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Devon McTavish Philosophizes

So Sharon Ryan, the philosophy chair at West Virginia, started this blog called "The Question," which asks ordinary non-philosophers to get a tad philosophical. And it seems The Question has been getting all sporty. West Virginia sports celebs like Jerry West, Rich Rodriguez, John Beilein and Mike Gansey have participated, and many of The Question's questions have been about sporty matters. From the university release:

THE QUESTION is actually a series of questions, and Ryan's budding philosophers to date have bumped up against such brow-wrinklers as "Does God exist?" and "When is War OK?" to "Are NASCAR drivers athletes?"

Ryan has been more than pleased, she said, with what she calls "amazingly thoughtful" answers from the young respondents.

[Pretty quick transition from "Does God exist" to "Are NASCAR drivers athletes." I would have softened the transition somehow. How 'bout this; "Are NASCAR drivers Gods?" Btw, Jimmie Johnson is coming to the White House on Monday.]

Anyhow, Steve Rushin wrote about The Question in SI, although you need to be a subscriber to read his column. That's cool. Here's an excerpt:

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 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?

"Damn right 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 Pittsnogle.

Anyhow, a WVU employee e-mailed to suggest I ask The Question of D.C. United midfielder Devon McTavish. Since the Bog is requiring McTavish to make a major step up this season, in the absence of some of his most Bog-friendly ex-teammates, I gladly agreed.

Problem No. 1: "I'm not a philosophizer," McTavish told me this afternoon. (He was joking.) "I'm not about the whole philosophy thing," he continued. "That's not me."

He took one philosophy course online. It was the last course he needed to graduate. He got a B. Anyhow, the whole point of this exercise is you don't need to be a philosopher to philosophize, so we pressed on.

Is winning everything: "Winning is 99 percent of everything," he said, before correcting himself. "No, winning is not everything."

What's the difference between a game and a sport: "A sport takes endurance and athletic ability," Devon said.

"A game doesn't necessarily take athletic ability," rookie Ricky Schramm agreed.

"It takes thinking and knowledge," McTavish continued.

What is a Mountaineer Fan: "A Mountaineer fan supports the team during its lowest time and its best time, and burns couches during its best time," McTavish said.

What is a family: "Everything. Better than winning. Family is everything," he said.

What is a team: "I don't know. I'm going to skip to 'Are NASCAR drivers athletes,'" he said.

Are NASCAR drivers athletes: "You know what, I actually think they are," he said. "It's like 120 degrees in there, that's tough to deal with. It takes endurance; a sport takes endurance. I don't know about athletic ability, but it takes a lot of things: you've got to be smart, to have some type of sense of the sport. I'd say they're athletes, I'd give them that."

What is right and wrong: "It's in the eyes of the beholder, right?" he said.

Whereupon I said I couldn't really answer that question, since the answer to that question would be in the eyes of the beholder. Anyhow, in an effort to get Devon actually listed on The Question, we revisited the "Is winning everything" query, a tad more seriously.

"Winning is a way of life," he said. "It's how you live your life. You either want to win, or you're content with being mediocre....When you get to this level, it's all about winning, obviously, but growing up, winning's not everything. In college, people [still] just want to play the sport. It's different for everyone, but winning is definitely a way of life."

I asked if this meant there wasn't some inherent satisfaction merely in competing.

"There's satisfaction in playing the game, but unless you win, still, at the end of the day, you're not glad that you played the game, you're upset that you lost," he said. "But if you win, everything feels right: you're happy about playing, you're happy about winning, you're happy about your girlfriend. Everything feels right when you're winning."

[Not that dissimilar from Mike Gansey's answer: "I truly believe winning is everything....winning is everything because if you win, everyone's happy." Me, I'm satisfied as long as I get to watch 'American Idol' at night. By the way, United rookie Jay Needham--who once told me he doesn't like 'Idol'--told me today that I got him hooked on the show and that he actually watched it last night. See, it is possible to each of us to make the world a better place.]

Since so many United guys are involved in youth coaching, I asked Devon whether this winning-is-everything formulation was different at the youth level.

"It's a lot different," Devon said. "You'll come across [kids] where winning is everything for them, but for the most part, across the board it's just wanting to play the game. It switches down the line. It depends who you are, but I think at the professional level everyone knows it's about winning, whereas in college it's probably still 50-50; in high school, 25 percent are about winning and 75 percent just wanting to play the game."

So that was our attempt at philosophizing. Let's hope Devon gets listed on The Question. I suppose I should have taken video, or asked him about God. Next time.

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 1, 2007; 5:03 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United , Media  
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You. Are. A. God.

Posted by: Dave O. | February 1, 2007 5:18 PM | Report abuse

im still stuck on what is the sound of one hand clapping.

Posted by: pete | February 1, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I've gotten into more than a few physical confrontations over this one:

If a tree falls in a forest and nobody's around to hear it, does it make a sound?

What do you and Devon think about this?

Posted by: LD | February 1, 2007 7:07 PM | Report abuse

More appropriately for Devon: If a ball goes in a net in Kansas City, and nobody's around to see it.....well, he'll find out later this year.

Dan, who is it that has the Tommy Soehn, with mullett/hair, card? And why hasn't that appeared on here yet?

Posted by: Kim | February 1, 2007 7:12 PM | Report abuse

I think a sport has to have a non-subjective scoring standard. And I think points for creativity and spirit should be outlawed in "sports".

Posted by: Maggie | February 1, 2007 7:30 PM | Report abuse

We want to know if McTavish has been on any kid's action shows. This is important to know if he is going to be your new boy wonder. And in keeping with the philosophical theme... is Guts a sport?

Posted by: Maggie & Kim | February 1, 2007 7:34 PM | Report abuse

the test for sports, is the same as for pornography, you know it when you see it. havent seen it in the comcast center all year.

Posted by: pete | February 1, 2007 10:16 PM | Report abuse

You might have mentioned that Devon McTavish is a graduate of West Virginia University and played soccer there. Sharon Ryan, the chair of Philosophy who started all this, rocks.

Posted by: Mountaineer Mama | February 2, 2007 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Mountaineer Mama, are you a Mountaineer Mama of anyone famous or remotely famous? We're kinda keeping track celebs and near-celebs and their parents that post here.

Posted by: Kim | February 2, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Don't watch Idol. It's Idolatry! Don't give that smug Simon Cowell any reason to crow. Don't watch. Let it get cancelled.

Posted by: False Idolatry | February 2, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Gansey's not playing anywhere right now?

It was painful to watch the NBA draft and see his name at the top of the undrafted prospects list for over an entire round.

Painful for him, anyway.

Posted by: Louis | February 2, 2007 12:08 PM | Report abuse

If a tree falls in the forest and hits Ashley Simpson, does someone else scream?

Posted by: VOR | February 2, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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