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Instant Replay and Social Justice

April 11, 2012
English football (soccer) referee Chris Foy

English football (soccer) referee Chris Foy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know this isn’t a new topic, but I think we need to take another look at instant replay in sports with a 2012 perspective. (If you’re not a sports person keep reading!  I promise it will get interesting!)  I was watching the Manchester United vs. Wigan game today rooting for the underdog like so many others, because that’s human nature.  I mean, isn’t the relegation battle much more interesting than the battle for the league cup?  Who among us can relate to a battle between two legacies duking it out to finish number one? (This is precisely why I respect but can’t stand Duke men’s basketball)  It’s like the “smart kids” in high school debating whether Harvard or Yale is the most prestigious university.  They are both amazing schools but who really gives a crap, most of us are just hoping to get into state college.

The battle for survival, though, is much more real to us.  We love sports for so many reasons, but one thing that makes sports no different than any form of entertainment is that it is a microcosm of our own lives.  We follow the struggles, triumphs, the emotion and the ridiculous irrelevant side stories.  Mathematicians and sociologists alike can analyze a never ending collection of statistics; make predictions and debate human nature and psychology.  It gives all of us regardless of occupation, race, economic status, age or gender a forum to come together and appreciate a craft being performed at its highest level.  Nobody’s opinion is better than anyone else’s and the analysis of a factory worker in Texas with a 4th grade education is often more insightful than that of an Ivy League professor.  Watching sports is no different than watching a symphony perform great music, except the associated gender stereotypes are flipped; men who love the symphony must be gay and women who love sports must be lesbians.  And body checking is generally frowned upon in the symphony, which is why the lesbians generally prefer sports and straight men find lesbians hot.

Anyway, I meant to talk about instant replay.  In the first half a Wigan goal was disallowed by the ref.  Nobody understood why, and I’m not going to speculate because I don’t want to go off topic again.  All I want to point out is that even the Manchester United fans thought it was a legitimate goal.  So why do we accept it?  We have the ability to use instant replay but we don’t.  I’m not saying we should analyze every second of a game and question every decision because that would be absurd.  But every other occupation has some form of oversight to ensure fairness and equity, why not here?  I don’t really want to hear your answer to that because I really don’t care.  And if you are one of those people who think this shouldn’t be a big deal because there are other issues that are more important than you need a wakeup call.

We don’t really look at athletes like people.  We see athletes as overgrown children getting paid absurd amounts of money to play games, so we don’t sympathize when it comes to these issues.  That’s extremely naïve and ignorant.  Don’t we always tell our children that the ultimate success in adult life is to find a job that we love and brings joy to others?  Athletes do as much for humanity as any other profession but most of us don’t really think of them as human.  The most unifying event that exists throughout our planet is based on sports; the Olympics.  Countries at war come together and put aside differences.  We get a glimpse into other cultures without judgment, only respect and appreciation.   Hell, we even keep Bob Costas in cryogenic stasis for three and a half of every four years just to make sure future generations will be able to appreciate the pinnacle of sports reporting with a humanistic perspective and fantastic hair.  One could argue that no other occupation has the power to do more common good.

And for what?  Do athletes really make too much money?  Well, some of them do.  The ones you see in TV commercials at least.  But what about the other 95%?  The names you don’t know unless you are a fan, the second string, and the lower division teams.  Not to mention the non-athletic staff that helps the organizations run.  In the United States, for perspective, professional athletes’ typical salaries range from $50,000 to a few hundred thousand dollars.  In the NBA or NFL, that will shoot up to half a million to a million.  It’s still a lot, but I say it is fair.  Are you going to tell me it’s any easier to become a professional athlete than to start up a successful business?  Or get a PhD?  It’s extremely difficult.  And it is a sacrifice.  The physical toll on the body of an athlete is huge.  It is psychologically exhausting.  And to last into your 30s is rare.   Its no different than saying Wal-Mart greeters make too much money citing the fact that half the Forbes 500 has the last name Walton.

Wigan is fighting to stay in the Premier league next season.  (We should consider using this system in American sports, it might be interesting) Relegation in the EPL means the organization loses £30m-£50m, and where do you think that comes from?  Not the stars that already make millions; they will get sold to another EPL team and probably make a profit in the process.  And in soccer where scoring goals is so difficult, one bad call really can be the difference in a season.  We stigmatize success right now because it is so hard to come by and life is so difficult for most of us regardless of how hard we try.  And most of the successful people we see in the media are there because they had opportunities that we never had.  We can’t forget that some people that are doing really well actually deserve it.  It’s not the end of the world, and there are more pressing issues.  But if there is a problem that is affecting a lot of good hard working people and we have the money and technology to easily fix it without hurting anyone, shouldn’t we?

Update (April 15, 2012):  Anyone watch Chelsea vs. Tottenham?  Enough said.

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