- Sport, Philosophy, and Good Lives by Randolph Feezell
When searching the aisles of sporting goods stores, one may see t-shirts with the following refrains: “I’d rather be running” or “I’d rather be playing basketball” or “I’d rather be swimming.” In his most recent book, Randolph Feezell entertains the questions at the heart of these slogans. What is it about sport that captures and sustains our attention and interest? In what sense, if any, does participating in sport contribute to the good life? For that matter, just what does it mean to live a good, or a meaningful, life? An academic background in philosophy, buttressed with significant sport experience, provides Feezell with the unique blend of expertise appropriate for exploring this topic. He draws from not only traditional Western philosophic thought but from Buddhism and Taoism writing as well.
In terms of overall structure, Feezell organizes the nine chapters into three parts. Part One, with five chapters, examines sport and its relationship to good lives. Part Two continues with an emphasis on ethical guidance, including two essays focused on both athletes and coaches. Finally, Part Three includes two chapters which address questions of sport in terms of meaning. Of the nine chapters, three appeared previously as essays published by The Journal of the Philosophy of Sport. [End Page 162]
I found each chapter engaging and, for the purpose of this review, choose to highlight several that I found especially intriguing. In his fourth chapter, Feezell examines the nature of partisanship in spectator sports and critiques an essay by Nicholas Dixon on “moderate partisanship.” Feezell creates an imagined dialogue between a partisan (like Dixon) and a purist (like Feezell). While Feezell acknowledges strengths of moderate partisanship, he appears to downplay the possibility for experiencing meaning through moderate partisan-ship. In other words, following a team (perhaps even fervently on occasion) might become part of our personal narrative. One may not be partisan in the vein of soccer hooliganism, nor oblivious to the skill and athleticism evidenced by both “our team” and the opponents. Yet this act of “rooting for” a favorite team potentially contributes to a meaningful narrative.
Chapter Five, on “dirty language” and sports, is arguably the most intriguing chapter of all. One does not expect sport settings (locker rooms, the playing fields, and so forth) to be cuss-free zones, yet it is rare that someone examines the nature of swearing in sport in light of ethics or the good life. Feezell outlines the “metalanguage” of such speech before delving into a taxonomy of cussing and finally a series of arguments typically used to criticize rough language. In conclusion, the author contends that “our reactions to [swearing] . . . should be occasions for reflection, not immediate condemnation” (p. 128). While interesting in its own right, the topic seems somewhat tangentially related to larger questions of meaning and the good life.
Chapter Seven is entitled “Coach As Sage.” In contemporary culture it has become quite common for coaches (especially high school and college) to impart ethical guidance in the “sport is preparation for life” paradigm. Feezell takes aim at this premise, specifically focusing on the book, The Winners Manual (2008), by former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressell. In particular, Feezell questions whether attempts to impart wisdom in this manner are compatible with the broader notions of higher education. While I fully acknowledge Tressell’s shortcomings, he does at least attempt to pass along what he thinks is important to his athletes—a time-honored practice of helping communicate ethical principles. We can certainly critique his methods, his intent, and (in light of recent admission of unethical practices) his integrity, but I would not want to lose sight of the overall intention of talking about and sharing ethical principles, flawed as the pedagogy may be.
This book certainly meets Feezell’s intent to contribute “alternative vocabularies” that go beyond traditional discussions on sport focused on “winning, competition, and money.” Throughout the work, Feezell writes with an engaging style, careful philosophical analysis laced with...