WHEN THE Detroit
Lions and their defensive coordinator parted ways this month over
"philosophical differences," one couldn't help but wonder, Are
philosophy professors ever fired for the same reason?
"We do have
philosophical differences in the philosophy department," says Sharon Ryan,
the department chair at West Virginia University, "but we never use the
phrase philosophical differences, which—in the real world—almost always means
As a child
attending New York Mets games when the team's manager was the philosopher Yogi
Berra, Ryan was already interested in man's most mystifying issues, like life,
death and the infield fly rule.
Now she's asking
Big Questions of Mountaineers athletes, coaches and fans (and posting their
answers at thequestion.blogs.wvu.edu). As Socrates was to Athenian society,
Ryan is to West Virginia's athletic department—a gadfly, bound only by the
battery life of her camcorder and her bottomless curiosity, inquiring of
linebackers and power forwards and head coaches, What is a team? What is a fan?
And is winning really everything?
it is!" long snapper Zach Flynt replied to this last question, while others
Socratically questioned the question itself. Basketball guard Meg Bulger, whose
brother Marc plays quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, suggested that winning
is everything only if we broaden the definition of victory: "As long as you
learn life lessons through what you're doing, I believe that's where you
generally win, that sports are a tool to win in life."
Ryan stands at
the nexus of sports and philosophy. She is John David Booty handing off to John
Stuart Mill. "I'm trying to bring philosophy out of the ivory tower and
into the street," says the 42-year-old. "The stereotype of the dumb
student-athlete is one that I'm proud to be shattering." Mountaineers
supporters posting to the blog have been trying to define the essence of West
Virginia fandom. A poster named Doug came closest: He plans to name his son
Every week Ryan
joins a group of faculty and students to discuss the imponderable issues of the
day. And while they call themselves the Tuesday Night Philosophers, they often
sound like Monday Morning Quarterbacks. A recent discussion centered on the
NFL's rule that a receiver must not only have two feet inbounds but also
maintain possession long enough to perform a football act distinct from the
there be the evidence of a new intention?" asked assistant professor
Beverly Hinton, an expert on Aristotle. "If the receiver continues his
intention to retain the ball, even if he performs no distinct action, why is
this not evidence of his reception of the ball?" Review that, Ed
Last week I asked
the Tuesday Night Philosophers to weigh in on some of sports' most renowned
thinkers, among them Satchel Paige, who said, "You win a few, you lose a
few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them."
Callison, a senior, pointed out that Paige had offered a view popular in the
philosophy of religion: You can't appreciate good without experiencing