Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Principle vs. Moments in Time - Who Wins?

I've always hated the term "It's the principle!!" when it comes to people being right about things. Often times if it's the principle, it thinly veils the need for someone to be right at all costs, even if the situation doesn't immediately warrant being right. The whole principle concept really becomes apparent in two arenas, the courtroom and on the sports field. There's dozens of lawsuits over the most trivial things out there, but because people feel they need to prove their point at any cost, so the cases live on and cost everyone time, energy, and money.

Whether it's a need to feed the ego or the desire to be proven right, I've never understood the need to fight something on principle. Life doesn't always operate that fairly, especially in sports, where much of the situation depends upon human involvement, and last time I checked, we aren't perfect creatures. Officials and umpires make calls based on what they see, and more often than not, they're spot on in making the right call. It's the times where they miss something when the arguments about principle come out of the woodwork.

I learned really early that officials aren't always right when during my 7th grade track career, my relay team was disqualified because I ran out of the lane. Or at least that's what I was told when we finished in the top 3 spots and I thought we were due a long earned ribbon for a job well done. My excitement came crashing down when the officials disqualified my team because I had stepped over the lane marker in a 4 by 100 meter mixed relay (2 guys and 2 girls). The principle argument came up later in the meet when the same official found me, and admitted they had flagged the wrong team, as he mistakenly thought I was the guilty party, but it was the guy in the next lane. Principle would have dictated the race should have been rerun, and we get another chance to run the race for the elusive ribbon, but by the time the mistake was found out, the meet was almost done and so the mistake stood. I had to live with the fact that my team was one of the top 3 teams that day, but didn't have the award to show for my work.

It's hard not to find many of these instances for anyone that has participated in sports at any level for any period of time. We all expect integrity and honesty from the people calling our games, but yet everything breaks loose if they miss a call or call something that doesn't appear to be there. We have trust in the guys and gals calling the games when things are right, but let them miss something and it's a crime that must be punished. And so you have stories about officials being punished for making mistakes, sometimes extremely severely.

I get that we need to hold people accountable for their performance, and part of the reason we have such punishments now is because of some grievous mistakes or officials with personal issues affecting their judgment. Ok, gambling problems is really an extreme description for a personal issue, but when officials have integrity questions, it causes havoc for everyone else as actions get scrutinized more significantly, even if the official doesn't have a history of issues.

The Internet has been showing a lot of angles about a baseball game on Sunday between the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. The Rockies are fighting for their playoff lives, and got the benefit of a call to end the game on Sunday, where it appears that infielder Clint Barmes may or may not have caught the ball to end the game. The umpires made the call that the catch was made, and the game ended, but that hasn't stopped the web from running the subject into the ground, saying the Rockies got away with another one.

The video seems to support people who use principle as their prime argument: the catch was missed and therefore the game should be replayed at that point. It's a simple solution that makes so much sense, but yet what do we gain if we follow that course. You'd have to pull together both teams to pick up the game in the heat of a pennant race, and restart things from that point. This doesn't account for the fact that Colorado still had an at bat left, and could have won the game in the bottom of the ninth. You don't know what might have happened if the game was called correctly, but now we can stand on principle of knowing the truth.

Even if that truth doesn't change anything. The Rockies still get the win to help their cause for the wild card race, the Cardinals are in the playoffs already so the result doesn't hurt them, and the schedule moves on. It's not fair, but at the same time, it's exactly what life is and what sports needs to be at certain points. The better team doesn't always win, the officials don't always get the call right, the scheduling isn't always fair, it's how things work. It would be nice if there was a way to impartially decide things like this, but even in sports that have computers help with calls like tennis, you still have disputes about calls.

I'm not stupid enough to advocate we all go Pollyanna with sports and that arguments like this need to be squashed. I'm just asking that sports fans take a moment of perspective and realize that in the grand scheme of things, calls help teams and calls hurt teams, and if you really look at the situation, nobody benefits anymore or less than anyone else. If you need to be proven right after every bad call that is put up there on the board to make you feel better about your team, I'd expect your sanity to be tested a lot over the years. There's more money in sports, and more attention about results and playoffs, and we'll see this happen more and more. Part of the character of sports is dealing with adversity, and showing class and sportsmanship in victory or defeat.

If you need any lessons in dealing with sports and integrity, just look closely at the West Ham United – Manchester City match on Monday. Carlos Tevez, an Argentinean player, had joined City during the offseason, but was an instrumental player in keeping West Ham out of relegation back in the 2006 – 2007 season. We've since learned about the other legal issues behind Tevez since then, but the simple reality is that West Ham owes Tevez a great deal, as he scored 8 goals to keep the Hammers in the Premiership. As Tevez notched a goal in the 5th minute of the match, he turned to the Hammers supporters and gave them a sheepishly apologetic wave of acknowledgement before his teammates joined him in celebration.

Tevez could have rubbed the moment into Hammers fans, but instead turned the situation into a wonderfully thoughtful, apologetic moment. It's not fair that Tevez left the Hammers, much less left the squad in a legal quagmire about his status that they are still paying for to this day, but the reality is that he moved on. For one magical moment, Tevez acknowledged his former fans and his former club in his triumph, but he did it in a rather classy way. Mistakes were made, sure, but the transcendent moment shared gave everyone a moment to forget the troubles and just be in the moment. And as far as sports are concerned, we should all remember that important lesson. Principle might be nice, but momentous moments are more inspiring.

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