Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cheating to Lose, While "Winning" Off the Field

Returning to our sports week, I found that the film Eight Men Out (1988) presents a slightly different take on the “winners vs. winning” question raised by the majority of the other films.  Eight Men Out is a dramatic retelling of Major League Baseball’s Black Sox Scandal, one of the most infamous conspiracies in sports history.  Eight players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox, considered the best team in baseball at the time, were banned for life for intentionally losing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.  The film demonstrates how White Sox players were motivated to throw the series by a mutual dislike of miserly team owner Charles Comiskey.  They are approached by gamblers who inform them that they could win more money by throwing the series than they could if they played it out and won.  Eight Men Out follows the scandal from the initial conception, through the best-of-nine series and to the trial of the eight players after sportswriters and owners become suspicious.
            In her article “Sport, Education, and the Meaning of Victory”, Heather Reid discusses the distinction between “winners” and “winning” as well as the importance of virtue in sport.  Reid takes her analysis back to Aristotelian Virtue philosophy, explain how participation in athletics was considered to be a demonstration of arête, or virtue.  Reid argues that we as a society see winning as important because of the similar virtues associated with excellence, such as courage discipline or justice.  However, Reid also mentions how many modern athletic programs only focus on winning in terms of numbers instead of the character-building aspects.  According to Reid, if these values are seen as unimportant, the pursuit of victory in our athletic programs should not be as integral a part of our educational foundation.  In our class discussion, after discussing the definition and “point” of sport, we considered Reid’s points and questioned why winning is seen as so important.  The general consensus was that an honorable participation in sport helped foster a sense of community and that everyone should want to win even if it is not the best indicator of a team or athletes performance.  The drive to win can help us better ourselves for the future, but as Eight Men Out presents, throwing away those values for a material trophy is useless and detrimental.
            However, Eight Men Out presents a slightly different perspective than some of the other films we focused on.  It seems like much of our discussion concerns how athletes conduct themselves on the field of play, whereas Eight Men Out is equally about the players’ virtues on and off the field.  When we talked about “winners” vs. “winning,” we are comparing a virtuous appreciation of the sport as opposed to purely giving attention to the final score.  However, from a certain perspective, some athletes purely obsessed with winning might deserve a slight bit of respect for their drive and determination on the field.  Eight Men Out presents a situation where the “winning” is not even taking place on the field.  It is a similar situation to a player playing dirty in order to win a game, but instead, they are sacrificing every bit of their dignity on the field for a slight personal gain off the field.  In today’s world, some of the biggest names in sports are being accused of using steroids for personal gain.  However, those athletes are still cheating to win, whether it be for personal numbers or their team.  Instead of cheating to win, the 1919 White Sox cheated to lose.  Based on Reid’s analysis, there is absolutely no virtue to be found in the case of the Black Sox Scandal. 
            I think Eight Men Out is a solid, historically accurate depiction of one of the darkest moments for America’s National Pastime.  Naturally, some of the characters personalities are emphasized for dramatic effect – Charles Comiskey is made into more of a villain to demonstrate the players’ unhappiness with their pay, as are the gamblers.  However, the film does a great job of portraying a lapse in athletic virtue both on and off the field, taking all the importance of “winning” out of the actual sport and inserting it into a scenario of pure personal gain.  If you like baseball movies, I would definitely consider Eight Men Out, especially since the Black Sox Scandal has become such a notorious benchmark for the sport’s history.   


  1. I think the distinction you draw between winning on and off the field is very interesting in the case of the Black Sox, and in the case of sports as a whole. Athletes and teams are admired, for the most part, solely on their individual performances and whether or not they are victorious. In terms of the Black Sox, they lost on the field in order to win something off the field. The most interesting thing you brought up to me is the respect that some people still have for people who cheat (such as steroid users) to win. While it does put them at an unfair advantage and is immoral when others can not do such things, it is odd how some people still acknowledge their accomplishments and deeds even if they are skewed, especially when compared with the Black Sox who lost outright for their own monetary gain.

  2. I also enjoyed the depiction of winning as taking place "on" vs "off" the field. In the case of "Eight Men Out", yes they won off-the-field temporarily but lost there in the long run. So too, have many steroid-using baseball players learned the hard way. I wonder if there exists a dichotomous distinction between winning on and off the field. Logically, if you cheat (and, by our analysis of winning and what is important, lose) off the field (such as steroid-users) you stand a greater chance to win on the field. If you win off the field, how does that affect your chances in the game?
    It is interesting to think about Burnick's comment about people's perception of individuals who gain an unfair advantage. In regards to certain people's acceptance of steroid use, I often hear "it makes the game better" as a reason behind that attitude. Would it not be "better" in that sense, for games to be secretly fixed? And no, conspiracy theorists, they are not. For example, people still watch WWE or WWF or RAW and enjoy that even though it is all pre-determined? Wouldn't a basketball game be better to watch if David Stern (NBA Commissioner) set up each game to have several lead changes, pre-set high-flying plays, and, just as the audience begins to worry about the opposing team's sudden surge and advantage, the other team pulls off a remarkable comeback?


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