Category Archives: gamesmanship

Competitive extemporaneous speaking: unchecked rhetoric is a race to the bottom

Extemporaneous speaking (extemp for short) is a competitive event in high school speech and debate where competitors are given thirty minutes to come up with a seven-minute speech on a randomly selected topic. Competitors are judged on their analysis of the topic, their use of sources, and their oratorical presence. A video of the 2004 National Champion in Domestic Extemp can be found here. By putting a non-competitive activity (public speaking) into a competitive arena, students find a fun and engaging way to hone their skills.

In addition to their own knowledge, competitors are allowed to use and cite sources from a tub of evidence they prepare before selecting their topic. All other factors being equal, competitors who cite more sources in their speeches win more. In the past, the standard number of sources for a good speech was three. Three sources in a speech works because most speeches are structured to have three separate points, and while three was not a written rule, it was a known convention. However, competitors over time have defected from this collective agreement in order to improve their chances of winning. In a classic race to the bottom, other competitors deviate from the three-source standard to keep up with their opponents, and over time, the average number of sources per speech has risen to nine.

How is this different from any other race to the bottom? In thirty minutes of preparation, a competitor has to scour mounds of newspaper clippings to find relevant sources, incorporate those sources into a speech outline, memorize the speech, and practice it a few times. Simply, it is impossible to write and practice a speech with nine distinct sources in thirty minutes; so, competitors choose to cite fake sources. Judges rarely check if competitors are citing real sources—one could spend more than the entire speech’s seven minutes back-checking nine sources. In a competitive event that teaches students how to persuasively and eloquently convey information, students are also learning how easy and convenient it is to lie.

Lying in a public speech is not unique to high school forensics—politicians regularly lie in debates, because the short-term benefits of making a seemingly valid point outweigh the long-term effects of a lie. Rep. Michelle Bachman, in the recent Republican Primary Debates, was notorious for this—she regularly misrepresented the views of her opponents (check it out at 2:00 here). Many news organizations, notably the New York Times, try to ‘live fact-check’ these debates, but there is little damage to the liar if they come out of the debate unscathed.

Having nine sources in your extemp speech does not necessarily mean you are citing fake sources. Some competitors craft universal sources for every speech they could possibly give by memorizing a citation for a popular book or study. While these ‘canned sources’ are successful, they defeat the extemporaneous nature of the competition.

Obama on the basic framework for adversarial ethics: why international trade is like a pick-up basketball game

In his press conference following the recent APEC meetings in Honolulu, President Obama laid out a pretty basic normative framework for the adversarial institution of international trade. The question he was addressing involved the perception among American politicians and some Asian leaders that China was not exactly playing cricket.

And I think leaders in the region understand that as China grows, as its economic influence expands, that the expectation is, is that they will be a responsible leader in the world economy — which is what the United States has tried to do. I mean, we try to set up rules that are universal, that everybody can follow, and then we play by those rules. And then we compete fiercely. But we don’t try to game the system. That’s part of what leadership is about.

China has the opportunity to be that same type of leader. And as the world’s second-largest economy, I think that’s going to be important not just for this region, but for the world. But that requires them to take responsibility, to understand that their role is different now than it might have been 20 years ago or 30 years ago, where if they were breaking some rules, it didn’t really matter, it did not have a significant impact. You weren’t seeing huge trade imbalances that had consequences for the world financial system.

Now they’ve grown up, and so they’re going to have to help manage this process in a responsible way.

What he is describing, essentially, are the rules for a pick-up game of soccer or basketball among a bunch of people from the same neighborhood. You agree to a set of reasonable rules (given there are no real referees), you expect everyone to follow the rules, each person still plays hard to win within those rules, and the whole game is threatened if one or more players are consistently trying to get away with blatant cheating or fouling. Obama says, “that’s part of what leadership is about,” and here he is really talking about sportsmanship.

Obama is chastising China for gaming the rules (e.g., by not devaluing its currency), though it is not clear they ever agreed to that particular rule. This press conference also unveiled some details about a new “Trans-Pacific Partnership” that might lead to a free-trade zone. But it appears that China is not welcome in this partnership until it agrees to abide by a fair set of rules.

It’s interesting that Obama also references an exception to full compliance that is often accepted by participants in a pick-up soccer or basketball game: that you may give a younger kid a little more latitude (say, to receive a pass off-side in soccer, or to travel or double-dribble in basketball). It can be fun to watch the kid trying to play “with men” above his talent level. But it nevertheless gets pretty annoying if the kid grows up to be one of the strongest players and still expects special rules or exceptions for himself alone.

Unwritten rules in the sweet science [updated]

In the 8th grade I finished second in my country county in wrestling (in the 99-pounds-and-under category). In the semi-final match, the referee neglected to invite me and my adversary to shake hands before the match began. He just signaled for the match to start. But since a handshake was the usual protocol, the other kid reached out to shake my hand. I grabbed his hand, performed a standard wrestling move (I don’t remember much of the jargon now), and took him to the ground. It was perfectly legal, and I was a total 99-pound asshole.

Recently, with much more than bragging rights on the line, WBC World Welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather did essentially the same thing. Here’s an account from Gordon Marino, a philosophy professor and boxing trainer, writing in the Huffington Post:

Boxing took a pounding on Friday night. The too-much-hyped championship contest between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz went down in pugilistic infamy at the end of the fourth round.

With only seconds remaining in that stanza, Ortiz had “Money” Mayweather on the ropes and intentionally head-butted him. Referee Joe Cortez deducted a point. The embarrassed Ortiz literally kissed and hugged Mayweather to express his regret. Though Ortiz claims he did not hear him, Cortez instructed the boxers to resume the action and once again “Vicious Victor” went to touch gloves. Mayweather leaned forward as if to do the same and then turned over a left hook. In that instant, a shocked Ortiz made the mistake of turning his head to the ref in protest and just as he did, Mayweather hammered him with a booming right to the chin, turning the black lights on the young fighter and ending the contest.

Most of the crowd at the MGM booed in protest at the advantage that Mayweather had taken. Debates raged all over Las Vegas and I suppose throughout the nation. No one, including Ortiz, questioned the legality of Mayweather’s stealthy move. The new champion defended himself saying that he had been fouled and that fighters are endlessly told “protect yourself at all times.”

And so the standard question: What are the best examples of this kind of gamesmanship in other deliberately adversarial contexts like business, politics, law, war, etc.?

UPDATE: there was, not surprisingly, a LOT of chatter about this move by Mayweather. Consider, for example, this piece by a blogging pastor in the Huff Post entitled “Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and the Death of the Gentleman, Sportsmanship, and Class in American Society.”

Unwritten rules in football

Deliberately adversarial institutions are highly regulated, and closely monitored. But for a variety of reasons there can’t be an effective or enforceable rule against every kind of behavior that seems “just wrong.” So there are generally a lot of “unwritten rules” and various written and unwritten “codes of honor” that participants expect each other to adhere to.

Last week the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback, Tony Romo, took the unusual step of accusing his opponents of violating one of those rules. Here’s a quote from the NFL.com story, “Romo accuses Redskins of cheating on snap count“:

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo blamed the Washington Redskins for the problems he had fielding snaps from center Phil Costa in Monday night’s sloppy 18-16 Dallas victory. Costa snapped the ball a number of times before the quarterback was ready.

Romo accused Redskins defenders of yelling out their own snap count, attempting to fool Costa, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

“We’ve got to get the snap thing worked out,” Romo told reporters after the game. “We’ll get that worked out. We’ll tell the league and see if that’s something that can be fixed because you’re not supposed to be able to do that. So we’ll see. But we can’t have that happen. We shouldn’t have been in that situation.”

Now, as it turns out, the NFL does have a rule against this behavior. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the NFL, more than any other major sport, is prepared to try to solve any problem with a new rule and close monitoring. But this is clearly one of those rules that’s difficult to enforce. It relies on players recognizing that this is “not cricket,” as they say.

With any post on “unwritten rules in sport/institution X” we will finish with the same general questions: What examples are there of unwritten rules in other deliberately adversarial institutions that are similar to defensive players in football mimicking the offensive quarterback’s snap count? And why, exactly, is this kind of tactic unseemly?

(Incidentally, there are plenty of examples in nature of predators mimicking signals its prey species uses in order to lure them to their demise. So much for natural justice.)

The fine art of the dive

[Note: this is the inaugural post by “Matiok”.]

We should be able to learn a lot about cheating and rule-breaking in all adversarial contexts by examining the clear-cut transgressions we find in sports. Of all of the kinds of cheating in sports, there seems to be something uniquely annoying (or interesting? entertaining?) about diving in soccer. (It is obviously similar to flopping and diving in other sports — except in the sport of diving, of course).
And of all the spectacular dives every week in the world of soccer (many showcased on a fabulous blog, The Diving Board) this one has been garnering an unusual amount of attention lately:
Here’s what The Diving Board has to say about it:

FOR SHAME! This is a whole new level of cheating. Not only has Chile’s Bryan Carrasco taken a ridiculous flop to the turf, but he’s also forced his opponent’s hand up into his face in a pathetic and desperate attempt to win a free kick in his own half. A part of me wants to applaud him for originality, but NO! Just no.

Bryan Carrasco, if you are the future of football then god help us all…

We will talk a lot about the case of soccer diving in future posts. But for now, let’s reflect on this particular innovation in the world of diving. Is it worse than more “typical dives” where players go to the ground in search of a free kick or a penalty kick after minimal or no contact with the opposing player? It does seem quite pre-meditated, doesn’t it? Surely the player thought about this trick before the game began. Perhaps he even practiced it. If so, were other players “implicated” in his scheme? Was his coach? If the referee had been close enough see exactly what happened, the diver himself might have been red-carded (ejected from the game, thereby forcing his team to play the remainder of the game down a man). All considerations of sportsmanship, ethics, and civilization aside, was it worth that risk? Does this player really believe that referees in the future will give him the benefit of the doubt when he is involved in dubious fouls? Does the sport of soccer itself lose credibility with this kind of publicity?

The Ethics of Crazieness: A Follow-Up

I can’t resist writing a quick follow-up to the “How Crazie is too Crazy?” piece from earlier this week. If you follow college sports will know that the previous post came shortly before the storied Duke-UNC rivalry game. The game did not disappoint (especially for the Duke fans), as the Blue Devils made an historic comeback from a 14-point deficit at halftime to win by a final score of 79-73. Given the nature of the last post on “fan ethics” during sporting events, I think this game is a great case study of what should and shouldn’t be acceptable behavior for sporting fans.

Throughout Duke’s second-half surge, ESPN’s commentators’ voices could barely be heard over the broadcast as the Cameron Crazies filled the stadium with cheers. At one point, Dick Vitale called Cameron “electric” and after the game Coach K and Duke players all gave credit to the Crazies for motivating them. It was the first time Duke had overcome a deficit of 14 points to win since 1959. In rivalries like this, the crowd can play an important role. And surely that is what makes college sports so attractive to spectators. But should we allow more “extreme” measures from fans (obscene chants, gestures, etc) to be permitted in these cases? Does the fan’s passion for their team and game allow them to chant with a free conscience “Go to Hell Carolina, Go to Hell!” ad infinitum? (Ed. note for Carolina fans: that means “again and again.”) Interestingly, at Duke this is not only an acceptable chant, but is also frequently worn on t-shirts and so commonplace it’s simply abbreviated as “GTHC.”

To avoid rehashing the last post, I’ve decided to make three lists based on the latest game against UNC. Most of the things on the list can apply to any home game, but I’m using this particularly heated rivalry as a case study of sorts.

The “innocuous cheering” list which nearly any sports fan would condone as 100% within the realm of sportsmanship; the “borderline cheering,” made up of the gray area between being a good fan and violating an ethical boundary; and the “dubious cheering,” or just plain “jeering,” list, made up of actions nearly everyone (arguably even those of us performing the chats) know aren’t quite right. Obviously, this is only a personal opinion; and if you disagree with where I’ve put what, please feel free to comment. It’s up for debate!

Innocuous:

  1. The ever-present, always loud “Let’s Go Duke!” Cheer, or its equivalent (“Here we Go Devils!”, “Go Devils go!”)
  2. Jumping up and down and screaming while the opposing team has the ball. As in all sports cheering, the tactic is meant to distract the other team when they have the ball but has no mean intentions. This constant noise is one of the things that makes Cameron one of the hardest home courts to play on.
  3. Cheering when Duke makes a 3-pointer or Dunk.
  4. Body paint and face paint in support of Duke’s team colors.
  5. The “hex”. When an opposing team player fouls out, the Crazies are known to “hex” them by waving their hand and cheering until they sit and then yelling “See you!”.

Borderline:

  1. The Duke fight song with the student modified lyrics, “Carolina go to Hell! EAT SHIT!” sung the loudest (particularly during this game).
  2. The classic “Bullshit” chant following what the fans believe to be a poor call by an official
  3. Normally, I would put this clearly on the “innocuous” list, but a comment on the blogosphere about the physical presence of the Crazies made me bump it down. When the opposing team has the ball, in addition to cheering, the Crazies wave their hands at them while in-bounding. The students never touch the players, but the visual is compelling and the proximity of the students to the court is meant to intimidate opposing players. Some find this physical presence wrong, but as the students do not intend to physical harm the players I find it hard to categorize as “over the line.”
  4. When opposing team’s players are introduced the students “greet” them by chanting “Hi (insert name!)”. Although this alone I would find hard to object to, it has been tradition in years past to add “you suck!”, though in recent years Coach K has emphatically asked students to refrain from this (a cheer, notably, imported from the Maryland fan base).

Jeering:

  1. At one point a student was identified by a referee for attempting to have thrown something at Harrison Barnes, one of UNC’s top players.

Overall, however, I would say that more than anything the Crazies cheer for Duke rather than directing nasty things against UNC or their opponent. Sure, they want to get under the skin of the team they’re playing, but I would argue that the nature of the adversarial institution of sports allows for most of the Crazies type of behavior. Although, I must admit I am a bit biased as Cameron Crazy myself.

Judge for yourself based on this clip, taken from inside the student section: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta09JvSoIsU