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3 May 2006

I sent an email commenting on a remark that was on the second episode of the podcast “Chivalry Today”. On the following episode of the show, the host spent about twenty minutes–more than half of the show–discussing my email!

To download the podcast go to chivalrytoday.com and download episode #3, or just get it directly from this link.

Here’s the full text of my letter:

Subject: Chivalry and fouls in soccer.

I just listened to the second episode of the Chivalry Today podcast, and I enjoyed it very much.

Your discussion of fouls in soccer, however, left me with more questions than answers. In short, my objection to your analysis is this: saying that “It’s not a foul if you don’t get caught,” is not meant to be a recipe for getting around the rules– rather, it is meant, I believe, to be an accurate description of the rules of the game.

I don’t watch much soccer, so let me change the subject slightly to basketball, with which I am only a little more familiar. In basketball, one generally wants to avoid committing fouls; however, there are times when roughly all players and coaches would agree that a foul is appropriate. For example, if the other team leads by one point, and there is less time left in the game than there is on the shot-clock, then the other team can just hold on to the ball, and not take a shot, and win the game, and this is exactly what any team would do in that situation. Accordingly, the losing team at this point will typically foul the other side–in full view of the officials–in order to take the foul penalty, which stops the game clock, and sends the fouled player to the free throw line, and then gives possession to the fouling team before time is resumed. This isn’t cheating. This is part of the game, and it is how the game is played. In other words, committing a foul and cheating are not the same thing. Point shaving is cheating. Kidnapping an opposing player before the game starts is cheating. But committing fouls is a tool available to every good, smart player.

Further, suppose I know I’ve committed a foul, and the officials don’t see it and don’t call it. Am I supposed to turn myself in? Nobody does that. The rules do not require or encourage it, and doing so would probably get a player severely disciplined by his or her coach. This, too, is part of the game. A foul is only a foul if it is called by the referee. Otherwise, it isn’t a foul. An uncalled foul is just some luck that went in your favor, like a lucky bounce of the ball.

I think the situation is even more clear if we talk about a different game: poker. Now, assuming arguendo that a chivalrous person would be gambling in a poker game (perhaps it is for a charity event), is it unchivalrous to bluff? Is it unchivalrous to deceptively make your hand appear weaker than it is? Obviously not! That’s how poker is properly played. Yet, I think there are quite a lot of people (such as myself) who see a huge distinction between committing a strategic foul or bluffing, and stealing someone’s wallet or lying.

Accordingly, I find myself taking issue with your reply to the coach’s supposed suggestion that players can separate what you do to exploit the rules of a game from what you do outside the game. I think there is a real distinction to be drawn there, and it is not a very subtle one, and it is a distinction that the chivalrous person can and ought to make, in my view.

Very sincerely,


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