Desperation Moves


In certain modern team sports there are a number of what we may describe as normative, yet legal, "desperation moves" that the team losing a contest may attempt as time begins to run out — provided the deficit is reasonably surmountable. In hockey, for example, the losing team will pull the goaltender in favour of an extra attacking skater; in basketball, a team will foul deliberately in order to force the other team to immediately shoot free throws; in gridiron football, there is the onside kickoff, etc.

Strategically, we might abstract these three examples as follows: in hockey, given the particular status (and equipment) that characterizes the goaltender, the attempt is to create an asymmetry in the number of attacking skaters and put pressure in the opposing zone. In basketball, constrained as it is by a required player symmetry, the attempt is to dilate the temporal parameters of the game, "extending" it by rapidly fouling and hopefully trading off multiple 1-point shots for 2- or 3-point shots at the other end. Gridiron football is also constrained by symmetry, on the one hand, but does not have regular and rapid turnover of possession either, and thus its attempt with the onside kick is to overload a space — or more precisely, to swarm a proximity.

In each case we witness a malleable, plastic quality — stretching, contracting, spasming — that over enough contests will have a statistically significant ability to turn the tide of victory in the timespaces of zero-sum athletic enclosure.

ways of seeing

ways of seeing

NFL / Jan. 3, 2017:

"The National Football League has announced it will honor John Berger during halftime of the AFC wildcard game this Saturday between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers. Berger's pioneering contributions will be remembered with a 2-minute jumbotron tribute and military flyover of Heinz Field."

splitscreen personality




Sport (and its various mediations) perhaps best expresses that "interdimensional" experience of Being-in-the-City within its logic, offering at once in the same "subjectivity" both flâneur (player) and surveillance functions (diagrammatic x's and o's, archival game video).



involution: a phallic object and its envelopment, the relation seemingly turned upon itself; rhythms and waves and particles reconfigured; breath blows the resonant signal that stimulates production.

the only thing that appears to be the same is the prophylactic device.


Chicago Pile-1

We have discussed earlier that the squash court at the University of Chicago offered the site of the first successful critical nuclear reaction in 1942 — thus implying a genealogical link between the material specificity of a sporting space and that required for this most uncertain of laboratory experiments. Chicago Pile-1, the mound of graphite bricks and wooden timbers that constituted the first nuclear reactor, found itself nested neatly within the squash court, the only place on campus with thick enough walls and a sufficiently elevated ceiling to house the experiment.

But it bears keeping in mind that a second architectural nesting takes place, the squash court proper being located underneath the bleachers at Stagg Field football stadium. In other words, the form of the stadium offered the space for a squash court, which thereafter offered space for Enrico Fermi and the Manhattan Project team members.

Put differently, a particular energetic system that is the football game becomes sufficiently popular when "converted" to or "expressed" as a semiosis that there is sufficient demand for larger-scale bleacher seating to be constructed. A new self-contained energetic system emerges in this fold: two bodies orbiting around a tiny rubber part-subject that pings around the concrete bunker, perhaps an allegorical metastability for the rupture that is to come.

Chicago Pile-1

Injection Moulding

injection moulding

We speak often of the relative rigidity of late modern sports, of the hard lines that constitute their disciplinary diagrams and rigorous production of athletic bodies and somewhat statistically-determinate "uncertain" outcomes. We are aware that these lines are in fact legislated as planes and that the sporting space is usually regulated as a volume rather than strictly a spectacular surface.

But it bears remembering that if the stadium is the factory of postmodern sporting production, then it is a certain plasticity which allows one form of assembly to substitute for another on the production line. Put differently, if the NFL is so easily able to transfer production to Wembley Stadium in London, or the FA is likewise able to travel to Washington for production at RFK, it is not only due to a relative congruity or topology between the rectangles that constitute gridiron and association football codes, respectively, but also to certain malleabilities in material and discursive space.

That turfgrass grows sufficiently long for it to be mowed and erase the very "painterly" conditions that govern production in other forms of sporting assembly, for example, is highly relevant to this modularity — an artificial green ecology in the service of a plastic injection moulding called sporting spectacle. And the televisual possibilities of programmed camera angles, intensive lighting, overlay graphics and audio commentary to constitute a coherent and consistent sporting narrative from anywhere in the world only adds to this plastic capability.

Indeed, what is most potentially intractable in this calculation of malleability is the plasticity of the live crowd in attendance at the factory. To what degree can this fleshy thirdness between sporting capital and televisual spectator mediate and suture together the filaments of an experience both synthetically fibrous and viscerally empirical? This is what is at stake in the economic decision to produce or shut down in non-local contexts under the contemporary conditions of plasticity.


(thank you to amy for reminding me about "craptacular" or substandard production under certain plastic conditions. ;)