Dividing Sports

One of the biggest company to televise sports in the nation.

With over 400,000 NCAA collegiate athletes from all divisions, millions of people running local 5 ks every year, and  the NFL grossing around 9 billion dollars in 2013, it is safe to say we live in a competitive culture. Such a heavy focus on athletics and competition probably brings to many of these contestants minds ” What is fair?”. Where skill level and ability come in as much variety as the people who partake in such events, it can’t be expected that everyone should be measured using the same tape. But debate in recent years have been how to make distinctions between deciding who gets an award for being in a special “league”. Should there be  separation based on age? Race? Gender? Disability? Some claim that even weight should have its own category in such things as 5ks, and earn their own awards.

I believe that sports should not be divided by god given talent alone,  but the ability to progress in a chosen area, to improve oneself and go beyond what believed was possible. For this purpose no one should be segregated by a situation they cannot control directly. Such things as one’s race they are born with. Cultural ties with ethnicity should be something perpetuated and celebrated, when different countries compete together in the same stadium, rink, track, etc, its helps build a global community where races are not just recognized, but differences are championed and accepted.  Debates over

1900’s women in the traditional tennis outfit.

what people “deserve” in sports has been at the forefront of many competitors minds, especially in collegiate athletics. In many cases acknowledgement of differences are a truer form of equality, such as in gender. Most women will agree, that on a whole, competing against men in any given sport would be unfair. Science has shown men on average have a larger muscle mass and cardiovascular capacity, giving a huge advantage in an taxing physical activity. With the enactment of Title IX in 1972 many believe it to be ” women’s lack of interest in competitive sports as a reason why strictly proportional equity in college sports” (Mika, 1) as an excuse to not provide women with proper funding and ability to excel in their chosen sport. Societal norms have stigmatized womens involvement in competition for hundreds of years, and without  media support  have had little to no chance to grow as an institution. For most cases “The history of the politics of women’s sports has been written competently by others.”(Mika,4). Unable to be directly involved in commemorating their own history causes an inability for one to influence the future because the past is not their own. With the old aphorism of “History repeating itself” ringing in many female athletes ears they must push on, hurdling the numerous obstacles blocking their path. Societal blockades to those in a minority are all harmful, but I do believe they most influential on those who are disabled.

World record holder for the wheelchair marathon was set in 2012 at Boston by Ernst Van Dyk in an hour eighteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds.  I am a runner, and being able to move yourself twenty six miles in that amount of time is far from “disabled”. The NYC marathon recently incurred much controversy over its treatment of disabled runners. “the police

routinely but randomly stopped wheelchair participants—sometimes for up to forty minutes—so that elite runners could pass.”(Mika,135)

Ernest Van Dyke, world record holder n the wheelchair marathon.

. These actions undermine the pursuit of excellence these runners are trying to achieve, by putting the race of athletes not in a wheelchair as precedence to those in one. In such a case the question of equality or justice never really arose because of many question surrounding the definitive answer of what is “disabled”. What sports would those with disabilities be allowed to play? Who determines if someone is “disabled enough” to qualify for a specific league? No matter the answer some group will feel ostracized, giving a tricking definition for true equality among athletes. Despite the difficulties, society should strive as a whole to make everyones dreams possible, acutely summarized by the following quote :“ a liberal democratic state ensures that you have a right to pursue a job (external good) but no entitlement to one (internal good)”(Mika,136). Having the ability to have ones excellence recognized, wheelchair or not, is an external good that should be instituted by a democratic state. Every citizen not disabled has the this, so when you deny something to the minority that is available to the majority is undeniable against the fundamentals of this country and needs to be changed.

Millions of hours are put into training, preparing, and honing a skill that can only be demonstrated in the midst of competition. Pushing one’s physical realms to their outer realms and even beyond has been a celebrated pastime even to ancient Greece, and denying someone that privilege, the rush of victory, and bitterness is against the very spirit of competition itself. Athletes should be put into fair competition where hard work and commitment should be the only determining factors, and when emerging a winner, be recognized to its fullest extent.

Free Labor?

paying-college-football-players-300x199

The last saturday in August could arguably be the most anticipated day of the year, Why? It’s the first weekend of the college football season. College football is a multi- billion dollar establishment that has 125 Division-1 football programs who compete every Saturday. These are some of the best athletes in the country putting their bodies on the line each and every week for the greater good of their team and the satisfaction of winning the game. This barbaric and violent sport is filled with collision that grasps the attention and excitement of die hard college football fans every weekend. These athletes put their bodies on the line and usually become public and national figures, where their faces seem to be everywhere. The universities sell their jerseys, put their names and faces on billboards and ticket stubs, but won’t allow their student athletes to receive compensation for their likeness. The university makes millions of dollars off their students athletes, but won’t share the wealth with the ones who bring in the wealth. If the athletes are being treated and exposed like a professional why aren’t they being paid like one?

In Eric Dunning’s “Dynamics of Modern Sports,” he gives a reason as to why athletes compete. Most will say because they want to be win and be champions, which is very true but there are three reasons that stood out from Dunning’s piece; he said money, fame & recognition, and opportunities. Dunning explains how the idea of professionalism emerged in the 19th century. He uses the example of how surgeons were not seen as doctors, they were low ranked because the competitiveness for the job was not that serious until the 19th century. Since the need for surgeons increased the competitiveness for the job increased also, so professional regulations needed to be established. Dunning explains that professionalism is a trajectory, between competitiveness and seriousness. As competitiveness increases, seriousness increases, so as the competitive aspect emerges, the amateur ethos emerges. Similar to surgeons, college athletes are becoming professional because the high competition level, demand for entertainment, and the revenue they generate every weekend. College football is no longer an ametur sport like it was back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but they are still being defined and treated like they are.

The idea of college amateurism has been debated since the late 19th century. Charlie Mitchell, Heavyweight boxer (1886) said, “In fact I should like to hypothesize the amateur ethos was articulated as an ideology in opposition to the trend towards growing seriousness and that it received its most explicit and detailed formulation when, as part of the trend, the modern forms of professionalism sports began to emerge’’ (LaVaque-Manty). So, he supports Dunning’s idea that as the competitiveness and seriousness increase the professionalism aspect will then emerge. Athletes recognize this issue but the ones who control the money have not (the colleges).

Division 1 colleges across the country

Division 1 colleges across the country

College institutions need to adapt to the idea of Dunning’s philosophy and apply that to their student athletes. Division-1 competition is the highest caliber of competition the United States’ universities have to offer. The best athletes from around the world are all put on one team and are expected to compete and perform at a high level against the world’s best. College sports, especially college football attracts the national spotlight. Millions of people watch while thousands attend them and the universities are making a significant amount of money off of everyone. It is unjust for universities to be selfish and not share the wealth with their athletes who are becoming professionals.

Are Sports Political?

We have all heard someone say it at one point or another. Sometimes, it’s when their kid doesn’t get any playing time, and the parents want something to blame. Sometimes, it’s when a call is made by a referee that is highly challenged and makes half of the gym rage with anger. Sometimes, it’s true. “Sports are political.”

Sports have a history of being linked with politics, and political gestures. Max Weber wrote “Politics as a Vocation” during the after effects of WWI on Germany and the Bymar Republic. At this time, Germany was experimenting with democratic sorts of governments, whether it be living for the government, or living from the government. Merriam-Webster defines “vocation” as a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action. Behind all political decisions is the possibility of force. So, we come across a question. What makes a good politician? Well, often three things are looked at:

  1. Judgement – This is not sterile excitement (rather, excited about an issue). It is commitment.
  2. Passion  – This is not sterile excitement (means-ends rationality). It is the ability to be strategic.
  3. Responsibility – This has no good intentions. There is concern for the future and what comes next.

With a good politician comes political ethics. First of all, the ethics of conviction (what Weber does not want in a politician). These are absolute and act-oriented (ex. “under no circumstances will I do…”). On the other hand, however, are the ethics of responsibility (what Weber wants  in a politician). This focuses on being flexible and future-oriented.

Many athletes have learned to us their athletic platform to take political stances. For example, NFL quarterback Tim Tebow uses his platform to express his faith and love for God. While he was a collegiate football quarterback, he would paint bible verses on his face. When he reached the NFL, however, they did not give him this freedom.

2013.09.14-mrconservative-5233c744eaaba

In an article called All Sports Is Political:The Dave Zirin Interview, Dave Zirin (one of the most famous sports writers in the world of sports) spoke on sports and politics. His views on the mix of the two are very different than most sportswriters. “I think there are many cases where owners and head coaches make it clear that politics are divisive in the locker room, it undermines the idea of team, and that sports and politics should not mix. Also, in much of the mainstream sports media, the message is often contradictory. [The media] tend to decry the modern athlete who just says “We play one game at a time,” because that athlete doesn’t give them good copy, but they’re also the first to jump on an athlete if they dare say anything political or out of the mainstream. Now not every sportswriter does this by any stretch, but that is the general overriding ethos.”

Sports are more often than not related to politics, whether it is something Weber would agree with or not.

The NFL: A Socialist Empire

The National Football League logo.

“It is a form of socialism and it’s worked quite well for us,” were the words of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell in his January, 2012 interview with 60 Minutes. The National Football League is the most popular athletic league in the country today. Revenues in excess of $9 billion dollars annually and popularity are at all-time highs under Goodell’s leadership. The question of how to monetize and maintain this popularity is very relevant, and as evidenced by Goodell’s quote, to do so the National Football League leverages a 19th century philosophy described by Karl Marx. Continue reading

Freedom and Football

CP_Gillette_650x350_litho

(Property of the New England Patriots)

In his best known work, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill outlined his views on the concepts of liberty and freedom of speech, among other major issues. While Mill was against censorship, he only promoted the liberty of the individual to a point. He believed that people should be able to do as they wish unless they harm others. In the case of government, Mill only advocated intervention when it was needed for the protection of society.

John Stuart Mill (via Wikimedia)

Recently, the NFL has had numerous disciplinary problems with high profile players. Scandals involving Ray Rice of the Ravens, Richie Incognito of the Dolphins, and other athletes have been the subject of extensive news coverage. The newest issue involves former Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount, who was released by the team on Tuesday. Blount was dropped by the Steelers after he left the field early last Sunday, protesting his lack of carries in the game.

Blount has had disciplinary issues in the past, and his pouting during the Steelers-Titans game can be seen as the most tame incident to date. In this case, Mill would have said that LeGarrette Blount was well within his right to walk off the field, as his form of protest and expression of his opinion did no harm. Unfortunately, the previous incidents he has been involved in would definitely have caused the philosopher to call for his removal from the sport, and I would have to agree.

LeGarrette_Blount

Blount in his first season with the Pats (via Wikimedia)

In 2009, when playing for the University of Oregon, Blount was suspended for punching one of his opponents before going and confronting a group of fans. After entering the NFL, he had another problem in which he punched a teammate in his first season with the Tennessee Titans. He has clearly been a major issue and a threat to the safety of other players, yet he continues to play in the NFL even after being released by multiple teams. The Patriots have now signed Blount to another contract, starting his second stint with the team.

In the wake of the Ray Rice incident, the NFL vowed to take a much harder stance on domestic violence, but they clearly care little for violence towards members of their own league. As a government of sorts over the sport of football, it is their job to protect these players, and that is simply not being done. Players like LeGarrette Blount have far outstretched the right to individual liberty and free speech by assaulting other players and even putting fans in danger.

Mill wrote; “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Going by this philosophy, the only time the NFL would even have the right to intervene and remove a player is in a situation like this one, so it is incredibly surprising that they do not act. After the league has supposedly been making efforts to “clean up,” it appears that the league could still use a lesson or two in Mill’s philosophy (as well as the one they’ve been preaching).

Is Trading Fair

In professional sports, trading is part of the game. Players are traded for other players, draft picks, and sometimes just for money. Many times the players ask to be traded due to a poor relationship with teammates or coaching staff; however, occasionally the organization will simply make the decision and ship off the player without very much notice at all.

Mankin blocks for quarterback Tom Brady

Mankin blocks for quarterback Tom Brady

When organizations decide to trade players without asking the opinion of the team, they are acting in their own self-interest. A great example of this is when Logan Mankins was traded from the Patriots this past year. The Washington Post wrote and article about Tom Brady’s reactions and said “Brady had a very emotional reaction when he heard about the trade, and said he was not happy with this move”. This shows that the Patriots organization made the decision to trade Mankin without the support of the team. Although they are doing well this season, I think the team should have some say in the fate of their friends and teammates. Michael Smith discusses the trade in this short video.

Former teammate, MIlan Lucic, levels Boychuk

Former teammate, MIlan Lucic, levels Boychuk

The same situation occurred this past year with the Boston Bruins. The Boston Globe said, “Johnny Boychuk, a 6-year superstar defenseman for the Bruins, was traded to the New York Islanders for two second round picks”. I have grown up as a Boston Bruins fan and was devastated when I heard he was leaving. When I did some further reading, I found that Johnny did not want to leave Boston, and his teammates did not want him to go. Chiarelli said, “This is a tough trade, we all like Johnny. This was really hard to do, but there’s an element of business to it, an element of hockey”. I don’t think trading a player who wanted to stay on his team is hockey. I don’t think business has anything to do with hockey. Hockey is playing the game because you love the game; it has nothing to do with money and salaries.

I think these two trades show that the organizations in charge of professional teams make the decisions based on their own interest without considering the pain the player and his family/friends will go through. In Leviathan Thomas Hobbes says, “if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security; every man will, and may lawfully rely on his own strength”. What he means by this is that men act in their own self-interest just as the organizations in professional sports do. Man will do what they need to do for themselves regardless of pain they may cause others. Hobbes goes on to say that the only way to work together is to “to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will”. This means that the group of people will elect a Sovereign to make the choices for the good of the entire group. This is exactly what happens in professional sports. The organization and owners of the teams are the Sovereign and will make decisions for the good of the program. They don’t care what everyone on the team thinks; they only care about what will make the team better.

Do you think it is fair for the organizations to have all that power?

How Should Sports Be Categorized?

Generally speaking, sports have been categorized by both gender and ability. There are separate divisions for men and women in just about every sport imaginable, and athletes are obviously separated by ability – i.e. professional leagues compared to minor leagues and semi-professional leagues. However, there are some fine lines when it comes to defining sports and their categories. In some instances, boundaries are not quite as set as they might have seemed to be. An example would be that of the dilemma of the 1999 New York City Marathon discussed in Mika LaVaque-Manty’s The Playing Fields of Eton. Another example would be that of Caster Semenya, a female athlete who had her gender called into question.

Semenya (front) had her gender question and was almost not allowed to compete alongside females

Semenya (front) had her gender question and was almost not allowed to compete alongside females

Continue reading