Thursday, July 15, 2010

How should we respond to umpire errors?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Detroit Tiger pitcher Amando Galarraga threw a perfect game on June 2, but umpire Jim Joyce spoiled it. Joyce made a bad call on the final out, calling someone safe at first when replays showed he was actually out. Joyce admitted his error. But it ruined Galarraga’s chance to get his name in record books.

Referees were blamed for many bad calls in the World Cup, including one that cost the United States a victory against Slovenia. Now international soccer authorities are considering instant replay in some cases.

In cricket, referees at the top level have been criticized for a number “jaw-dropping” errors. The sport is developing an umpire decision review system.

However, it doesn’t take a computer to see that referees and umpires are imperfect and that sometimes they make mistakes that are game-changing, as this list of the top gaffes by referees will show. But if you look at the No. 1 mistake, you’ll see it involved an instant replay. Referees even make mistakes when it comes to rules about use of video to review their mistakes.

Perhaps someday there could be a perfect “robot umpire” (but that’s criticized as boring).Using video replay for more than a few calls would slow down the game. Even if robot refs or video replay were adopted for use at the highest levels of sport – for professional and World Cup games -- such methods seem impractical at lower levels, where most athletes engage in sport.

What, then, should a coach teach young athletes about referees and referee errors? And how should a referee respond after making an error?

It seems that response to umpiring errors may be a great measure of attitude toward the game. If errors only matter when they appear to change the outcome against us, it shows that we value winning and losing more than other considerations of the game. If, on the other hand, we look at umpire errors as though they were the wind and rain, the bounce of an oblong football, or the shape of a ballpark, we may find new importance in the underlying values of the game. Did we work as hard as we could? Did we make the right strategic choices? Did we treat everyone on the field, including our opponents and the officials, with respect? Would we shout at the wind for blowing a pass off course or kick dirt at the wall that stood a few feet too far oout for our home-run attempt?

Joyce made a mistake. It in no way cheapens Galarraga’s effort. Can you name the other four pitchers who hurled no-hitters this year? If not, the apology of Joyce and grace of Galarraga may have serve up more memorable lessons. The game goes on no matter what the umpire calls. And most of life takes place off the playing field.

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll has to say about umpires and the game.

What do you think about umpires and referees? Click here to take survey

Monday, July 12, 2010

Would you break a rule to prevent your opponent from winning?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Seconds from the end of overtime in a World Cup quarterfinal, Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah headed a ball toward Uruguay’s net. Uruguay’s goalie was nowhere near it. The ball was heading high toward the top of the net. That’s when Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, standing on goal line nearly inside the net, leaped up and knocked the ball away with his fist.

The referee gave Suarez a red card and threw him out of the game. The handball was clearly illegal. But Ghana missed the penalty kick and the game ended. Uruguay won the match in the shootout. Suarez became a hero in Uruguay — and a goat in Ghana and many other parts of the world.

Some writers say it was morally wrong for Suarez to break the rules to win the game. Suarez thinks it was the right thing to do: “It was worth it to be sent off in this way. It was complicated and tough. We suffered to the end but the hand of god is mine now.”

Other athletes feel as Suarez does. Suresh Menon comments in Tehelka Magazine:

“CONSIDER GERMAN goalkeeper Manuel Neur’s reaction to the goal by England’s Lampard that was disallowed by the referee: ‘After I turned around, I just focused on the ball. I tried to continue playing quickly so that the referees wouldn’t notice the ball was in.’ Or Thierry Henry’s confession after the referee failed to notice his handball that led to a goal in the crucial qualifying game that knocked Ireland out of the reckoning: ‘It was a handball. But I am not the referee. I played it, the ref allowed it,’ and then, ‘It was necessary to exploit what was exploitable.’

“At what point did fair play and sportsmanship ooze out of sport so thoroughly to be replaced by the need to win at all costs, and the deification of the cheat who doesn’t get caught? On the other hand, why should sport — widely believed to mirror society — answer to a greater morality than other fields of human endeavour?”

Philosophers and researchers know, even child’s play is governed by rules that determine the structure of the game. German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer noted that the structure of the game is critically important to the players. As Bert Oliver wrote, “It is more a case of the players being played by the game than the other way around. The structure of the game — whatever it is — makes certain demands on the players, and if they overstep these demands or ignore them, the game stagnates.”

What happens when a player willingly breaks the rules to win a game? Does it hurt the game? Or is the action of Suarez indicative of a set of rules outside the game, rules that encourage gamesmanship, interference by fans and abuse of officials? Have we created a new game structure where such thing are expected because winning is so important?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To whom should LeBron James be loyal?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Loyalty is such a fickle virtue. Fans in Cleveland burned the jersey of LeBron James because he decided to sign with Miami.

The question wasn’t money. James would have made more money in Cleveland. And fans expected him to be loyal to the city. However, James’ question really wasn’t loyalty. James was loyal – to winning, and perhaps to his new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Wade, Bosh and James plotted the deal that brought them together to form a new NBA powerhouse. Reportedly, they’ve talked about playing together professionally ever since their days on the U.S. Olympic team. It’s not collusion when players themselves decide to play together. It’s about maximizing returns in money and victories.

Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert didn’t see it that way, of course. He called James a quitter and a coward. Many writers sided with Gilbert, saying James was neither loyal nor royal in his treatment of Cleveland.

Others, however, say James owes no loyalty to anyone, particularly owners. The Reason Foundation emphasizes that basketball is a team sport, and that James is merely doing what a rational entrepreneur would do: taking his talent to the most productive place.

Kevin Garnett, who labored for years on unproductive Minnesota teams, said loyalty may actually be harmful to a player: "Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can't get youth back.”

But one interesting question for all of us is what James’ actions say about loyalty as a virtue in sports and in life. One human relations writer called it the “death of loyalty.” Lance Haun said loyalty can no longer be expected from top performers in sports or business, and called on executives to quit building their teams on the superstars: “Whether you have a roster of 15 or a business of 15,000, you can’t just do it with your top 5 percent. And if all your business actions are focused on appeasing those one or two superstars, just remember that when they leave you need a Plan B (or even Plan C).”

Basketball coach John Wooden preached loyalty, but he preached it as part of a team approach to the game. "The main ingredient in stardom," Wooden told his players, "is the rest of the team."

How important is loyalty is sports today? Who should athletes be loyal to? For how long? And what kind of example is James when it comes to loyalty?

Here's what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says about loyalty.