This is deserving of a longer post, but in the aftermath of the controversial end to last Sunday’s Super Bowl, I wanted to make a quick point about electronic review in sports.
I’m against it. Always. My feeling has always been that referees and judges and umpires are participants in the ebb and flow of an event rather than mere arbiters. The errors they make and the injustices they foist upon players and teams are part and parcel of the game, inextricably bound up with what makes sport so heartbreaking and so exciting. In tennis, American football, international football, boxing, or any other sport, the fallibility of the referee enhances rather than detracts from the beauty of the game.
One of the under-emphasized pleasures of being a sports fan is the strange delight one takes in grumbling, sometimes for years, about a bad call that cost your team the game. There is a strange but unmistakable thrill — in sport if not in the rest of life — about the sensation of being defrauded by caprice or incompetence or fate. I shouted with outrage at the television when the referees allowed Diego Maradona’s “hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup against England. I’ve never forgotten the outrageous injustice of it. But there is real pleasure in nurturing that resentment against the referees (and, for that matter, Argentine football). I would rather have the pain of being robbed than endure the dreariness of having beautiful games become subject to pauses and replays and electronic second-guessing from an official’s booth.
When it comes to medicine and finance and marking student papers, I’m all for careful review and the willingness of all involved to see an initial decision overturned. But sport is about emotion and effort and guts and impulse — and I want my referees to do the best they can to the best of their frail human ability. Leave the computers and the video monitors out of their decisions, and give us all a more fluid game and the chance to engage in the wonderfully satisfying practice of whining about bad calls for days, weeks, and years afterwards.