Sports


Like most American men I have spent some time thinking about this.  Here’s the replay if you need a refresher:

So, Jim Joyce blows the call.  He then goes into the Detroit locker room and apologizes for blowing the call.  There are two conversations at work now, one is about ethics and Jim Joyce’s actions and second is about the game of baseball.

Ethics.  First, check out this drivel as an example of what is being said:

http://ethicsalarms.com/2010/06/03/ethics-hero-umpire-jim-joyce/

This is the current vein: no matter how Joyce may have erred people recognize the difficulty of the call and hence credit Joyce for his error.  The courage of the error.  Hold on a second.  How do we know it was a courageous act?  Maybe it was, in fact, a cowardly act where Joyce knows, or is confident at least, that this is where the direction will turn.  Or maybe Joyce had a stake in the game and was looking for a way to help the Indians?  I’m not claiming Joyce was trying to be impartial, but to automatically credit him with a gutsy decision is premature and only exists in a revisionist analysis.  In fact, the supposedly normal act, letting the perfect game, is also based on a revisionist logic: the ump chooses the safe call by importing his impression of the world’s reaction and not based on a close reading of the play at the plate.  This is the argument lodged against basketball refereeing.  I am fairly certain baseball fans do not want to hone this road, no matter how accurate it may be.

Plus, ethics are not about courage.  Ethics are about acting consistently.  People make decisions based upon their expectation of your reaction.  If you suddenly change your criteria then you deny them a chance for accurate predictions.  Basing your ethical framework in a valuable goal then produces decisions that appear courageous.  Not that ethical decisions are courageous decisions.  Making a tough call can be ethical, but not because it is a very unpopular call.  Apologizing to the locker room may also be an ethical move, but not because it is a very hostile/uncomfortable situation.

Was Joyce guided by more than a blasse sense of acting?  Yes.  But if it was inconsistent behavior then it was not ethical, and his apology seems to admit this.  While he acted confrontationally he robbed Galarraga of becoming only the 21st person in the history of the game from doing something.

Baseball.

People forget the error is a structuring principle of baseball.  And not just on the part of the players.  While Joyce may have robbed Galarraga, you have to wonder if maybe a Joycean error in the 5th created the possibility of a perfect game.  What if he had earlier called an out at first where the runner would have normally been safe?  How many other pitchers have been robbed of potential perfect games by umpire error?  It’s sad for Galarraga that his robbery comes at the last possible moment, but he possibly joins a much larger and longer list.  This is baseball and I contend it is the possible misfire that makes it as beautiful as it is.  See the Derridean notion of a misfire as that which makes language so great.

The first question I asked about the whole situation, however, was: the THIRD perfect game this season?  What is going on?  Is it a steroid, absence of, issue?  Is this really healthy for baseball?  Joyce may have saved the game.

I guess I am turning to this a little late, but that seems to be the main argument Sally Jenkins made on the 20th.  Her argument is that the sports doping debate has been occluded by the powers-that-be to conflate therapy and enhancement and that we need to be sophisticated in our analysis.  I’ll say meh to that conclusion, even though this article reads as a support for my politics in this matter.

Disclosure.  Professional athletes are freaks.  There is nothing normal nor average about them.  Even the mental abilities of the best ones are truly astounding.  This whole doping is bad debate seems to begin by neglecting this.  Selling sports as some sort of Horatio Algers bootstraps story is ludicrous and I would contend harmful.  How many millions of people have slighted their education and opportunities all in the name of the glory and riches of the never-to-be-attained ranks of professional sports?  It’s infuriating.   I support enhancements.  I can fall back on some “free choice” grounds and sound like Rand Paul.  But I prefer a more cyborged explanation: their is no natural, no pristine, no level playing field.

The very ground the anti-dopers are trying to reclaim/preserve is a fiction.  A dangerous one.  We should move beyond it.  Jenkins’ article actually sets back this movement.  First, her distinction between therapy and enhancement is not at all rigorous.  Muscles grow simply by being destroyed and needing to heal, therapy.  All enhancement is therapy.  Soft-pitching a scientific rational to the other side is not a worthwhile endeavor.

Second, a focus on this distinction does not advance where the debate really needs to be.  The debate should not be about what is a fair treatment for athletes (fair only within a circle of athletes).  Rather, we should see sports as a vehicle for propelling medicine and science about the body.  There is so much money involved, not to mention emotional attachments, that this is the cultural referent most publicly accessing the intersections of body, science, and values.  Why then would we proscribe the cutting-edge?  These advances trickle down to civilians.  A more direct method of infusion would be ideal, but this is what we have to work with.

Slate’s Daniel Engber has a nice article up on Slate.com about why we root for underdogs.  I have always been fanatical about rooting for the underdog when a team I am not a fan of is playing.  I had always thought this was my mechanism of making sure I was fanatical either way when watching a contest.  I attributed that need to a sense of functionality, that if I did not care about the outcome then the time invested watching the contest was wasted.  Ursa taught me about the notion of slack, undermining this utility orientation.  I like that, but how then do I reconcile that thought with the impulses inculcated within when a team of which I am a fan of is playing?  Being a fan, fanatical, is, after all, the very standing in opposition of sense, of slack in this instance.

All of this takes me to the portion, even if tangentially, of Engber’s article that struck me the most: the Marxist criticism of The Underdog.  It’s the same myth as the American Myth, that the poor and the marginalized can rise above the odds.  So then I should reject my stance of rooting for the underdog.  Maybe instead I ought to embrace the Yankees as the uber-Capitalist.  A stance of overidentification.  I reminded here again of Zizek’s illustration of overidentification: M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman: The Player) vs Platoon (Oliver Stone: Natural Born Killers) .  Both are anti-war but the comic criticism pales in comparison to the overly violent Platoon.  I can live with being a cynical Yankees fan, of course, that’s easy since I do not purchase team paraphernalia, even of the teams of which I am a fan.

After all, this sort of overidentification can serve as part of what needs to be done: a patient ideological critical engagement.  Since the Zizek seal has already been broken (I am working through a new, to me, Zizek book, as if it was not obvious) I will cite him directly:

We should learn here from the failures of twentieth century Leftist politics. The task is not to conduct the castration in a direct climactic confrontation, but to undermine those in power with patient ideologic-critical work, so that although they are still in power, one all of a sudden notices that the powers-that-be are afflicted with unnaturally high-pitched voices.  (2009, 7)

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2009).  First as tragedy, then as farce.  London: Verso Books.

Previously used ESPN Classic Logo
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It’s not that I am bored, there is no shortage of stuff I need to be doing.  I can afford to do those things to-morrow and ESPN Classic may not be showing a marathon of Ali and Tyson fights under the heading Ali vs. Tyson.  While interesting to watch, it’s amazing to see how much we have changed in 20 years, I think ESPN Classic has the wrong marathon going on.  We should not be watching a bunch of Ali and Tyson fights, we should be watching fights of their opponents and then their fights with Ali and Tyson.

We can spend a lot of time seeing how Ali was able to duck and dodge and wear out his opponents.  We can spend a lot of time watching Tyson walk into the opponents and lay them out with a single hit.  That does little to provide good arguments for the ultimate hypothetical matchup.  What would help however is to see how they would have affected the other in the matchup.

What most people don’t see about Tyson was how he forced opponents into a weak game.  He wasn’t particularly fast.  He wasn’t particularly tough.  What he had was an abnormal strength and the fear of being hit by the punch forced his opponents to close up ranks and assume a defensive posture from the get go.  Ali just beat his opponents without forcing them into an uncomfortable position.  ESPN Classics contest is too limited, looking at the wrong transcripts for evaluation.

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I will be watchign to-morrow’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres, but not because I care about either team (whom to root for: the Pittsburgh Crosby’s or the 1999-Hull-was-in-the-crease-whining Sabres), in fact, because I care nothing for either team is the reason I will be watching.  The last time the NHL tried this stunt it was a circus.  Scott Burnside has a good article explaining why it is an idea that was shelved, for good reason, for 5 years.

If there is no sun then it might be so cold that the players are at risk, the problem experienced last time.  If there is sun then there is a glare issue which may also put players at risk.  The control of the ice quality is also an issue, an issue Buffalo is very good at whining about by the way. In short, there seems no way this event does not turn into a circus.  But, that may be what the NHL is secretly desiring.  The few people that do not consider themselves hockey fans yet do watch hockey watch it for its circus-like events: the fights.  This gimmick may be just what the NHL needs, and for that reason I will watch it and try to recruit as many people that are not still recovering from to-night’s festivities to watch it.