Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Kind of Honourable Dishonour

I've long had a little bit of a soft spot of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, basically because I slightly misremembered this incident, the only red card of his career so far as I can see. My memory of it was of Solskjaer making the tackle, and then not even bothering to wait for Uriah Rennie to card him but just walking straight off, whereas he walks away from the prone Rob Lee, maybe towards the touchline and maybe just away from the prone Rob Lee, then stops and turns to see Rennie dismissing him. Whatever exactly Solskjaer is actually doing, if he had done what I thought he had done, that somehow seems much less terrible than both lots of ways in which one could get sent off, and lots of ways in which one could react to having done something which got one sent off. I was thinking about this sort of thing because, in quite another context I was thinking about different ways in which breaking contingent, not absolutely justified, rules can be wrong.

Someone who made the kind of tackle Solskjaer did in the centre-circle during typical midfield play would have done something much worse than what Solskjaer did, I think, even though they would hardly have denied the other side a goal-scoring opportunity in the way that Solskjaer did. I suppose the lack of protest was amplified by the fact that Manchester United hardly then had the best reputation for accepting referees' decisions, but nonetheless Solskjaer did, in my memory, accept his punishment with at least public good grace. The difference between what Solskjaer 'did' - where this stands for what I remember him doing - and making that kind of tackle in the centre-circle and then arguing with the referee seems to be something to do with the attitude towards the way that the rules of football constitute the activity of playing football, and what breaches of those rules say about your attitude towards the other people playing football with you. Perhaps spitting at another player, or racially abusing them, makes it clearer than the example of a pointlessly reckless tackle. That kind of breach of the rules of football is a breach for the sake of a breach; whatever advantage, if any, is gained by breaking the rules is an advantage which cannot easily be understood within the rules of football - at best, intimidation, and at worst, enjoyment of an attempt to dominate - and indeed depends on being the kind of thing you are not supposed to do to generate that advantage, whereas in the Solskjaer case, the advantage is easily comprehensible within the rules of the practice itself - you stop the other side (from having a chance to) score.

A breach of the rules for the sake of the breach seems worse because it is destructive of the activity at all, in a way that breaches of Solskjaer's sort are not; having people whose actions on the football field are not motivated by and not consistent with the aim of playing and winning football games is, to some degree, to stop playing football. That in turn seems a kind of disrespect of the other participants in the activity; they are there to play football, and by participating in the activity without abiding by the rules that make it that activity, it becomes much more difficult for them to play football, much more difficult than if whoever is disrupting their game had not participated at all. As a universal attitude, it even seems to disrespect one's own agency; if one is not prepared to respect the rules that constitute a practice which one is engaged in, it becomes difficult to see how one is capable of doing anything at all. Think of how annoying Robbie Savage can be; you wonder why he bothers, since it often seems like all he does is stop other people from playing football by niggling at them. This, of course, is just another example of the reflexivity of agency, and perhaps of normative considerations in general. All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football, indeed.


Ben said...

I remember that. Not so sure about your normative claims, however. While it's more easy to understand, and perhaps even excuse, what he did, I think it's clearly worse than the same tackle in the centre circle.

And I'm not really sure why a breach for advantage-within-the-game is supposed to be less destructive; if anything I'm inclined to say it's more destructive, because they're clearly motivated by footballing advantage but go about it in the wrong ways. Spitting is unpleasant regardless of whether or not you're playing football, but doesn't seem to threaten the fact that you're playing football. Though I suppose what you may be getting at is that something like handball is only wrong because you're supposed to be playing football.

Rob Jubb said...

No, it's not the 'you can only handball if you are playing football' point. It is the point that if you are breaking the rules of football in order to gain advantages within the game of football, you are still playing football, whereas if you are breaking the rules of football for some external purpose, you are no longer (really) playing football. Playing football with people who are not (really) playing football is more difficult than playing football with people who are playing football dirtily or carelessly, although the two made shade into each other at the margins.

Ben said...

I don't really agree with that. I think it's worse to break the rules for a footballing advantage, because that's undermining the point of the game (which is to score more goals, within the rules of the game).

Spitting is only against the rules because it's generally unpleasant (whether you're playing football or not), so I don't see how someone spitting isn't really playing football - they are, they're just not a nice person.

Rob Jubb said...

There are at least three points to make here. First, it is important to remember that what Solskjaer 'did' included walking off without waiting to be sent off. Part of a breach within the rules is accepting the punishment as part of the rules. Second, and relatedly, it is important that a part of the rules of football is the rules which specify punishments for breaches of the other rules. Because of that, when we say that the point of football is to score more goals, within the rules of the game, it is important to remember that the rules of the game include rules about what happens when other rules are broken (is it, for example, unacceptable for a striker who knows they are offside - admittedly unlikely - to go on and score, just because the linesman doesn't flag; I think not, because the rule is that the referee, with the help of the linesman, calls offsides; but they have broken the rules; if their team goes on to win, has the point of football been lost?). Breaching for the sake of breaching does not accept the punishment, and precisely because it is breaching for the sake of breaching. Third, it is a separate issue whether the rules about punishing last-man-fouls outside the box are good rules; it may be that a better set of rules for football would give penalties whenever the last man brought someone down, but that is a different issue. You can clearly honour a set of rules in the breach whilst, to a certain degree, exploiting their weaknesses.

Ben said...

That's true, but it raises the interesting question whether it is actually against the rules for the last man to bring down an attacker - because it comes close to interpreting the rules as 'you can bring down an attacker in exchange for a red card'. I'm not sure obeying a second-order rule concerning punishment for a first-order offence shows great respect for the rules - though it's rather like the case of accepting punishment for civil disobedience.

Rob Jubb said...

"it's rather like the case of accepting punishment for civil disobedience."

That's interesting, I think. The point in Rawls' discussion of civil disobedience is that disobedience has to show respect for the law whilst breaking it, hence punishment should be accepted. But it is not just that punishment should be accepted; it's that the breach should respect the values that a just legal system has in the first place - it should participate in the activities which a just legal system makes possible, you might even say.