Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Controversy

Since I don't have writing to write about, I'm going to weigh in on other random interests of mine. This is an "author blog," so it can definitely cover the interests of the author, right? We don't have to be business all the time. (Also, George RR Martin writes a lot about football, and that's what I'm going to do today, so I figure I'm in good company.)

Anyone watch Monday Night Football last night? I did not. But I sure did read about it this morning. The crazy ending seems to be on everyone's mind, and for good reason I suppose. Don't worry, I'm not going to pick on those poor replacement refs. I umpired baseball for five years. Did some soccer and basketball games, too. I've never done a football game, but I feel that there is somewhat a fraternity of officials, no matter what sport. Officiating is not an easy job, especially on the bigger stages. Even with the little league stuff I was doing, you often had unruly parents to deal with. Shocker, I know.

(Random side story. I only ever had to call the cops on a parent one time. I like to think I was a pretty good ump, and generally could explain my calls adequately so that most coaches were placated. There's no instant replay in little league, so while they may question your sense of sight, if you can honestly say what you saw, there's not too much they can do. Disagreements will happen, what matters is if you know the rule you're invoking. Get the rule right, and the rest is just opinion. Most coaches realize this and, though they fight for their kids, will respect you at the end of the game.

With regards to the cop incident, the argument wasn't over a baseball rule, but a league rule regarding equipment. To be fair, it was a bit silly, but it was my job to enforce it, as handed down by my superiors. The parent took issue with it, and threatened to "meet me in the parking lot" after the game. He would not leave the premises. We called the cops. That cooled things off, everyone went home safe.)

So I feel a bit sorry for the replacement refs. Not an easy stage, not an easy job. No officiating is perfect. But here's the thing: what do you imagine the television ratings have done this season? Are people watching less because of the poor officiating? If the media coverage of last night is any indication, more people are tuning in than ever before. It's like the old "train wreck" adage. Human nature is fascinated by the adversity of others. I don't know why. I didn't make the rules.

While we all sit here and say "the NFL has to do something," I feel like I should ask "why?" The NFL is in the entertainment business. Are you not entertained? Is angry entertainment still not entertainment?

It's an interesting thought. Any long time football coach can tell you that the Packers didn't lose that game on the last play. They lost the game because they put themselves in a situation to lose. By now, everyone should know not to depend on the refs to bail you out. If a bad call can hurt you, you have to assume it's going to. You need to play the rest of the game so strongly that there is no doubt at the end of regulation. You cannot blame a loss entirely on a referee, no matter how awful the call.

If I'm an NFL exec, I might be sitting back, cackling with fingers steeple and saying, "Let them stew for a bit. Ratings are up. We're making more money than ever. What's the rush?" Meanwhile, the old refs are out of work, and all it takes are some well placed comments to make it sound like they're the ones "holding out." Then the ire turns on them, and the big wigs keep getting rich. Sometime during the season, they can come up with some "miracle" of compromise, bringing the old refs back in to save the day. Perhaps right before tournament time. Can't ruin the Super Bowl, right? Too much $$ there.

Maybe this is a somewhat cynical view. Perhaps everyone is really trying, in good faith, to get the proper folks on the field as soon as possible. I just know how controversy works. Reality TV didn't rake in the cash because of its utter predictability and happy endings. We, as humans, love controversy. It's entertaining, and we'll pay good money for entertainment. One need only look at photos of the Coliseum in Rome to remember how basic our love of struggle can be; how "old hat" it is.

It sucks to be on the wrong end of a bad call. It really does. Losing isn't fun, either. But--dang!--did we have something to talk about around the water cooler this morning, didn't we?


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