widespread use, we have to ask, why is marijuana use illegal. In his book On Liberty, author John Stuart Mill argues that society should only prohibit actions that are harmful to the rest of society, and that actions that only harm the individual should be allowed. However, this is not how the United States operates. Dozens of drugs have been made illegal for recreational use, including marijuana. If Mill ran the country, stoners and potheads would rejoice, because marijuana would surely be legalized.

In his book, Mill suggests that society only has the right to use force against actions that are harmful to others. In the case of marijuana, Mill would consider this as a “self-regarding vice” because it only affects the person who is using the drug. The same would go for things like alcohol and tobacco, which are, in fact, legal in the United States. However, after learning about the negative effects of secondhand smoke, many enclosed areas like restaurants and office buildings prohibit smoking because of its negative effects. This ideology is very consistent with Mill’s ideas because tobacco is only prohibited when it affects others in society. In those cases, society is allowed to step in and use force, according to Mill.

But marijuana doesn’t have many secondhand effects. The drug only affects the person using it, so why is it illegal? Not only does it conflict with Mill’s ideas, but it is actually a huge missed opportunity for the United States. According to a report from GreenWave advisors, if marijuana were legalized in all 50 states, the market for the drug could be worth as much as $35 billion. Colorado passed Colorado Amendment 64, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and over, and the law has been extremely successful.

The success of this new law shows that Mill’s ideas, when put into effect, actually work quite well. Not only are people allowed to use marijuana freely, but the economic and tax benefits are extended to all the citizens of Colorado with no foreseeable negatives. John Stuart Mill would certainly support Colorado Amendment 64, and he would also support federal legalization of marijuana. But Mill wouldn’t just stop there.

According to Mill, any self-regarding vice, no matter how harmful, should be allowed without societal interference. So, this would suggest that any type of narcotic should be allowed to be used recreationally. This would allow for the use of heroine, cocaine, LSD, and many more illicit drugs. While in theory this idea of allowing all self-regarding vices makes sense, in practice, it seems that we have to draw the line somewhere. As a society, we don’t want to allow all drugs because many of them are far more harmful than others. So we should take Mill’s advice with a grain of salt. But as far as marijuana, Mill’s ideology would help our society.

Hobbes’ Laws and Doping

Performance enhancing drugs have been a problem in professional sports for decades. But perhaps no sport has suffered more from PEDs than cycling. Most notably, Lance Armstrong, who served as the face of professional cycling for many years, was found to have used PEDs and was stripped of his 7 Tour de France wins. But Armstrong was not alone. Over the past several years, dozens of cyclists have been disqualified from races. In a sport where PEDs are used with such regularity, we have to question why they are even banned in the first place. I mean, why prevent athletes from performing their best? In his book Leviathan, philosopher Thomas Hobbes defines the laws of nature. He argues that for life to be most comfortable, we must form agreements with groups of people in which we forfeit some of our individual rights for the benefit of the group as a whole. This idea of forfeiting rights as a group resonates with the rules of sports, especially with PEDs and cycling.

In cycling, the participants have agreed to not use PEDs to enhance their performance, because this helps the sport of cycling as well as all of the participants. Many of the most common performance enhancing drugs in professional sports have extremely negative side-effects and can greatly shorten one’s life. So, as a group, cyclists have decided to ban the use of these drugs for the common good. This agreement, which Hobbes calls a covenant, is vital for humans to survive in nature. However, these agreements can be very problematic when some decide to break the covenant for personal benefit, which is exactly what has happened in professional cycling.

Lance Armstrong, after finally admitting to doping for a number of years, was stripped of all of his Tour de France medals as well as banned from professional cycling for life. Lance was one of the first participants to break the covenant of cycling by using these illegal drugs. Because he was so popular in the world of sports, as well as his history with cancer and his LIVESTRONG Foundation, he was able to avoid being caught for so many years. But his actions involving PEDs did not only affect his career, but also the sport of cycling as a whole.

Lance wasn’t the only one doping during these years. In fact, because so many of the medaling cyclists during this time had been linked to doping, no winner has been awarded for the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005. Lance’s actions changed cycling, because once one cyclist uses these drugs, it is no longer in each individual’s interest to not use them. Hobbes suggests that these covenants are in place to protect the greater good, and they are. But in the case of cycling, all it took was a couple cyclists to abuse these rules for their own benefit to change the dynamic of the sport. Hobbes argues that no one man can survive without a covenant, because the world is harsh, and we need others we can trust to survive. While at first it seems like Armstrong was able to thrive by breaking his covenant with cycling, in the end, Hobbes’ law of nature held true. He was eventually punished for his actions, and his career as a cyclist is forever tainted.

Ref’s Role in Fortune

NFL referees incorrectly award game-winning touchdown to the Seahawks

Every sporting event, professional or amateur, is affected by fortune. Often times the outcome of a game is changed by a factor that the teams and players have no control over. Especially in professional sports, where the margin for error is extremely low, fortune can ultimately decide which team actually wins. Perhaps the most important outside factor in professional sports is officiating. Referees are intended to uphold the specific set of rules for their respective sport, but they often make mistakes. Because these mistakes are not made by the players of the game, they are actually an outside factor and can be defined as part of fortune. Refs can help a team win or lose. In his book The Prince, Italian historian Nicolo Machiavelli gives a brief definition of fortune and describes its importance in life. Many of his ideas about fortune can be applied to the randomness of officiating in sports.

Machiavelli argues that fortune only controls half of one’s actions, while the other half is completely controlled by the individual. He also suggests that a truly great leader cannot control fortune, but can overcome misfortune. In the world of professional sports, missteps in officiating can be the pinnacle of misfortune. When athletes and coaches compete at such a high level, each and every factor affects the outcome of the game.

There have been numerous occasions in which the athletes have performed well enough to beat their opponent while also playing within the realm of the rules, but fortune denied their efforts. A recent example of this was a regular-season NFL game in Seattle 2012. The visiting Packers were winning, and on the last play of the game the refs incorrectly awarded the Seahawks with a touchdown. By Machiavelli’s definition, this is simply lady fortune helping the Seahawks win. But for the Packers, this misfortune was devastating. In a league where each win or loss can determine who makes the playoffs and eventually wins the Superbowl, a blown call of this magnitude shows the power of fortune. The Packers should have won that game, but it was stolen by lady fortune.

Another brutal example of blown officiating was the famous blown perfect game by pitcher Armando Galarraga. In baseball, a perfect game is when the pitcher goes through all nine innings an retires every batter on the opposing team. In the history of Major League Baseball, which was founded in 1869, there have only been twenty three perfect games. With only one out remaining, the batter was thrown out at first base, but the umpire called him safe, effectively robbing Galarraga of his place in baseball history. Instant replay shows that the batter was clearly out, but it didn’t matter. Once again lady fortune showed her power and took a perfect game away from a completely deserving athlete.

Each of these two examples show that teams and players can win, but officiating can take that win away from them. Machiavelli would argue that fortune is simply part of life and that we cannot control everything in life. But how does that change anything for Galarraga? Or the Packers? Or any of the thousands of teams and players who have been wronged by officiating? The short answer is it doesn’t. They still lose, and nothing can change that. But they can take solace in the fact that this is actually a part of sports. The rules of sports can’t expel the power of lady fortune. In recent history, professional sports have attempted to minimize the “fortune factor” in officiating by adding more referees and using replay technology to decrease the number of incorrect calls. However, as we’ve seen, it’s never perfect. Machiavelli says that although we cannot control fortune, we can, in a way, tame fortune. Fortune, he says, favors the adventurous. Athletes cannot control their fortune, but they can do everything in their power to overcome their misfortune. The best athletes conquer their misfortunes and still find a way to succeed, even if they don’t always win.

I Don’t Want to Learn

More and more Americans are going to college, but how many of them are actually learning anything?

Throughout most of my academic career, my only goal was to achieve the highest grade possible. If I took a test, my only motivation to study for that test was so that I could get the correct answers, and if I happen to retain the information for any time after the test, then that was just an added bonus. But that was rarely the case. More often than not, less than a week or so after an essay or an exam, whatever information I had crammed into my head the night before was completely forgotten. For a while I thought that was what everyone did. In his article “Live and Learn” in The New Yorker, former college professor Louis Menand discusses the importance of college and our education system. His description of education resonated with the way I thought about school for most of my life. However, in the past year, I have learned that our education system offers many different ways to be successful.

In his article, Menand suggests that there are three distinct theories of why we attend college. His first theory says that we attend college to sort the good students from the bad based on academic success. Theory 2 argues that we go to actually learn and gain knowledge in your area of study. Theory 3 states that we go to specialize in one area of expertise and go on to a career in that field. For most of my life, I was a firm believer of his first theory. I wanted to show everyone that I could achieve at a high academic level, and hopefully, that success would allow me to get a desirable job and live happily ever after. However, it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I learned maybe I could learn something from school.

Every year in the spring, an epidemic called Senioritis sweeps across high schools all over the country. This term is used to describe seniors and their lack of interest in school now that they are all into college and no longer have an incentive to get good grades. Anyone who suffers from Senioritis would also subscribe to Menand’s first theory because they are only interested in achievement, and now that achievement isn’t as important, the incentive to learn is lost. By the end of my winter trimester I had all the early symptoms. However, right as I was about to tune out school for three months, one of my teachers, Paul Denison, gave a speech describing his experience in high school, and it seemed very similar to my experience.

(It’s a long video, if you have the time watch all of it because it is very interesting, but the most important part is from 1:49 until 4:07)

Maybe you can see me in the back of the audience having my mid-speech epiphany. What he was describing was exactly how I went about my schoolwork: do the least amount of work to get the best grade. And like him, I became pretty good at that skill. I was honing in on Menand’s first theory. All I wanted to was to be viewed as successful. And at that time, I thought that his other two theories were completely separate and could not overlap. But with significantly less pressure to get good grades during my third semester, I thought, why not give this a try.

So I did. I stopped worrying so much about my grades. I learned only for the sake of learning, and I was surprised to discover that I continued to achieve at a high academic level. Even though I subscribed to Menand’s second theory, I continued to receive good grades and achievement. Menand gave three very distinct theories about our education system, and he suggests that they are all mutually exclusive. However, given my experience in high school, specifically my senior spring, I would argue that these theories are very inclusive. Our education system is what you make of it. If you want to just get the best grades possible and not worry about what you remember, you can. If you want to learn as much as you can and retain everything you learn, you can. You can allocate your interests with infinite different combinations based on what you value with your personal education, and my senior spring in high school truly made me reevaluate what I find important.

Fantasy Football: A Game of its Own

The League premiered on FX in October of 2009 and just aired its sixth season this past month.

America loves sports. We always have, and we always will. There are dozens of sports that millions of people play and watch year-round. However, one sport stands tall above the others: football. Football is as America’s sport. It is by far the most popular and has the biggest fan base. The Super Bowl is consistently the most-watched event in the world. The public’s interest in football is based around our innate interest in play. In his book Homo Ludens, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga outlines his definition of play. He defines play with four distinct characteristics: play is free, it is different from “ordinary” or “real” life, it creates order, and there must be no material interest involved in play. Nearly all sports fit this definition of play, and football is no exception. For many years, spectators were not considered to be a part of play, they merely watched and enjoyed the spectacle of play. However, a new type of game has recently gained popularity among sport fanatics: fantasy football.

Fantasy football is pretty intuitive. A group of friends can start a league by logging on to a number of hosting websites like ESPN or Yahoo Sports and create a league. Every member of the league has their own team, and the owners of the teams draft real NFL players individually to fill their roster. Every week the owners get points based on how well their players perform that week.

It’s no wonder that this idea took off so quickly. But it really took off. In the world of football fandom fantasy football has become a cultural phenomenon. People have become obsessed with player rankings and leagues. Sports websites have begun profiting from this fad by creating blogs and hiring writers specifically for fantasy football. Companies even use fantasy football to advertise their own products, like The Xbox One. This game became so popular that there is an entire television show dedicated to people playing fantasy football called The League.

But how has fantasy football become so popular? What is it about fantasy football that is so much more interesting than just watching? Perhaps our friend Huizinga can answer that. Fantasy football, although different from many traditional types of play, is in fact a game itself. It offers a way for football fans to compete with each other. What fantasy football creates is skill. It is a test of one’s knowledge of football. If you are a better fantasy football player then you know more about the players, and thus, your team will score more points. By creating a game for football fans fantasy football has made the fan experience far more interactive and engaging, which is the principle reason for its widespread popularity. Now we don’t have be 6’5 and weigh 250 pounds to compete, we just have to be football nerds.

Fantasy football not only creates an entirely new game out of football, but it extends the playing field to the spectators. When outlining his definition of play, Huizinga also mentions the idea of the “magic circle”. The magic circle is a concept that describes the space in which games are played. For NFL players, the magic circle is simply the playing field, but for the spectators, this space extends all the way to the internet. Fantasy football has greatly expanded the magic circle for its fans and has created an overlap between the magic circle of the actual players and the spectators. This expansion is another reason why fantasy football has such a positive impact on the spectator’s experience, and why it has become so popular.

Fantasy football has paved the way for a number of new games. Sports networks like ESPN have already begun creating dozens of games specifically geared for fans, and these games will only continue to grow in popularity. The cultural phenomenon that fantasy football has created can be attributed to the fact that it changed the spectator experience and changed they way we think of play.