Sports and Philosophy have many intersections that can be easy to miss. Most notably, all sports require ethical guidelines and honor in order for them to run smoothly. Philosophy seeks to highlight the ethical dimensions of sport that inform how it is played, won, and taken advantage of. Below are just a few common examples of various practices and the role philosophy plays in each one of them.

  1. Cheating – this represents the utmost moral failure of playing a sport. Whether it be stealing signs in baseball, deflating balls in football, or using PED in cycling, cheating is a violation of the set rules that enable a player to gain an unfair advantage. Philosophers have come up with the term “logical incompatibility thesis” to describe a moral objection to cheating. This states that rule-breaking exists in antagonism to game-playing because in order for the game to work, rules must be put into place and followed. However, philosophy brings up vital ethical questions in regards to cheating that can manifest in a variety of ways in sports. For example, is cheating wrong if one’s competitor is also cheating? Is cheating justified if the rule is believed to be faulty or unjust? These are all different moral dilemmas that philosophers struggle to answer and ones you can attempt to answer as well within your own respective sport!
  2. Sportsmanship – in contrast to cheating, sportsmanship stands as the center in the eyes of competitors and coaches alike as the gold standard of playing a sport. At a young age, we are all encouraged, no matter win or lost, to exemplify proper ethical standards so as to facilitate a better game environment for everyone. Philosophy seeks to understand the levels at which sportsmanship must be performed considering the atmosphere. For example, does one need to show more sportsmanship when playing a recreational league or professional league? What about playing with friends or strangers? Furthermore, a common goal of philosophy is to seek the true meaning behind abstract concepts, which oftentimes is very difficult. For sportsmanship, there is no well-defined boundary or line for what counts. When studying the intersection between sports and philosophy, you must come to your own conclusions about where it starts and stops or justify why that does not matter!
  3. Coaching – while it is possible to succeed without one, most athletes take advantage of coaches to progress further in their sport. Yet, coaching can be a daunting task, especially when considering its philosophical backgrounds. Each coach must develop their own unique coaching philosophy that best responds to the needs of their players. Nevertheless, problems arise due to conflicting requirements for each player. How do coaches decide which athlete to prioritize? Their son or daughter? Their worst player? Their best player? To what extent is punishment justified in the name of “helping the athlete progress”? Behind these decisions lie a set of ethical practices that are used to when faced tough choices.

To find out more about Sports and Philosophy, read the following books/articles:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Grasshopper by Suits

Philosophy of Sport Blog Spot