Category Archives: Sports

Why Are Sports Fairer than Law and Politics?

American sports exerts great effort to assure the fairness of their games. Endless replays with camera views from every angle, congressional hearings on whether athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, legal prosecution for alleged betting on performances, and endless scrutiny over the fairness of scheduling, rankings, and post-season participants. New methods to assure fairness on the field are only limited by the current state of technology, or how much delay in their entertainment the audience will tolerate. Off the field negotiations between unions, owners, commissioners, lawyers, and politicians work tirelessly to assure that the games are fair.

Moreover, these standards of fairness and impartiality are often applied more thoroughly in sports than they are in the criminal justice system. There innocent persons are often expeditiously convicted and exonerating evidence withheld—especially for certain kinds of defendants. Perhaps the only exception occurs when the accused are themselves athletes, in which case they sometimes received preferential treatment. If you are lucky enough to have entertainment value or political power, you stand a much better chance of avoiding the law’s wrath.

Or consider our supposed democracy. In it the wealthiest assure themselves of a disproportionate voice in politics. Yet, at the same time, they make sure that the voices of the masses go unheard, by gerrymandering districts and suppressing voting. Those in power generally ignore that society is unjust to the core. Some individuals have unfair, unmerited advantages that virtually guarantee success, while others are burdened with undeserved obstacles that make success almost impossible. Some can’t lose and others can’t win. But to those weaned on Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness and its implicit social Darwinism, this all seems moral.

What could possibly explain all this? Why is the position of a football receiver’s toe relative to the sideline often analyzed in greater detail than the crime of one accused of something that carries a life sentence? Why would Congress possibly care so much about whether baseball players like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens used steroids, but not by their actions that condemns thousands to death for lack of health care, from gun violence, or as mercenaries in their wars? Sure sports is profitable and the profiteers want to keep the money flowing. But why do the politically powerful care so much about sports and not about poverty, pain, war, and torture?

The answer is sinister. The powerful want to make sure their games are “on the up and up” because the entertainment of sports quiets discontent. As Edward Gibbon taught us long ago, the Roman Empire used bread and circuses to control its people. Keep their bellies full and their eyes entertained and they will remain ignorant or apathetic to the injustice that surrounds them. American sport is our circus; it keeps the population mollified. It also inculcates patriotism—flags decorate the player’s uniforms while both performers and audience must stand for the national anthem. This is our civic duty; it is our religion. This helps us forget; it is the opiate of our masses.

Whatever happens, those in power want to make sure that we don’t become dissatisfied with our entertainment. If the masses ever did they might really become angry. And not that their favorite team had lost, but with the violence and injustice that surrounds them.

A Terrible Game of Golf

I played golf today—my occasional escape from the heaviness of writing about the meaning of life. My normal partner, a pleasant seventy-year-old gentlemen and I were paired with two brothers. While one of the brothers was friendly the other began mouthing expletives from the first shot onward. He quickly explained the reason for his terrible play was that he had already downed two glasses of whiskey for breakfast!

He spent the first few holes loudly cursing at the players in front of us, yelling that there weren’t fast enough—fortunately they didn’t hear him. Actually, they were fast players, and within a few holes his incredibly poor play left us well behind them—the marshal had to tell our group to speed up. My drunk playing partner responded by spending an inordinate time in the woods on the next hole looking for a ball that was not going to be found, while the rest of us just kept walking and the group behind us waited on the tee—probably murmuring their own expletives.

The drunk also spent a large part of his time verbally abusing his brother who tried his best to stay sane. By the end of the round, the younger brother was carrying his clubs because his drunk brother had thrown his brother’s clubs out the golf cart. (One of his clubs had been broken in the process.)

Of playing with his drunk brother the younger brother told me, “well you get used to it.” I had hoped the drunk might sober up as we played on, but a fresh supply of liquor during the round made sure that didn’t happen. But it was obvious that the alcohol was a symptom of a deeper problem—this man was a horrific human being. I wanted to quit and in retrospect should have, but I hated to leave my friend alone.

It was the single worst experience I have ever had on a golf course. By the time I picked up my wife from work I needed a drink and drank a rare glass of wine with dinner. And I’m still suffering late tonight from imbibing all that toxic psychological waste at the golf course. The lesson. We have to tolerate each other in life, but we shouldn’t choose abuse.

Football and Resistance to Change

Larry Fitzgerald catches TD at 2009 Pro Bowl.jpg

Every now and then you have to forget the meaning of life and have fun. This story is dedicated to my son and son-in-law who find all this so amusing.

Resistance to change is everywhere—even in sports. Think of the slow embrace of using stats or changing the rules in professional sports. Consider an example. I grew up in St. Louis and our NFL team then was the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals. From 1963 to 1978 our kicker was Jim Bakken.

Bakken was a 4 time pro-bowler and 2 time first team all-pro, one of the best kickers of his era. You can see all his stats here. As you can see Bakken made 63% of his field goals for his career from all distances; about 43% from 40-49 yards; but was 0 for 15 from 50 yards or more. Bakken also missed 19 extra points in his career in 553 attempts. Compare this to stats for kickers in the NFL last year.

As you can see about 1/2 the kickers made over 90% of their field goals almost all the rest made over 80%. Even in the 40-49 yard range most kickers missed very few if any attempts. Last year in the NFL there were 1183 extra points attempts and 5 misses. They made 99.6%!

Today kickers are better for many reasons, but mostly because they kick the ball with their instep. Bakken, like most kickers of his era, kicked with his toe! When the first soccer style kickers came along, they were viewed with suspicion. Who would kick a ball with their instep instead of their toe? Wow that’s radical! That’s what I mean, resistance to change. Humans prefer stasis to dynamism; they are always stuck in the past.

Now to finish my finish my story. In 1974 the St. Louis (football) Cardinals gave a tryout to a soccer player from St. Louis University named Pat Leahy. Naturally the Cardinals kept Bakken and cut Leahy—heck Leahy didn’t kick with his toe! Leahy went on to become the kicker for the Jets from 1974 to 1991.

Leahy finished his career 3rd on the all time scoring list in the NFL. Actually Leahy wasn’t a great kicker by today’s standards, but he was a LOT better than Bakken. So why did the Cardinals chose a toe over a whole foot?

Well kicking a football with your instep is just weird, whereas kicking inaccurately with your toe is normal. That’s just what we do, we use a little pointed toe, the one adjacent to your big toe, the one that sticks out the farthest on some people. Why would you use your much wider whole foot? That just isn’t traditional.

That’s what I mean, resistance to change. It’s everywhere. And, on a serious note, we’ll only survive if we adapt.