*Editor’s Note: The First Section is a Rant on the Stanley Cup. The Real Article Begins in the Second Section. Enjoy*
Bad Officiating Breaks the Promise Implicit in Sports
Nole Acciari was slew-footed. Acciari knew it. Every person watching in person or on television knew it. Hell, even Tyler Bozak knew it. But, the only person who did not think it was a trip was Kelly Sutherland, the NHL referee who could, and should, have made the call. Immediately afterward, the St. Louis Blues scored the eventual game-winning goal in a 2-1 game to go up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals. The NHL, which is continuing its generally disgraceful work during the playoffs, was so ashamed of the call they purposely edited it out of their Twitter highlight. It was yet another instance of bad officiating. Just another cherry on top of the bad officiating sundae that was Game Five.
But Game Five is not an outlier. The entire series is a case study in bad officiating. The Blues are probably going to have a second player suspended for a hit. The first one was at least called a penalty, albeit a minor penalty in the game. The Ivan Barbashev shoulder to Marcus Johannson’s head was not even called. Despite occurring directly in front of Sutherland. But it does not stop there.
David Backes, he of the concussion history, has had to contend with his face being the point of contact for the majority of the hits laid on him by the Blues. That is to say when he is not getting (legally?) hogtied by his friend. Going back further, the entire Stanley Cup playoffs have been riddled with baffling decisions and missed calls. One of which completely gave a game to the Blues’ opponent in these same playoffs. The NHL is not alone. The NFL had their moment in the NFC championship game. MLB fans constantly gripe about the ineffectiveness of umpires. And the NBA… well… the NBA is the one place where conspiracy theory fans were actually right.
Where Does the Anger in Bad Officiating Come From?
So why do we as fans, knowing that bad officiating is as likely as good officiating, still get angry when the stripes, zebras and blues show their fallibility? We get angry because bad officiating breaks the implicit promise in sports. The one promise and deal that sport makes with its fans before the start of every game. Prior to the jump ball. Before the puck drop, the kickoff, and the first pitch, sports promise us that what you are about to see–and hopefully enjoy–is fair. That it is on the level.
Bad officiating makes fans think and utter the most baby-ish yet universally understood complaint there is; that was not fair.
At its core, sport is a promise of fairness. Everybody that is about to engage in the competition is playing under the same set of rules. Rules that were agreed upon beforehand. Sometimes minutes beforehand as in a sandlot baseball game or a blacktop streetball game, or centuries beforehand in sports like soccer and competitions like chess.
Those rules are set in place and all of the competitors are expected to abide by those rules. If you do not, you are shunned as a cheater. Maybe the worst possible slur you can level at an athlete or competitor. To cheat is to break the promise you made to your fellow competitors and to all the competitors that came before you. This is why the punishment for cheating in all arenas is usually so zealous; if you are found cheating, your actions reveal you do not belong in the sport. You are cast out and ostracized.
But when bad officiating rears its ugly head, the fans and competitors feel like they have been cheated. Worse, it is by the people designated as the governing persons of the competition. They are the ones who are supposed to be watching and ensuring that those rules are maintained throughout the affair. Their mere presence is a promise that those same rules–the ones everybody agreed to follow prior to commencement–will be followed until the completion of the event.
Bad officials are breaking that promise. But it is doubly bad because we as fans and as competitors have put our faith in those officials and are realizing in real time our faith was misplaced. And sports are nothing but an idea that our faith in others is going to be rewarded in some fashion. Bad officiating is a testament that this is a gutsy, and sometimes stupid proposition.
We do not want to be reminded that sports are silly. That they are stupid. Bad officiating reminds us of this (in the NHL lately, on an almost game-to-game basis).
But for all their silliness and stupidity, sports are beautiful. They bring us together. Make us feel a part of a larger community. Connect us through the generations. Let us tell the greatest of bedtime stories. It is simple; sports are human. They are life. The perfection and fallibility all in one spot.
Even the bad officiating. When it seems like it is at its most unfair. It is the perfect encapsulation of humanity and life. Because what is life if not unfair? Even though bad officiating breaks the promise that sports offer; that here is the one place in life where you can expect fairness. Through all of the unfairness of life and sports, we have to accept it all. Accept our fate. Just move on to the next day and the next play and the next game. So through sports and bad officiating, we learn how to deal with the unfairness of it all, and move on…
BUT SERIOUSLY KELLY SUTHERLAND? YOU WERE STARING RIGHT AT IT!!! THAT WAS AWFUL, ABYSMAL AND OTHERWISE ATROCIOUS!!!