Football and Philosophy

Football and Philosophy: Going Deep

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Football and Philosophy
    Book Description:

    Over the past forty years, football has surpassed baseball as America's favorite game. The game has become an institution of our national culture: the Super Bowl is regarded as an unofficial national holiday, and our annual Thanksgiving Day celebrations would be incomplete without it. The sport brings in massive amounts of revenue to high schools and both public and private universities as spectators enjoy a unique and celebratory social scene. Professional football teams across the country cultivate and foster a sense of community in urban areas. Surely a game this influential, with its hallowed traditions, treasured festivities, and clearly defined cultural presence, resonates far beyond recreational importance. Football and Philosophy: Going Deep, edited by Michael W. Austin, reveals how a sport followed by millions reflects our deeper values, beliefs, and priorities. Austin and other contributing writers bring unique perspectives to this thought-provoking collection of essays. Divided into "four quarters" of reflective writing, the book covers many topics frequently debated by football fans. Sharon Ryan asks "What's So Bad about Performance Enhancing Drugs?", while the book's editor argues for a playoff system in college football. Daniel Collins-Cavanaugh ponders whether the salary cap makes the NFL a fairer league, and Joshua Smith offers his own review of the instant replay. Football and Philosophy also forays into some time honored issues as it considers the philosophy of winning in light of the NFL's most legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, and contemplates the concepts of sportsmanship, virtue, friendship, and failure. While the book is unafraid to tackle serious topics, touching on ethics, religion, and the nature of reality itself, the collection is designed to be accessible for any interested reader and was written, first and foremost, for fans of the game. As Austin notes, football fans and philosophers definitely have one quality in common: they both love to argue. Football and Philosophy engages in the debates of both groups, illuminating how the fields are intertwined. So whether they love or hate the college bowl system or disagree on whether the NFL has an ego problem, readers of this book will undoubtedly find much to ponder about America's favorite game.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7298-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Joe Posnanski

    As a sports columnist, I often write about philosophy. Why, just the other day I was discussing philosophical theories with Kansas City Chiefs football coach and NFL Nietzsche Herman Edwards. “My philosophy,” Edwards said, “is that you’ve got to hit the quarterback.” Among moral philosophers, this quote may not rank with “Man is the cruelest animal.” But couldn’t you argue that both say the same thing? This is the wonderful thing about football. While coaches and players are constantly talking about their particular brands of football “philosophies” (for example, “We want to run the football,” “We play our corners in...

    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Pregame Warm-up
    (pp. 1-2)
    Michael W. Austin

    One event dominates the consciousness of America every year in early February. The two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are filled with interviews, stories of football greatness, predictions, and, unfortunately, the occasional scandal. On Super Bowl Sunday fans gather around television sets at the local bar or in their living room to watch two teams play for the Lombardi Trophy. Those who aren’t fans of the game and don’t watch it much during the regular season often tune in to the Super Bowl (or at least the high-priced commercials that have become a part of the spectacle).


      (pp. 5-17)
      Raymond Angelo Belliotti

      Vince Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913, in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. His father, Enrico (“Harry”), was born in Italy. His mother, Matilda Izzo, was born in Sheepshead Bay to Italian immigrants. Enrico and his brother operated a wholesale meat store.¹ Vince grew up under two overpowering, unconquerable forces:l’ordine della famiglia,the unwritten but deeply ingrained system of social relations Southern Italian immigrants brought to America, and the Roman Catholic Church when it was in its heyday in America. Both forces converged on core values: acting from duty, relishing hard work, refusing facile excuses, celebrating successful struggle,...

      (pp. 18-30)
      Jeffrey P. Fry

      On January 6, 2007, the Dallas Cowboys appeared on the verge of defeating the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in a National Football League wild-card playoff game.¹ A victory by Dallas would solidify claims that the Cowboys, led by veteran coach Bill Parcells and Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo, were once again an NFL team to be reckoned with.

      With 1:19 left in the contest, Seattle led 21–20. But Dallas had possession of the football on the Seattle 2-yard line with fourth down and one yard to go for a first down. Veteran placekicker Martin Gramatica entered the...

      (pp. 31-40)
      Daniel B. Gallagher

      After his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, running back Franco Harris explained one of his team’s secrets to winning four NFL championship rings during the powerful reign of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. “Halfway through the decade,” he said with a smile, “we realized that we had a great team and that we could do great things.” So how did they bring that potential to reality? “We said to ourselves, ‘let’s make sure that we do enjoy these moments and let’s try to share as many things as we can together.’ And we did....

    • INSIDE THE HELMET: What Do Football Players Know?
      (pp. 41-52)
      R. Douglas Geivett

      One of the great ironies of the sports world is that football players are believed to be more brawny than brainy—even though football is much more a head game than any other major team sport. You may be thinking, “Yeah, right, ‘head game,’ as in ‘heads colliding with heads,’ resulting in more concussions per capita than in baseball, basketball, or soccer . . . combined.” Fair enough. Perhaps the only sport that tops football in serious head injuries is boxing, wheredementia pugilisticais a sobering blight. But I’m talking about football as amentalgame, where complex cognitive...

      (pp. 55-66)
      Scott F. Parker

      Ask most people for an example of something beautiful and they will respond by naming flowers, a natural landscape, a sunset, a child’s eyes, maybe a favorite painting or piece of music, or a specific woman. What they will probably not respond with is football. Dictionary and colloquial definitions of beauty cluster around its function as a source of pleasure to our senses: beauty is what pleases us. Given this definition, it isn’t surprising that few people name football when prompted to identify beauty. The pleasure derived from watching a football game doesn’t come across to our senses in the...

    • VIRTUE AND VIOLENCE: Can a Good Football Player Be a Good Person?
      (pp. 67-79)
      Scott A. Davison

      We live in a violent culture. Just watch the news and you’ll see that this is true. Some people argue that our violent culture is reflected in our love of violent sports, especially football. Is this true?

      There is no doubt that football is a “savage ballet,” involving a unique combination of beautiful athleticism and dangerous violence.¹ For instance, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, ninety-eight high school students died in the United States as a result of injuries directly attributable to participation in football from 1982 to 2005.² But is the violence in football symptomatic...

      (pp. 80-89)
      Sharon Ryan

      The use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in sports has sparked serious ethical debate.¹ Although this book is about philosophy and football, the arguments discussed in this chapter apply to every sport.

      A recent investigation revealed that six players on the Carolina Panthers 2004 Super Bowl team were filling prescriptions for steroids. Barry Bonds, the former San Francisco Giants’ slugger and Golden Glove Award winner, broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record during the 2007 Major League Baseball season. Although Bonds denies ever knowingly using steroids and has never tested positive for steroid use, many people believe that he has been...

      (pp. 90-100)
      Marshall Swain and Myles Brand

      It is the game of the century. Two powerhouse college football programs, both undefeated the entire year, will meet in the BCS Championship game. Each year, the Bowl Championship Series has matched two excellent teams in the season’s final game, but never has the game brought together two more accomplished and successful teams with two such different philosophies.

      State University has had the leadership of Coach Smith for almost two decades. He has created a program that not only wins on the field but also graduates its student-athletes. State takes great pride in always being in compliance with all NCAA...

    • “THEY DON’T PAY NOBODY TO BE HUMBLE!” Football’s Ego Problem
      (pp. 101-114)
      M. Andrew Holowchak

      November 18, 2003, was a turning point in professional American football—perhaps in professional sport. Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was officially deactivated. Johnson had stated openly to his teammates during the year that he did not plan to be with the team at the end of the season. He felt that he was being underutilized and that the team was suffering because of that. There were many instances, in front of players and fans alike, where he let the coach know how he felt. Spokespersons for the team stated that Johnson was let go because he was...

    • CROWNING A TRUE CHAMPION: The Case for a College Football Playoff
      (pp. 117-127)
      Michael W. Austin

      The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was arguably one of the greatest college football games ever played. Incredibly, Boise State and Oklahoma combined to score twenty-two points in the last 1:26 of the fourth quarter. With the ball at midfield, fourth and 18, Boise State ran a hook-and-ladder play. Drisan James caught Jared Zabransky’s pass at the 35-yard line and then pitched the ball to teammate Jerard Rabb, who took it into the end zone. The extra point forced the game into overtime. In OT, Boise State scored a touchdown on fourth down and then decided to go for the win with...

      (pp. 128-140)
      Heather L. Reid

      The sun shines brightly over the Coliseum, illuminating masses of rowdy spectators, who strain to catch glimpses of their favorites. The air is thick with excitement just moments before the event. Music plays and a colorful procession of costumed performers draws the attention of the crowd, but it is all just a prelude to the real contest everyone came to see. Athletes, finely trained and ritually armored for competition, wait nervously in the wings as the announcer’s voice booms. All at once they burst into the arena and the crowd erupts into applause, shouting the names of their favorites and...

    • A TRUE MVP
      (pp. 141-153)
      Stephen Kershnar

      How should we value football team members as players? In this chapter, I argue that we should judge a player’s value to his team by comparing how well his team does when he plays and when he doesn’t. The notion of a player’s value is relevant to various tasks that professional teams engage in, such as drafting, paying, and trading players.

      One area where player value is important is the award for the most valuable player, since the award compares players on the basis of their value. In the NFL, the Associated Press selects the MVP. A nationwide panel of...

    • UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Instant Replay Is an All-or-Nothing Affair
      (pp. 154-164)
      Joshua A. Smith

      In Super Bowl XL, Ben Roethlisberger scored a dramatic one-yard touchdown just before halftime. On that play, it was initially ruled that Roethlisberger carried the ball into the end zone, and that call was upheld upon review. Many people, myself included, thought it was very clear upon review that the ball did not break the plane of the goal line, and therefore the run should not have been ruled a touchdown. But it was, and the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.

      Scenarios like this illustrate how instant replay plays an important role in professional football in the...

      (pp. 165-180)
      Daniel Collins-Cavanaugh

      One of the things that fans love about professional football in America is the fact that the National Football League is such a fair league. By “fair,” I mean each team seems to have a legitimate chance to win each year. No team is forever out of the running before each season starts—no matter how poorly that team performed the year before. And no team is so completely lacking in talent that it has no chance to win any given game. This keeps the fans interested before the season, during the season, and through the long off-season. The phrase...

      (pp. 183-195)
      Mark Hamilton

      It is Odessa, Texas, and the kickoff between the Odessa Permian Panthers and the Midland Lee Rebels swiftly approaches. “Outside the Midland High band, dressed in its purple and gold costumes, play[s] the national anthem. An announcer’s voice then [comes] over the public address system, asking the sell out crowd of eleven thousand to rise for the prayer, which everyone eagerly [does].”¹ This illustrates the ceremonial triad of God, America, and football occurring in high school stadiums throughout America every fall Friday night.

      John Lennon was criticized for saying that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus. Well, the...

      (pp. 196-208)
      Joseph Keim Campbell

      Consider thetruthmaker theory,which claims that “for every truth there is a truthmaker” (Fox 1987, 189). In some cases truthmakers are individuals. Peyton Manning is the truthmaker for the claim that Peyton Manning exists. In other cases, truthmakers are events, like falling on a football in the end zone. The primary question of this essay is, What are the truthmakers fortouchdown truths,that is, truths about touchdowns?

      According to the NFL definition of “touchdown,” a touchdown occurs “when any part of the ball, legally in possession of a player inbounds, breaks the plane of the opponent’s goal line,...

      (pp. 209-218)
      Ben Letson

      In the 1993 AFC wild-card game, the Buffalo Bills mounted the greatest comeback in NFL history, posting a 41–38 win over the Houston Oilers after trailing by thirty-two points just a few minutes into the third quarter. The Oilers had been up 28–3 in the first half, and the Bills outscored them 35–3 after the last Oilers touchdown early in the third quarter to pull out the victory. A one-yard run for a Buffalo touchdown followed by a successful onside kick marked the beginning of the comeback.¹ It would be tempting to explain the dramatic turnaround in...

  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 219-222)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 223-230)