Tuesday, September 25, 2012
From a very early age, children exhibit an innate appreciation for equity and fairness. As a rather powerful illustration of the natural law, a young child without training or prompting will protest violations of the demands of simple justice: “It’s not fair.”
To build character in our children and to strengthen their sense of fair play, we often play games. We teach our children that games have rules, which should be applied evenly to all, with wisdom and discretion, and with competence. Those who play by the rules should be rewarded. Those who do not should be penalized.
The appeal of, some might say the obsession for, sports in our society reflects not merely a desire for recreation and release (which are legitimate human desires) but an internal need to see good human traits modeled. Against the sometimes random imposition of harms and garnishing of goods, sports at its ideal elevates quality above mediocrity, hard work above laziness, skill above chance, and even right above wrong.
As with any human endeavor, our ideals fall short. But if a sports activity fails to comport with expectations of fair play on a regular basis, the pattern of inequity undermines our sense of integrity. When the rules are not faithfully applied, we are discouraged. If the rules are constantly flouted – or misapplied – we are demoralized. Indeed, if those who apply the rules lack proficiency and the outcome of the contest then is determined by incompetent application, the effect over time can undermine character, because the worst of human traits are then modeled.
Such is becoming the case in the National Football League. As the owners’ lockout of the officials stretches past the third week of the regular season, the incidents of obvious failures in application of the rules and embarrassingly poor calls continue to multiply.
Last night, the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks was decided on a bad call by the officials that will be remembered in football history. But not only was the game-deciding call a travesty, it followed close on the heels of two other questionable rulings by the officials that set the stage for the closing errors.
Let me offer a brief summary for those who missed the game (the closing minutes of which are available on the embedded videos): As the Seahawks began the final offensive possession of the game, the Packers led by a score of 12 to 7. The game abruptly came to what effectively should have been an early end when the Packers intercepted a pass. But the turn-over was then turned-over by a penalty on the Packers for roughing the passer, a dubious call as the Packer defender was in pursuit and already in the air to make a tackle on the Seahawk quarterback when the ball was thrown (and the tackle was clean and certainly not a hard hit).
A few plays later came an egregious example of offensive pass interference. As the Packer defender turned to catch the thrown pass, the Seahawk receiver grabbed his shoulder pad and jerked him away. But the resulting call by the official went in the opposite direction –- defensive pass interference. This gave the Seahawks a first down and keeping their hopes alive.
The last play of the game, as time ran out, was the classic “Hail Mary” pass by Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson into the end zone. Golden Tate, committed offensive pass interference by pushing Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. Even the NFL’s later announcement defending the officials acknowledged that this should have resulted in a penalty for offensive pass interference and ended the game with a Packer victory. But the errors didn’t stop there.
Packer safety M.D. Jennings leaped up the highest, caught the ball with both hands, and pulled it to his chest –- an obvious interception, which also should have ended the game with a Packer victory. After Jennings had caught it and taken full possession, Tate managed to insert a single hand on to the ball as they wrestled to the ground. One official came to the pile-up and signaled interception/time expired, but another official signaled a touchdown. After review, the later call was endorsed.NFL Rules provide: Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.
As the video shows, and the game commentators confirm, Jennings plainly had full possession and thus intercepted the pass. Not only would Tate’s attempt to take joint control by wrestling for it afterward not count, he never did actually obtain joint control but only managed to get one arm on to the ball.
The NFL owners have delayed the resolution of the official lock-out, betting that the fans are so in love with the game that they will accept anything to get another Sunday of football. As Steve Young (Hall of Fame, Superbowl Champion, former 49ers quarterback) said in the broadcast excerpt embedded here, the owners believe that NFL games are “inelastic for demand.” They think “[t]here is nothing they can do to hurt the demand of the game. So the bottom line is they don’t care. Player safety doesn’t matter in this case. Bring Division III officials [that is, use replacement officials from small college football]? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end you’re still going to watch the game.”
No, I’m not.
I am a proud Cheesehead. I love the Green Bay Packers. I regularly make the trip from Minneapolis to Green Bay to go to games at hallowed Lambeau Field. Every Sunday I take a break from whatever else I am doing to watch the Packers play.But not next Sunday. I will not watch another NFL game -– even if my beloved Packers are playing –- until competent, career officials return to the field. It’s the principle of the matter.