The Importance of Rules in Sports

What would a sports game be like if there were no rules? I can say it is likely that the game would be chaotic, maybe even similar to war. Regardless of the sport, players would be fighting each other in order to score that point or that goal. The game would be so competitive for anything would be allowed, no referees to stop unsportsmanlike behavior. The arena would simply turn into a war zone and possibly even the fans would get into the game and try to affect the outcome. Well, let’s be glad that sports do not follow the state of nature and lack a set of rules guiding each game. As Hobbes explains, the state of nature is like survival of the fittest, each person only looking out for themselves. Sports would simply not be able to exist if it followed by this concept, because once again, as Hobbes explains, everyone is only looking out for themselves. Therefore, there would be no sportsmanship. Despite sports having a sovereign government providing some type of authority, there are many instances where the rulebook is not followed and chaos ensues. A specific event where everything simply returned to the state of nature occurred in a NBA basketball game. On November 19th, 2004,  the Indiana pacers and the Detroit Pistons decided to not follow any of the rules and started a huge fight on the basketball court. The event was nicknamed “Malice at the Palace” since “The Palace” is the given name for the arena where the Detroit Pistons play.

What started from Ben Wallace shoving Ron Artest after a foul by Ron Artest,  turned into a full out brawl, which actually included the fans.  Both the Pacer and Pistons cleared the bench, and some players began punching each other. The coaches and referees tried everything they could do to stop the fight, but the players simply were too angry and continued to fight. The fight escalated into a brawl with the fans as soon as one of the fans poured a beverage on Ron Artest, thus provoking Artest to go into the stands and start fighting the fan.  The fight is one of the biggest and worst fights ever to happen during a sporting event, which ended up leading to many suspensions. Since the fight became so violent and involved the majority of both teams and some fans, the referees decided to call the game, ending the game early. The rules of basketball were simply not followed in the fight causing the players to return to the state of nature and forget the rules that they were supposed to follow.

As Hobbes explains, without a set of rules, everything turns to chaos. Hobbes is right that without a sovereign state, everyone would merely be self interested and not follow any type of rules, as seen in the basketball fight. Every sport needs some type of rules, as chaos would likely ensue if there are no rules and watching sports would simply not be entertaining, but rather disturbing. Sports are a huge part of entertainment; therefore, sports cannot just follow the state of nature. All sports truly need rules to function as a fair and competitive environment. Hobbes provides a brilliant analysis on why society needs to be sovereign and it even applies in the arena of sports. Sports need to be sovereign for there to be safety and order for both the participants and fans.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Rules in Sports

  1. I thought this post was super interesting! and I totally agree with what you are saying! Without rules would are sports even be separate sports? Without rules what would stop a soccer player from picking up a ball and dribbling it (like a basketball) down the field and throwing it into the net. I believe that not only would our sports descend into chaos, like you said, but they would cease to remain as the sports they are today.
    As you described though the Malice at the Palace occurred creating a huge fight among players, breaking many rules of the game of basketball. Yet the rules were in place, people just chose not to follow them. So in that case did the rules even play a part or did the institution of the rules just fail? So as you said without rules our sports would just fall back into a state of nature, but I wonder if the rules are really stopping that at all? Perhaps its just the self interest of earning their money that is the real thing stopping players from breaking the rules rather than the rules themselves.


  2. This post was indeed very interesting! It is interesting to think whether or not all sports would develop into the same sport, and if so, what would that sport be like? It seems that it would be aggressive and chaotic because of the “nature of man” but once it got to that point I think people would start to self regulate. Initially there were no rules in sport, for example when the Native American played lacrosse from village to village. The sport slowly adapted into a very rule heavy game. So is it once a sport becomes extremely rule heavy people want to break out and if a sport is too lawless people want rules? Where is that line that will even out rules and freedom?


  3. Personally, I thought this blog post was very interesting and insightful. I am very curious as to who sports would develop without rules or structure. I still remember that Pistons-Pacers game with that brawl. When rules are broken and left with no consequences, many people go in a “state of nature” as you said. There have been many fights, brawls, and “punches” thrown along all sports, baseball, basketball, football, and especially hockey. Many people follow the rules due to punishment reasons and others for the sake of the game (Derek Jeter). In both ways, I believe the rules are a necessary part of sports and will continue to be enforced to allow for safe and competitive play in the future.


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