“Existentialism, but with a very cool hair cut.” That is how Dr. Andy Martin describes his branch of philosophy, Becksistentialsim. A Cambridge professor in French philosophy, Dr. Martin wondered if Beckham’s signing with Paris Saint Germain would cause him to “succumb to ideas of existentialist angst?” He even ran a blog, called Becks in Paris, that is a fictionalized internal monologue of the beloved soccer star as he faced life as a member of PSG. At first appearance, Dr. Martin seems to have way too much time on his hands. However, his analysis of David Beckham and French philosophy reminded me of something that may or may not be the theme of this semester’s PolSci 101 class. So I decided to look at some other sports and political theorists to make a #CourseConnection.
1. Machiavelli and Dodgeball
There are very defined rules and steps one must follow to become a prince, not unlike the rules of dodgeball: Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge. (Although Machiavelli is significantly less concise.) A leader emerges and the rest of the team follows their orders. The leader may be agreed upon before the match, or may take charge of the team through ability, force, and will. Tough decisions must be made, teammates may be sacrificed, but a win is a win and the leader lives to rule another day. Will the ends justify the means? Will the ‘prince’ be overthrown? This tension is what makes dodgeball such a captivating sport. (And not, you know, the fighting off death in a flurry of playground balls aspect of the sport)
Pictured: An actual quote from the movie Dodgeball that lends some weight to my arguement
2. Homer and Pole-Vaulting
Yes, i know Homer is not technically a political theorist. I also know that the excerpt we focused on – the funeral games for Patroclus – already involved sports so I’m technically just making more work for me by going off on a tangent. However, as a former pole-vaulter, I see too many similarities that I must mention the chaos that is vaulting. First, in pole-vaulting, ancient gods are replaced with wind, the slightest brush of fabric, and the stability of the standards (the vertical poles that hold the horizontal pole at the correct height. Sometimes, you technically cleared a height and successfully hauled yourself over the bar but the slightest gust of wind or movement of the standards cause the bar to fall before you clear the mat. (For a height to be cleared, the bar must remain on the standards at least until the vaulter has climbed off the mat) However, the person after you may have let their pole hit the standards, vaulted with terrible form, or even landed on the bar, but by some cruel and unfair fate, the bar remains in the air. Very similar to the frustration faced by the participants in the funeral games after the interference of the gods. Also, the judges have quite a bit of leeway in determining positions, as things (such as what constitutes a valid bail or the correct placement of bar/standards) can retroactively affect a vaulter’s performance. Kind of like Achilles and his “let me just choose the winner myself” attitude.
Pictured: Me Also pictured: My double chin
3. Locke and Soccer
First and foremost, Locke is a fan of possessions. Soccer players happen to be fans of possession as well. The captains of the soccer team are usually chosen by the rest of the team based on ability, dedication, and experience. However, during the actual game and practice, members of the team can help guide decisions and voice their opinions. For example, yelling “Pass it to me!” “Two on!” or by crossing the ball to the other side of the field or passing back to change the playing dynamic. It is in the self-interest of each player to cooperate with the team, since each role is limited by rules. A goalie and a striker fill two very different roles, and, as such, must rely on each other to help achieve a victory.
This argument assumes Ronaldo is not on your team.
4. Hobbes and Lawn Jarts
What could be more Hobbesian than lawn darts? Unpredictable, brutish, and pants-soiling frightful, Jarts is similar to normal darts, but instead of small needles being aimed at a corkboard, a large, weighted stake is tossed into the air as the player prays it lands in the center of the hoop some distance away, rather than their skull. One fault in my argument is that their is no absolute monarchy in this game, unless you can call fate or a higher being an absolute monarchy. And trust me, playing this game will make you believe in some kind of higher power, because the fear is so real. There is no guaranteed survival. People die.
“Great form, Timmy! After this, what do you say to a good ole’ fashion game of Russian Roulette?”
5. Rousseau and Synchronized Swimming
Individuals come together to swim for the “General Will” to elevator music in this event. Synchronized Swimming, like Rousseau, is just a tad idealistic. There is no cut throat competition or underground scene, otherwise we’d already have a reality show chronicling it. The swimmers join together to create forms and movements. (read: government).There’s really nothing aggressive about the sport at all. Just a group of swimmers, swimming their hearts out to be a part of something greater than themselves. But seriously, the most heated the competition for this event gets is when it’s a category on Jeopardy.
Sports are a great way for one to watch political theory in action. Even the longest football game moves at a faster pace than are government and is a little more exciting to observe as well. So, while Becksistentialsim may not be something I can declare as a major just yet, sport based theory, and sport based application of theories do serve a purpose.