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.