There are three kinds of answers to the question I can think of: (1) a Witggensteinian deconstruction of the question, (2) a phenomenological/aesthetic answer, and (3) a moral answer. I'm sure there are more than I can think of, and also that these can be extended in interesting ways. So comments are welcome.
If construed broadly enough, the question is infelicitous. Since part of what it is to be human is to delight in playing and watching games, the question amounts to asking why one should be human. And this makes no sense. First, it's not a choice. Second, "Why?" questions are only felicitous with respect to a normative/teleological background shared by the asker and answerer. If the claim that games are an essential part of human nature strikes you as untrue, go read Bernard Suits The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia, a book Simon Blackburn rightly called a masterpiece (brief review by Mark Silcox here). Note that if Suits is correct that "game" can be defined as “a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” then the "Why?" question is even more pointless.
Jonathan Martin - the player for the Miami Dolphins who left football, at least temporarily, as a result of relentless locker room bullying - has prompted some voluminous soul-searching. (Whether it leads to meaningful action remains to be seen.) I want to suggest that there have been two profoundly wrong assumptions made in most coverage of this case, and end with a conclusion about how we, and he, should think of Jonathan's Martin's own behavior.
Trigger alert: discussions of misogyny, abuse, bullying, etc. below.
In discussion at LGM, this well-known "infographic" (a term I loathe, though not quite as much as "webinar" -- but I digress) about the highest-paid state employees was criticized for implying that big time university athletic coaches get paid directly from state tax monies.
Below the fold I'll discuss that criticism and show what is the true public support to college athletics we need to think about: it's not direct state funds paying salaries of coaches, but it does directly involve faculty labor.
Erin Tarver (Oxford College of Emory University) had a very thought-provoking comment on this post that I thought deserved highlighting:
What's at issue in changing people's relationship with American college football (at least in the South) is bigger than rhetoric or appeals, even those based on pathos. Rather, I'd suggest that football fandom for many folks, especially in the South, is "a practice of subjectivation" -- a performance that contributes to our experience/knowledge of who we are, where we come from, our relationship to the larger community, etc.
In yesterday's post I said that any attempts to reform American college football would have to grapple with the political affect of football fandom and not just trot out the stats about the bad economics of most college athletic programs, etc.
In Aristotelian rhetoric terms, you would have to bring in an appeal to pathos and not just to logos. Now some of that pathos could be directed to fairness issues, as in condemning the exploitation of the players' labor, or to health and safety issues. But the power of the pathetic appeal must obey Spinoza's dictum than only a stronger affect can defeat an affect, and I have my doubts, to put it mildly, that the modal American college football fan will be moved by pathetic appeals to exploitation and player safety.
In any case, the other side of Spinoza's dictum is that logical appeals are helpless in the face of strong affective structures. In this context I'm always reminded of the bit in Theweleit's Male Fantasies, mocking the Critical Theorist who neglects this rhetorical necessity.*
This has been Annals of Everyday Sexism, volume 45,225.
Her response, though, was superb: "Ce n'est pas important. Oui je ne suis pas blonde. C'est un fait. Est-ce que j'ai rêvé de devenir mannequin ? Non, désolé. Mais est-ce que j'ai rêvé de gagner Wimbledon ? Oui. Absolument."
This Reuters article highlights one of the background factors behind the Brazil protests: the twisted priorities that support massive spending for the World Cup that displaces public services spending.
Contrasting the billions in public money spent on new stadiums with the shoddy state of Brazil's public services, protesters are using the Confederation's Cup as a counterpoint to amplify their concerns. The tournament got off to shaky start this weekend when police clashed with demonstrators outside stadiums at the opening matches in Brasilia and Rio.
"We shouldn't be spending public money on stadiums," said one protester in Sao Paulo who identified herself as Camila, a 32-year-old travel agent. "We don't want the Cup. We want education, hospitals, a better life for our children."
I'm reminded of Catarina's moving reminiscence of the Brazilian football great Sócrates. I can't help but think he would have been at the forefront with these critics of the way the World Cup -- and the Olympics -- have been used as pretexts not just for real estate speculation but also for security state expansion.
Today is the 59th anniversary of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. Great running form, and wonderful commentary by Bannister himself. I especially like these two bits, with which I think almost every runner can identify: "my mind leaped ahead of me and drew me compellingly forward"! And "those last seconds seemed never-ending. The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead like a haven of peace after the struggle."
A Greek "youth team of AO Giannina, in the northwestern Greek city of Ioannina," scores a fantastic goal: "The team of the 11- and 12-year-old players in bright orange uniforms... exchanged 25 passes before
finishing off their attack." The opponents never touch the ball. [HT Simon Kirchin on FB]
I posted a while back on my frustration that those with economic power in cycling - and other sports as well - are never implicated or even much considered in the eternally recurrent drama of denunciation and punishment for performance enhancing drug use. Happily the economic engines of this spectacle are getting a bit of attention at a much higher profile outlet than NewAPPS. Below the break is a comment from a former professional cyclist Jorg Jaksche that gets to the heart of the matter, followed by a clause from a contract that cyclists signed with the team Rabobank, along with the corporate "explanation" - by which I mean "statement so insanely and obviously dishonest that in a just world one would burst into flames instantly upon completing it."
These won't all necessarily hang together, but I wanted to put them out there in hopes others would have other angles to add or better references.
1. Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in sports is only one part of the picture; PED research in the military (or better, just PE, as drugs are only one form of military PE) is probably more advanced. The reports in Jonathan Moreno's Mind Wars (2007) are probably long outdated, but it is at least a start on the outlines of the issue.
2. PED experimentation in sports and in the military (and in the arts, for that matter) are intertwined with, and often the leading edge of, commercialization of drugs for general consumption; consider the recent consumer-targeted ads for "Low T," or more generally the "anti-aging drug" business.
3. The increased number of US men who desire to "get big" received a big boost in the 1980s with the release of "hard body" movies.
When it comes to law enforcement responses to organized crime, we hear constantly that the goal is to get the "kingpins" rather than the "little guys". I wonder why the opposite is the approach to drug enforcement in sports?
It's a funny video, but there actually is a correlation between high-fives and other forms of positive touching and team success, according to "Tactile Communication, Cooperation, and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA," by Michael W. Kraus, Cassy Huang, & Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley.
The PDF of the study is here; publication details here. The abstract of the paper reads:
Tactile communication, or physical touch, promotes cooperation between people, communicates distinct emotions, soothes in times of stress, and is used to make inferences of warmth and trust. Based on this conceptual analysis, we predicted that in group competition, physical touch would predict increases in both individual and group performance. In an ethological study, we coded the touch behavior of players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) during the 2008- 2009 regular season. Consistent with hypotheses, early season touch predicted greater performance for individuals as well as teams later in the season. Additional analyses confirmed that touch predicted improved performance even after accounting for player status, preseason expectations, and early season performance. Moreover, coded cooperative behaviors between teammates explained the association between touch and team performance. Discussion focused on the contributions touch makes to cooperative groups and the potential implications for other group settings.
I don't have much to add here; I just wanted to bring this study of the intersection of sociality and embodiment to people's attention. Under a very wide interpretation of "political" (sports teams are instances of the organization of human collectives) I guess it fits the category of "political affect," so I'll tag it with that one too.
A Facebook friend posted the following passage. The source is here, but that's not important, as the quote is typical of a genre seeing baseball as embodying American exceptionalism:
This game is so profoundly in tune with our national character and temperament that it confirms my opinion as per which it is purely of American origin, that no other game or no other country has any right to claim any sort of kinship with it. (Spalding 1911)
The Spalding thing is probably just nostalgic agrarian anxiety in the face of 20th C urban industrialism. Lots of this genre goes on and on about the timeless nature of baseball -- both its seasonal cycles (rebirth in the spring, the long maturation of the season in the summer, the finality of the autumnal climax, hibernation in the winter, rebirth in the spring ...) and the individual game ("never say die," "it's not over until it's over," etc.).
Then there's George Will on how baseball reflects neoliberal values (w/o the name, of course). I never read his book, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (gah -- with a title like that, can you blame me?), but I remember a terrible newspaper column on the stolen base as entrepreneurial risk / reward gamble.
Anyway, comments are solicited on good and bad literature and / or cultural commentary related to baseball. [UPDATE: while I don't like "values" talk, I'm very happy with materialist (though not necessarily reductionist) analyses of how fans become attuned to baseball's rhythms, along with associations of pleasant memories of shared joy at games and in discussions, the power of symbols and group belonging, etc. Not liking "values" talk doesn't mean we can't think about how the love of baseball develops!]
Sarah Robles: "I yell to get any doubts or last minute thoughts that don't matter out of my head. Sometimes it's to scare the weight into submission" (ht to my friend Deb Layne who posted this on fb.) I don't recall any discussion of that function of affect in your book Protevi.
Following on the heels of John's post about the extraction and circulation of affect through, among other things, the various sentimental pre-race stories that detail the lives of athletes (and the more troubled the life the better, as in the case of Lolo Jones), I was struck by last night's story of 800 meter great David Rudisha that emphasized his Maasai roots and his Irish expat coach. There's a lot to be said about how this story was presented. A large part of me is troubled by the appeal to base stereotypes of "primitive" African tribal cultures - a sort of National Geographic appeal to the strange and exotic. At the same time, Rudisha himself clearly identifies strongly with his Maasai roots and it carries tremendous affect for him. I suspect Rudisha feels his Maasai identity much more strongly than his Kenyan citizenship. Rudisha is also an exception among Kenyan runners. Rudisha's father, Daniel, was the first Maasai to get an Olympic medal in the 1968 4 x 400 relay, but David is the first Maasai to get gold. Kenyan running is dominated by the Kalenjin tribe (see here). Rudisha's tribesmen had already honored him with the status of Maasai warrior for his world record and will likely shower him with even more honors for being olympic champion (and again in world record time).
Regardless of what one makes of the coverage of Rudisha and his Maasai roots, it is hard not to be in of awe of his race in the 800 meter final. As a former 800 meter runner myself, it is almost inconceivable to imagine running a sub 50 second first lap, only to follow it up with a 51 second finishing lap. But in addition to Rudisha you had two teenagers right on his heels. 18 year old Nijel Amos equalled Sebastian Coe's previously longstanding world record time of 1:41.73, and 17 year old Timothy Kitum was right behind him and also broke 1:43. Even American Nick Symmonds came on strong at the end (as he always does) to come in fifth and with a personal best of 1:42.95. This is the only time five runners in the same race have broken 1:43.
Now that the Olympics are nearly over, I would place the men's 800 meter final at the top of the list of the greatest athletic achievement of these games. Are there any other nominations for equally outstanding achievements (e.g., Bolt's double double)?
Here's the Men's lightweight 4 rowing team from South Africa, just before they came from behind to win the gold.
I am well aware of the serious issues in South Africa today and the limitations of isolated sporting camaraderie as serious politics. But once upon a time I was roughed up by cops on my way to jail for protesting US support for the institution that made the very existence of such a team illegal. (The same institution that imprisoned, tortured, and later exiled my friend and mentor Dennis Brutus for demanding integration as a condition upon participation in the olympics.) Since my connection was nowhere near unique, nor as deep as that of many, I wonder how many others found themselves caught up in the social/political affect of the celebration. (I'm pretty sure Dennis would have taken a short break from his life-long agitation to treasure this moment.)
Mark Fisher, author of the mordantly funny and sharply insightful Capitalist Realism, has just put up a very nice blog post on the London Olympics. It's not just a by-the-numbers jeremiad against the Games -- so don't let the somewhat pedestrian opening riff on the played-out "Hunger Games" angle fool you -- but also includes quite a number of very good Autonomia-style analyses of culture, capital, and affect. For instance:
Cynicism is just about the only rational response to the doublethink of the McDonalds and Coca Cola sponsorship.... As Paolo Virno argues, cynicism is now an attitude that is simply a requirement for late capitalist subjectivity, a way of navigating a world governed by rules that are groundless and arbitrary. But as Virno also argues, "It is no accident ... that the most brazen cynicism is accompanied by unrestrained sentimentalism." Once the Games started, cynicism could be replaced by a managed sentimentality....
Affective exploitation is crucial to late capitalism.
At Republic 454a-457c Plato has Socrates make the case that given equal training the very best women will outperform almost all men, so they should be afforded guardian status. The key point is the distinction between means and distributions. The "average man" may very well be stronger than the "average woman," but averages are abstractions; we only meet concrete men and women, and the best women will be better than all but a few of the men.
We see this principle instantiated in Olympic weightlifting, one of the sports that has most caught my eye this year. While the men's competitors lift more than the women (when adjusted for body weight, of course), the women's competitors can lift more than all but a tiny slice of the male population. This discrepancy in performance provokes lots of gender anxiety among men; witness the cries of "she looks like a bloke" that were sent the UK lifter Zoe Smith's way (Feminist Philosophers post here; other relevant links here and here).
Many things are of interest here. One is that women weightlifters don't "look like blokes"; they look like weightlifters, as do men weightlifters. As I argue here, the demands of the sport produce the characteristic body of top athletes in that sport. It's only because men have dominated elite sport for so long that we think of an athletic body as masculine. But it's not; it's just athletic.
Rebecca Jordan-Young, author of the excellent book Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences(Harvard UP, 2010), has -- along with co-author Katrina Karkazis -- articles in the Guardian and in New Scientist on the IOC's terrible new sex test policy. (An open-access article in the Am J Bioethics is here; [UPDATE: an excellent point from the article: "It [the policy] also shows that female athletes have always been under suspicion, and women with intersex traits have often been scapegoats for broad anxiety about the gender contradiction inherent in the very concept of an elite female athlete."])
A key point of their argument is that women with high testosterone levels (there's a lot to talk about in that term "high" but let's leave that alone for now) do not necessarily outperform women with lower testosterone levels. They just look different. So, time for another photo essay, in the form of a quiz. Which of the women below provoked an international affair about sex testing? Which is the fastest? Photos and answers below the fold.
The IOC is making a PR push for their advances in gender equality at the London 2012 games. It is true that with the addition of women's boxing, all the sports are now open to men and women.
But a glaring instance of gender inequality is with the sport that is usually said to get the best TV ratings, women's gymnastics. The difference is in the disciplines. The men do 6 disciplines: floor, vault, pommel horse, high bar, parallel bars, and rings. The women do floor (but with music, which the men do not have), vault (but with the horse placed horizontal to the runway, whereas it is longways for the men), uneven parallel bars, and balance beam.
The resulting difference in demands produces a striking body dimorphism, with women gymnasts being very small and thin in the upper body compared to the men. Whereas in other sports with the same demands men and women athletes look the same: swimmers are shaped like swimmers, whether they are women or men, sprinters look like sprinters, distance runners like distance runners, rowers like rowers, weightlifters like weightlifters, boxers like boxers, etc.
Does this body dimorphism help to explain the popularity of women's gymnastics? More photos below the fold.
It's worth reading (or re-reading) this 2006 David Foster Wallace article on Roger Federer in light of today's Wimbeldon final. As we've talked about Deleuze and sport previously (here, here, and here), I just want to make a short note here to say that Deleuze and Guattari's treatment of art in What is Philosophy? doesn't work with sports and to suggest what we need to do to supplement their account to handle sport. First, the video, then below the break, the analysis. (Do yourself a favor and mute the sound. The commentary here is more stupid even than usual.)
Sports Sunday comes on Thursday this week! Here's a video of a run-of-the-mill NBA buzzer-beater last night. What's interesting here is not so much the skill, which is routine even for NBA journeymen, but the joy of the celebration, especially the group jump-for-joy from 28 to 37 secs on the video.
Well, not really about expert basketball commentators, the subject of my post last Sunday, whose commentary continues to steer clear of any speculation as to how Jeremy Lin's Asian heritage affects his play.
But hoo boy, once the story hit the mainstream? Now admittedly there was a lot of "wow, how about that, an Asian-American in the NBA, that hasn't happened for a long time!," which I think is fairly harmless. (If you're interested, the only other Asian-American in the NBA, Wat Misaka, played three games in 1947.)
So I love sports, playing them and watching them and talking about them. And talking about how others talk about them, which I'm going to do here in a somewhat haphazard way, the associations outrunning the concepts. But a philosopher's reach should exceed her grasp, or what's a blog for?
OK, so the last week or so the city of New York has been gripped by Linsanity, the feverish enthusiasm for the play of Jeremy Lin at point guard for the beleaguered but beloved Knicks. Here's a clip showing his skill and his joie de vivre; below the break, some discussion. (Do not be alarmed at the blue tongue, for which there is a rational explanation -- Gatorade.)
Having displayed my ignorance of the history of my adopted country yesterday, today I discovered yet something else about its recent history: how cycle paths came about. As the wide majority of people in the country, I do a large chunk of my transportation on a bike (and by train for the longer distances), and the place that biking occupies in people’s lives is one of my very favorite aspects of living in this country. While growing up in car-infested São Paulo, I did quite a bit of biking before being able to drive (going to school etc.), which was quite unusual; but symptomatically, the day I turned 18 I got my driver’s license and never mounted a bike again until I came to live in the Netherlands at age 23. Ultimately, it is mostly a matter of infra-structure: driving and parking is often a nightmare around here, so, in the wide majority of situations, one is much better off biking. There are cycle paths virtually everywhere, including routes that are not allowed for cars; cycle paths make it safe and pleasant to bike around. Foreigners are often surprised that we don’t wear helmets to bike in the Netherlands, but rather than indicating Dutch recklessness when biking (although there is a lot of that too, especially in cities like Amsterdam), it in fact indicates how safe it is to bike here.
As widely covered in the international media, the Brazilian football player Sócrates passed away yesterday. Football fans around the world are familiar with his feats in the field (and a search on youtube will yield countless videos with his best moments). Here, however, I’d like to highlight the political significance that Sócrates has had in Brazil, in particular for the transition from a military dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, as this aspect of his life is bound to be less well-known outside Brazil.
Sócrates himself claimed to be an anti-athlete. He was a heavy smoker and a heavy drinker (the drinking habit in particular eventually led to health complications and ultimately his demise), also during his career as a player. Moreover, he had a degree in medicine (he only started to focus on his football career at age 24, when he moved to Corinthians in 1978, the team that is most strongly associated with his club career), was extremely articulated (not that there is an incompatibility between being a football player and an intellectual!), and highly politically engaged. Here is an accurate account from the Guardian obituary:
The other great Socrates, the football player, is dead. I'll try to write a post tomorrow on all he meant to me and so many others. I was a kid in the early 1980s, a fanatic supporter of Corinthians, and Socrates was the best. Not only his football, but also his politics, made him a hero to us all.
But more tomorrow, for now I'm still digesting the news.