Late night thoughts: Perfection, sports, and human frailty

The past few days I have a couple of recurring thoughts.  Here they are with The XX as the soundtrack.

One came from the death of Roger Ebert.  In reading about him and listening to a couple of podcasts where his death was a topic a quote of his about movie criticism stood out to me.  I don’t know if I have it exactly right, but it goes something like:  It isn’t about what the movie is about, but how it is about it.

I think that is exactly right.  If a movie is just a big dumb piece of fluff made to make you laugh it doesn’t matter that it has no “message” as long as it does a good and intelligent job of making you laugh.  Sometimes critics (many of whom I like) review the movie or television show they want to see and not the one they are watching.

That is similar to how many sports commentators write about the sports they wish they were watching.  That thought comes from the increasing screaming from the sports intelligentsia in all sports to use technology to make the games better.  Mostly this is done with replays and in soccer’s case “goal-line technology.”  Everyone is obsessed with the games being perfect and no one ever missing a call.

The assumption is that by getting all the calls exactly right we will make the games not better but fairer.  I have to have two problems with that.  One, perfection isn’t attainable, nor is the expectation of perfection the reason I watch sports.  Two, does this technology necessarily make the game better.

Perfection is not something I look to sports to provide me.  I do expect competence and professionalism.  I do expect if someone, like say a referee, is bad at his job he will be fired and replaced with someone else.  However, I don’t watch games to see perfection.  I watch to see something I’ve never seen before.  I watch to see men and women test themselves and overcome obstacles and tests.  I expect to see a facsimile of life in a safe and controlled environment.

Life is a messy thing.  The good guys sometimes lose and the less talented are often rewarded for their lack of effort by people in charge who have no business digging latrines much less being in charge of people or money.  One of my favorite lines in movies is “Deserve has got nothing to do with it.”  Life isn’t fair and it certainly isn’t perfect.  I expect my sports and entertainment to be no different.  I like messy.

The other thing I actually disagree with is that the use of technology will make the games necessarily better.  I watched an NBA game a few weeks ago where the last 30 seconds took 20 minutes for all the stops that needed replay review by the referees.  All the stoppages and calls were correct, but it kind of took you out of the game.  Even the announcers openly questioned if this is what we as players, fans, coaches, etc. want out of the game.  Most sports except football and baseball are games of flow and momentum.  I worry that the technology will end up fundamentally taking away something that makes these games beautiful in the quest for perfection.

One of the reasons we keep wanting to add technology to sports to make them better is we all remember the egregious screw ups by referees.  The technology will solve these problems in the best case scenario.  Everyone uses the best case scenarios to illustrate why these changes will make the game better.  I look things differently.  I always think of the worst case scenario and how this stuff can be screw up something that was fundamentally not broken and how it creates another layer of rules to be broken.

I also remember to screw ups, but they become part of the tapestry of the sports and teams I watch much the same way the screw ups in life become the tapestry on which everyone’s life is built.  I don’t want the technology to take away the human frailty that makes sports wonderful in the first place.


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