Philosophizing About Sport
Though the discipline of philosophy has been around for thousands of years, the philosophy of sport, as a distinct subdiscipline, is younger than I am, only about 50 years old. This is unsurprising if you consider the oddity of “philosophizing about sport.” Although it was about two and a half millennia ago that Plato (meaning “broad-shouldered”) earned that nickname as a wrestling champ, it is only fairly recently that philosophers have begun to redress what has been in Western thought a longstanding neglect of the body and the importance of embodiment as the ancient Greeks acknowledged. Even today, most philosophy of sport courses are taught not in philosophy departments but rather in departments of kinesiology and sport studies. This is beginning to change, however, as interest in the philosophy of sport is creeping more and more into philosophy proper.
Concerns in the philosophy of sport range from basic questions about the nature of play and games – cognate concepts used to “triangulate” sport – to various issues in sport ethics, including the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs and other forms of cheating. Also treated are epistemological questions about physical skills as a kind of know-how, sport aesthetics, understanding the relationship between rules and game integrity, and dimensions of sport physicality – the kind of physicality required for and found in sport, whether considering the possible sport status of videogames or how gender influences embodied experience. Sport philosophers are also concerned with the moral status of traits and actions beyond the scope of rules, including questionable tactics of trash talk and other forms of gamesmanship, and, on the other side, the virtue of being a good sport.
Where the first edition covered these topics adequately at the time, the new, second edition of Philosophy of Sport: Core Readings (2022) reflects significant changes in the field and shifts in emphasis in the sport philosophy literature over the last decade. New selections provide new and enhanced coverage of the use of technological aids in sport officiating, recent principled responses to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and the purist/partisan distinction, which over the last decade has come to dominate discussions in sport aesthetics. The partisan watches sport because they support a particular team and are invested in the team’s success on an emotional level. The purist, on the other hand, watches sport for the love of the sport itself, for the aesthetic pleasure it can provide irrespective of who wins or loses. The partisan wants a win, the purist a beautiful game.
Other changes to the second edition consist in expanded coverage, adding depth. Debates about the sport status of videogames now have their own dedicated section, as do discussions of gender in sport. Where our current concept of sport seems to have implicit masculine biases, perhaps these can be overcome by both changing attitudes toward women’s sports as they are and being open to the promotion and creation of new sports where women are not at a disadvantage. It is likewise high time to change attitudes toward women who are seen as preserving femininity in sports that are “feminine” and so thought to be “lesser,” sacrificing it in “masculine” sports, and either way having athletes’ femininity overshadow appreciation of their athleticism and physical prowess.
It is rather surprising that for the longest time philosophers of sport left matters of race, so significant and complex in sport culture, to the province of sport sociologists and historians. This is only now beginning to change, and to be ahead of the curve here I have added a new section on race in sport that at least starts the hard task of identifying and mitigating biased assumptions in our attitudes toward and representations of racialized groups in sport.
Overall, it has been a challenge and a pleasure to put together this second edition of Philosophy of Sport: Core Readings. I hope I have risen to that challenge, that the book serves its intended purposes, and well.