Sunday, July 06, 2014

Why I hate Instant replay in Baseball and the World Cup

ESPN ran a very interesting journalism bit about a Christian ministry that has arisen that deals with, of all things, umpires and the complete pressure and disrespect they now get thanks to 24-hour sports talking heads and instant replay culture that feels entitled to get every single call right. I think the article meanders quite a bit off topic and the person being covered advocates some theology that I would probably not agree with at the end of the day, but the general point made is a good one: the move to instant replay entitlement culture creates a dangerous mix of the American penchant to disrespect (and now abuse) anyone in authority and the explosive tribalism of organized sports.

By tribalism in sports, I mean the modern manufactured tribes created, not by ethnic or familial lines, but by blind allegiance and loyalty to a sports team centered on geographic locals. Instead of being a warrior for my familial tribe or clan, as in days of yore, we meet that need by joining a sports tribe, be it the Alabama Crimson Tide, Chicago Bears, or the Boston Red Sox. It gives us that outlet of aggression and battle (sports are a contest, even a blood thirsty one at that) that is often denied us in modern, dare I say, civilized society.

I could argue this train of thought and say 'Sports = bad.' Certainly, many have done that. I admit I am a sports fan. I follow baseball and boxing. I even watch a Colorado Mammoth National Lacrosse League game on occasion (Hey, if you don't do basketball or hockey in the winter, that's about all you get.) I generally keep up with football, but mainly who wins and loses. I have not sat down and watched an entire football game in few years, though I have listened to games periodically on the radio. To survive in Nebraska, you have to at least be able to talk intelligently in conversation about what the Husker football team did on any given Saturday, lest you get tarred and feathered.

I bring all this up because this is one of the reasons I don't like instant replay in Baseball (or really any sports for that matter). Instant replay actually escalates the tribalism and fanaticism of sports fans because it entitles them to further disrespect the umpires calling a game, hence the need for the ministry linked to above in the ESPN article. I think bad calls actually help deescalate violence in sports by fans. It gives them something to gripe about afterwards, and it forces them to respect authority, even if they disagree with it. Circumventing the authority of umpires to call the game as best as they can only 1.) reinforces hatred and bad behavior by fans because it makes them spell umpire blood, fueling even more disrespect for authority in the game, and 2.) actually lessens umpires ability to control games and makes them more dependent on replays in that it makes them sloppy because they know they can just go to replay if they make the wrong play. The even train refs and umpires in a "bang-bang" play to intentionally call it wrongly so that instant replay is triggered and the boys in the booth can sort it out.

This is also why I really dislike the World Cup. It is really just national tribalism in another form: God bless our ball kicking soldiers of the (sports) empire flag waving extravaganza. World Cup fans seem to loose sight of the fact that it is just a game. It engenders national resentment and conflict (Go read any comment board on any sports website covering the World Cup if you do not believe me). They even did a segment on the radio station I listen to in the mornings after the US lost to Germany entitled, "What is America better at than Germany?" If you oppose stereotyping, then that morning was not for you. They were trying to be funny, I realize, but much truth is said in jest.

I continue to be a sports fan so I can remind people that it is just a game. It is a diversion. It should be fun.
When sports ceases to be fun, you have a major problem.

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