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PSA regarding sports officials

Tuesday 5/16/23

I was talking to someone on Sunday who will have a game on, but doesn't get caught up in--or exposed to--the claptrap that accompanies sports in the form of commentary and social media postings. I asked them what they would think is the topic that is more commonly talked about--obsessed over, really--than any other? They said, "Winning?" Not really, I'd counter. It's the officiating.

I see people of all ages and backgrounds blame officials for damn near everything. I see people who are otherwise reasonable do this. You watch the people on one side of the aisle claim that the officials have it in for their team, and during the same game, you watch the people on the other side of the aisle make the exact same claims.

Here is the truth: your team, whether you are on it or just root for it, lost because they got beat by the other team. Not by the other team and the officials. I have never failed to understand something this ostensibly simple, which I guess isn't simple at all, given how people think. Does a call sometimes happen that shouldn't that changes the outcome of a game in the way that it shouldn't? Yes. Can you overcome? Yes. Should you? I think so. What is life about but overcoming? If you try. If you compete. If you play its game.

But that's one game we're talking about there. In a seven game series, the officials have very little--to the point of nothing--to do with the outcome.

The way a seven game series works is, the team who is the better team wins. Now, you might say that in hockey that's not always true, because of the role of a hot goalie, which is more a thing of the past--a goalie stealing a series--than a current day thing, since goalies, on account of size, equipment, technique, are more interchangeable than ever.

But take a famous example, the 1971 playoff series between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens. You're always told that the latter won because of the play of goaltender Ken Dryden. And that had something to do with it. But the Bruins also served up 7 goals in one game and 8 in another. That's why they lost. That's why they weren't the better team. Ken Dryden wasn't whistling wristers into the top of the Bruins' net. Ken Dryden wasn't causing the Bruins' defense to break down time and time again, despite having the (somewhat) overrated (gasp!) Bobby Orr.

To lose a 7 game series is to be beat by a team that is either better than you, or was better than you for two weeks. It's that and nothing else. When the Bruins went up 3-1 on the Panthers this year and then lost the series, they lost because they got their asses handed to them. I don't care if that meant two OT wins for the Panthers. This is reality. It doesn't matter if you lose by three goals or in the extra session. Drop three in a row, in that position, and you were beat by a better team. The referees could be perfect alien beings who get no calls wrong, or they could be dispensed with almost entirely. You were beat. The same as the Maple Leafs in the next series against Florida, despite the predictable protestations of perhaps the most predictable fan base in North American sports.

Someone held someone's stick on a goal? So?

Let's say it was awful, egregious, all of that. When you're good enough to win, you find a way to win. One play that doesn't go your way doesn't sink you.

People have no idea at all what a truly rigged system is. I live a life in which I essentially have thousands of referees rigging a game against me, and forcing me to play, too, with one player against dozens, and spotting the other team a 50-0 lead before the puck has been dropped. And I am going to prevail. It's a long series.

Sports is the last meritocracy we have in this country. Everything else happens for other reasons that have nothing to do with anyone's ability. Are sports perfect? No. Do you know why?

Because nothing is perfect.

How basic is that? So, what? One is upset that it's the closest thing to being perfectly merit based but it's not 100% perfect? That's what one complains about?

What perspective of value, then, can one have on anything? On sports? Let alone life and how that works.

Why even comment on the officials? Who cares? It's not relevant. It's not why one team is beating another. And the people who comment once, comment every time. It's their thing. Every game, every series, every year.

How can you have any credibility then? And if you don't have if you have credibility, how can anyone take you seriously as anything? Either a human, or just a simple watcher of sports.


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