Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World

Article excerpt

Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World

M. Andrew Holowchak and Heather L. Reid

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011

215 pages, $65

Successful athletic programs often increase student enrollment and boost morale in Catholic high schools. Despite this, an overemphasis on sport can conflict with the educational aims of schools. School-related athletic teams, the standard line of thinking goes, can distract from academic learning and take resources away from other programs. There are also questions regarding the potential negative effects of highly competitive sport on moral character, funding inequalities based on gender, and on the psychological well-being of adolescent athletes. * As Catholic schools seek to foster growth for the whole person in the light of Christ, how fully should Catholic educational leadership embrace sport programs?

In Aretism: An Ancient Sports Philosophy for the Modern Sports World, sport philosophers and former collegiate athletes Andrew Holowchak and Heather Reid offer theoretical and practical assistance--filled with sporting stories and examples--for tackling the above concerns. Their book provides a substantial and necessary critique of modern sport, yet pushes back against those who envision school-related sport as merely recreational.

The book is organized into four parts. The first part offers five short chapters on the history of sport. The second part, building on the first, describes problems with competitive sport today: performance enhancements, individualism, sensationalism, violence, and gender issues. The authors define this "winner-take-all" approach as the martial/commercial (MC) model. The name reveals sports' (1) militaristic roots (e.g., consider sports rhetoric: "blitz," "weapons," or "taking aim"), and (2) commercial overemphasis (i.e., greatest value is often given to external goods achieved through elite performance). Part three of the book surveys the antithesis of the MC model. The aesthetic/recreational model (AR) underlines experiences of joy, pleasure, and beauty found in recreational sport. Here competition is acceptable only so far as to encourage enjoyment and team spirit. Parts two and three each contain six chapters, where the authors correlate and contrast counter-perspectives from the MC and AR positions. For example, the statisticization of sport (MC) highlighted in chapter 10 is compared to the beauty of sport (AR) found in chapter 16.

Each chapter is less than 10 pages in length, allowing a snapshot of important issues and engagement with numerous (and predominantly) American sporting examples. One of the reviewer's favorite stories is the recollection of a highly competitive 1975 World Series game between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. As the game went into extra innings tied at six runs apiece, Reds' batter Pete Rose turned to Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and rhetorically asked, "This is some kind of game, isn't it?" (p. 118). Amid a high-stakes game, the strongly driven Rose exemplifies playing sport for its intrinsic worth (this in spite of later seeking extrinsic gain from betting on his team's own games as a manager). Many examples will resonate with readers, while each is supported by concise argumentation. For instance, a particular strength of the book is its timely raising of significant examples that question gender stereotypes and inequalities in sport.

After examination of the MC and AR models, Holowchak and Reid provide readers with an approach to reform sport--the aretic model--in the final part of the book. Arete is the ancient Greek concept meaning "excellence" or "virtue," in which persons seek to obtain their highest human potential (p. …