“You win a few. You lose a few. Some are rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.”–Satchel Paige
During the NFC Championship last year between the Rams and the Saints, a non-call by the official became the focus of the outcome. The disputed play, an apparent pass interference that negated a hypothetical score, sealed the fate for the Saints and ended their bid to play in Super Bowl LIII (for those of us who don’t speak Roman, that’s 53). As a result, this year there will be a rule in place to review such calls.
Let’s rewind before instant replay became a thing in sports. The first use of instant replay came in 1963 in a football game between Army and Navy. Tony Verna, a young CBS producer was able to replay a touchdown which Lindsey Nelson later called a non-touchdown. Check out this brief history about that event. Now we take for granted the use of instant replay in sports from rugby to rodeo. There are differing opinions about how it has helped and hindered the viewing experience. But the bottom line is this: people have an innate desire for fairness.
In a 14-year-old baseball game against rivals, the home team was at bat. The player hit a hard ground ball up the middle and the shortstop scooped and threw toward first, but with inspired running the batter appeared to beat the throw. When the umpire gave the out signal, the home team dugout erupted in disbelief. “He was safe! You missed it! Bad call, Mr. Ump.” One of the coaches called his players around and made it a teaching moment: “Boys, do you know why our runner was out?” Waiting for some special insight from the coach, the boys were completely attentive. “Because,” the coach continued, “the man in the dark blue shirt called him out.”
Recently, I heard about a little girls’ softball game where a play was disputed. However, it was not handled in the same way. The eight-year-old third baseman was in position to make an important defensive play. The batter pounded the ball into left field where the defender had cleanly fielded it, and made the throw on line to the third baseman who would deliver the tag for the out. When she swiped at the player, it appeared to graze her jersey and the umpire immediately declared the runner out. That should have been the end of the play. Unfortunately it was not.
The opponent’s coach overcome with emotion came charging out of the dugout, not toward the official who made the call, but to the young player. “You never tagged her, did you? You know you never touched her? Tell the truth!” At this juncture the little girl’s coach and parents were headed out to the field. And incredibly, the umpire changed his call to safe. Now I ask you, who were the losers in this scenario? First, the opposing coach who modeled complete lack of self control and respect for the game. There is no instant replay in 8 year old softball…yet. Secondly, the official who made and then reversed his call because of intimidation from the opposing coach. But more importantly, the third base player who was humiliated, put on the spot, pressured by the opposing coach, and whether or not she touched the player, was now put in position to be the official word. It was a no win for her. I understand that the opposing coach later admitted his poor judgment and apologized. But young athletes are tender, and don’t easily forget such an offense.
The truth is that we may someday reach perfection in our pursuit of fairness in sports. But we are not there yet. Until then, there will be some good calls, some bad calls, and some that will continue to be scrutinized and disputed. But good sportsmanship dictates that you “suit up” for all of them and respectfully allow the game to move forward. Especially when learning game decorum should be a priority in the safe arena of youth sports.
- Adults who coach must be extraordinary good sports for the sake of players learning to respect the game.
- Young players play, coaches coach, and officials make the calls.