THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Ian Grimley
Treasurer, Board of Directors
It is now widely accepted that sports, at least on the professional level (and collegiate level in the United States), is hyper-commercialized and considered to be big business. Tune into any professional sporting event and you’ll get a glimpse of millionaire athletes who get their checks signed by billionaire owners. You’ll also see advertisements galore, including the numerous television commercials, the large billboards around the stadiums, and, in some cases, advertisements on players’ uniforms. As cynical as it might sound, the sports we love have turned into massive profit-making operations.
This monetization of sports on a massive level has opened the door for large sums of money to be poured into sportswashing, the term used to describe individuals, corporations, or governments using sports to rehabilitate their public image. It is one of the most common forms of reputation laundering. For example, the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Berlin, Germany, is considered an early example of sportswashing. Among other reasons, the games were used to portray the image of Nazi Germany as a forward-thinking and orderly society. Similarly, in the modern day, 2022 was branded “The Year of Sportswashing” after the Beijing Olympics, the emergence of the Saudi government-backed LIV Golf Tour, and the FIFA World Cup held in Qatar.
Ultimately, sportswashing is a gamble that claims one will overlook human rights abuses and conveniently forget about other larger issues in favor of the glory of sport. Here’s the thing, though: it works.
For example, soccer (or football, depending on where you live in the world) has become a juicy target for individuals and governments in need of a public relations campaign to clean up their image. The FIFA World Cup, soccer’s showcase event and the most watched sporting event in the world, has been hosted on numerous occasions by countries with repressive governments. These include the 1934 World Cup hosted by Mussolini’s Italy, the 1978 World Cup held in Argentina under a military dictatorship that was responsible for the disappearance of anywhere from 9,000 to 30,000 political opponents, and the 2022 World Cup held in Qatar, which was held in venues built by migrant workers forced to work in inhumane conditions, causing the deaths of an estimated 6,500 of said workers. The intrinsic glory of a country’s athletic pursuit of excellence and the national pride associated with it can easily outweigh and overshadow other issues that might have more importance than entertainment.
State ownership of soccer teams is another sportswashing tool. Once upon a time, Manchester City were a team that was average at best. They were dwarfed in every conceivable way by their crosstown rival, Manchester United. Since being taken over in 2008 by the royal family of the United Arab Emirates, an authoritarian theocracy which operates in a similar manner to Qatar, Man City have won six English Premier League titles and one European Champions’ League title. The attention paid to what is happening on the pitch dwarfs the attention paid to what issues might be plaguing the people of the UAE.
The end goal of sportswashing is to get ordinary people to defend, excuse, or refuse to acknowledge the actions of individuals who crave nothing more than money and power, usually to the detriment of others. (One might submit that it becomes a corollary of the “fanboy phenomenon” discussed previously in OSIP’s publications.)
What can one do to combat sportswashing? Specific victories have come through the coordinated organization of larger groups of people. Earlier this year, FIFA dropped Visit Saudi, the Saudi Arabian government’s official tourism board, as an official sponsor of the Women’s World Cup after an outcry from soccer players taking part in the tournament.
However, such a victory may not give off the feeling that the fans have made a dent in this conflict. The fact of the matter is that we must accept that sportswashing isn’t going away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that we need to boycott or refuse to watch our favorite sports. Simply acknowledging that it exists can be the first step to a better understanding and consciousness as we lobby for a culture with better sportsmanship. We can appreciate the glory of our favorite sports and root for our favorite teams while also acknowledging the shortcomings of those in power who cause this phenomenon to occur.
Further, we can use sporting events to shine a light on issues that some would like to be swept under the rug. For example, in Germany, fans of the soccer club Bayern Munich have been particularly critical of their club’s relationship with Qatar due to the team’s annual midseason trips since 2011. Because the fans spoke up, that relationship was not renewed earlier this year.
Although money and power will always talk, people can rise above it. The intangibles of sports such as the pursuit of excellence and the association with winning do not have to direct the narrative away from facts; in fact, both can exist simultaneously. The power to send a message exists even with the conscious awareness of the truth.
By Jack Furlong
Watch any Major League Baseball game on television and there’s a chance you will hear an announcer use a phrase that is equal parts passive-aggressive, patronizing, and poor sportsmanship.
“It didn’t have to be.”
The phrase usually refers to an opinion regarding an umpire’s strike zone. Television graphics have advanced to the point where many broadcasts overlay an opaque box from the centerfield camera that attempts to represent the strike zone, and the broadcasters believe that the graphic is gospel when helping determine whether the calls made by the home plate umpire are correct. If a pitch lands outside of the box, yet is called a strike by the umpire, broadcasters take the opportunity take a snipe at the umpire for, in their opinion, being incorrect.
“The 1-0 pitch is called a strike, but it didn’t have to be.”
The use of this phrase furthers the narrative that authority figures do not have to be respected. It is a snide way to take a cheap shot without repercussions at someone who may not have the same opportunity to respond to the remark. Broadcasters are placing guised opinions into the dissemination of information, very much like the biased news casts that come from both sides of the political spectrum, which subconsciously sink into the psyche of viewers and are imitated by the public.
However, rather than attempt to edify against the use of this phrase with opinions, a better method to explain why this phrase should not be used is to explain why the graphic on the screen used by broadcasters is faulty and should be discontinued. If the box is removed from the broadcast, perhaps the opportunities to use the phrase will disappear.
Let’s begin with the height of the box, which does not change from batter to batter. The strike zone for each hitter is defined in the rules as the midpoint between the shoulders and the waist down to the hollow of the knee (the adage being “from the letters to the knees”). As ballplayers are not robots designed with the same specifications, every hitter will naturally have a different strike zone. For example, the strike zone for Aaron Judge will be much larger than the strike zone for Jose Altuve. Yet, the box on the screen has not once changed in height to adjust for these differences.
Second, the strike zone is meant to be three dimensional. A pitch needs only to catch any part of this three-dimensional zone to be deemed a strike by the umpire. The box on the screen is two-dimensional, more like a windowpane with no depth that needs to be touched by the pitch. Further, much like the lack of adjustments made for height, the position of the box in relation to the depth of the plate is never fully clear. Sure, we can be told the box is placed at the front of the plate (or at least in the correct spot), but such a representation cannot truly be trusted, similarly to how the height of the box cannot be trusted.
Third, the statistical analysis of how human umpires view pitches based on their setup and mechanics behind the catcher has shown an exceptional number of trends that have been accepted via convention due to their consistency. That’s not to say that convention is a reason to blindly accept something; rather, this convention allows us to positively use analytics to help us better understand what is happening. Umpires are taught to set up in “the slot,” defined as the space between the batter and the catcher. Their eyes are then meant to split the inside corner, giving them an exceptional look at the inside pitch, but possibly sacrificing the best look at the outside pitch. On average, even the most consistent umpires tend to have a 2-inch margin of error on the outside corner that is widely accepted by all personnel. However, the box on the screen does not incorporate this. (Interestingly enough, this trend is most common for umpires who are right-eye dominant when right-handed hitters are at bat. When right-eye dominant umpires set up for a left-handed batter, a small margin of error develops on the inside corner as well!)
Fourth, based on the fraction of moments an umpire is given to determine whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, an increased value is placed on the reception of a pitch by the catcher (sometimes colloquially known as “framing”). If a “borderline” pitch is received by a catcher with significant movement on the catcher’s mitt, a subconscious message is sent to the umpire that the pitch was not a strike and the catcher tried to move it back into the strike zone to make it appear to be one. In turn, it’s not uncommon to suggest that professional umpires might etch a picture of the strike zone into their vision to combat this, which does not account for all the minor nuances such as the changing height of the batter. Players like Aaron Judge have suffered because of this: Judge has had the most strikes below the strike zone called on him due to his immense height and the need for an umpire to visualize the strike zone to combat improper pitch framing.
Finally, the system used by Major League Baseball to evaluate umpires on their plate scores is completely different than what is presented on television with these graphics. MLB adjusts the strike zone from batter to batter in a “postgame processing” protocol, then applies a two-inch margin of error around the entire zone before determining how many of the pitches were called correctly by the home plate umpire. The graphics used on television in real time take none of this into account, creating a public persona to hate umpires while cultivating a private system that lauds them and proves they are still more accurate than any computer calling balls and strikes.
Thus, it appears that broadcasters who claim pitches “didn’t have to be” strikes may react in the moment without the educational knowledge of how the process truly operates. These broadcasters choose to be “malignant homers” to appeal to their fanbase instead of objectively remaining true to journalistic integrity. Rather than seek the approval of viewers, perhaps a better strategy might be to emulate the legendary broadcasters whose words painted pictures and truly enhanced a broadcast through genuine excitement, comfort, and familiarity.
By Sean Gough
Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Directors
"Both teams on the gridiron that night decided to stop playing. Fans of both teams joined each other in prayer, putting aside rooting interests to comfort one another as they shed tears. Humanity dug into their pockets and turned a fundraiser Hamlin had established for his charity into a remarkable story of its own: what was once an attempt to raise a couple hundred dollars [has] approach[ed] $10,000,000 ...
But why does the world need a situation like this to wake up? Why does a man need to innocently brush against death for the population to see there is a problem with this entertainment cycle? ...
This is not a call for legislation that forces humanity to behave a certain way ... This is a request that individuals think deeply and critically about the decisions made each day in the name of entertainment. At what point will we reach the determination that football is too violent? ... Will it require someone to perish in battle while millions watch in horror? If football changes, will a less violent version of the game keep the same entertainment value and hold the attention of its audience?"
Answering these questions (from last month's post) in the wake of Damar Hamlin's injury at the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game would require at least a few changes:
1. Sports leagues need to regard their fans as more than consumers.
While they hemmed and hawed over whether or not to postpone the game, it appeared the NFL's leadership (not the on-field officials) showed how out of touch they were, as they were forced into the right choice by backlash from their constituents. Accounts claim they badly underestimated the character not only of the guys on the field, who refused to resume after a near-tragedy, but the fans around the world who were united in grief and support for Damar Hamlin. And through the lens of a dim view of fans as reckless consumers who would demand another three quarters of football at all costs — rather than people capable of empathy and horror at what they had just witnessed in the middle of a game — the NFL provided one of the reasons that sportsmanship has been a tough sell: professional sports leagues apparently do not believe the fans are ready for that.
The message has been sent from the big leagues to the little leagues: the "normal" way of doing things is built on the assumption that empathy is impossible or too much to ask. Just as politicians can choose to exploit fear and ignorance to gain power instead of appealing to the "better angels of our nature" (as Abraham Lincoln put that), leagues like the NFL have conditioned fans to tolerate a degree of violence, injury to the players, and bad behavior by fans that can seem inevitable. Cynicism breeds cynicism.
But in an instant, a public shocked by Hamlin's injury proved that a better way is within reach.
2. Fans need to regard themselves as more than just fans.
One of the ways these leagues have seduced fans is by conning them into believing that rooting for a team is a noble pursuit or a bond of affection like a family. But wanting a team to win at best is amoral: unlike a family where love is shared freely and burdens are carried by everyone, the players usually have no clue who individual fans are, and the fans don't give an iota of effort relative to the players who make the game what it is.
When these illusions are stripped away, fans can understand why the agreed-upon basic ethics in society should be no different in the realm of sports than anywhere else. Imagine how outrageous that would be if a stranger confidently punched another stranger for wearing a different style of shirt or using a different brand of phone. Or imagine how ridiculous that would seem as these strangers yelled at television commercials in a bar in the belief that somehow yelling would win them their preferred shirt or phone.
Shedding childish beliefs won't destroy the mystique or the entertainment value of sports.
3. Societies need to regard and reward greatness beyond the realm of entertainment.
If the kindness shown to Damar Hamlin by millions of people demonstrates anything, it's the need to put greater value in the ordinary good deeds of the majority of the public. Giving "our better angels" a chance to thrive also requires greater respect for other areas of public life. As strange as that may seem from an organization dedicated to sportsmanship, one of the surest ways to guarantee better sportsmanship is to de-escalate the societal obsession with sports, entertainment, and celebrity.
Aside from the responses of fans, my favorite Tweets in the aftermath of the Hamlin injury were from practicing doctors who have actually saved lives, like Megan Ranney, who's an ER doctor, the incoming dean of the Yale School of Public Health, and a Buffalo native and Bills fan. For no money, Ranney offered her expertise to calmly suggest what might have happened to Hamlin while she joined everyone else in wishing him well.
And as she sent these Tweets from hundreds of miles away, many anonymous people in Cincinnati averted a tragedy as they administered CPR on the field and cared for Hamlin in the hospital. Until we reward them with eight-figure contracts and ads for sneakers and cars, another rhetorical question seems appropriate: why not just start by teaching kids to admire what they did with half the zeal that we train them to admire athletes?
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
Recently, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to see family in Arizona. The trip coincided with the championship game for the Arizona Fall League, which was an affordable way to spend a few hours at the ballpark bonding with relatives in Scottsdale.
For the uninitiated, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) is a “graduate school” for the best prospects in Major League Baseball. Held during October and November in the desert climate, six teams are stacked with an equal number of players from five parent clubs each. For this championship game, the Surprise Saguaros (made up of the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Pirates) hosted the Glendale Desert Dogs (comprised of the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Cincinnati Reds) at Scottsdale Stadium, Spring Training home of the San Francisco Giants. I sat two rows behind home plate, feeling like I was part of the game.
The AFL doesn’t just develop players. It gives MLB a chance to test new rules, such as the pitch timer, restrictions on defensive shifts, and larger bases. Further, it’s a necessary stop for aspiring umpires as they approach the opportunity to be hired to the fulltime staff. The umpires working this league usually fall into one of two categories: they’re either call-up umpires who have cracked the big leagues to fill in for the fulltime staff, or they’re the minor league umpires who would probably be next to replace the call-ups if they get hired.
The opportunity to officiate these special games is a reward to umpires who have had great seasons, much like how officials selected to work postseason games for all professional sports are rewarded for the same reason. It can also be a boost in confidence, demonstrating how the league values particular umpires with these assignments, rather than simply giving the assignments to the best umpires. For example, when the AFL hosted its annual “Fall Stars Game” one week prior, three out of the four umpires selected to work that game all had worked in MLB earlier that season. Thus, one might think this championship game would be officiated by umpires with similar experiences. However, the three base umpires were all unknowns, as opposed to the familiar faces working a week ago.
Nate Tomlinson (#114) was assigned to work home plate that evening. He was deputized during the 2020 shortened season as a triple-digit call-up and has been eligible to work games in the big leagues ever since. The league thinks highly of him, as he worked the Futures Game in 2017, which is not an assignment taken lightly. Being selected to work the plate for this championship game was no small feat, even for a guy who had a modicum of experience in the big leagues.
Nate had a great game. It wasn’t until the middle of the game that I began to hear the sarcastic chirps of fans complaining about the strike zone. “C’mon, Blue!” was the most common interjection. The game was tied in the later innings when the comments coming from the fans escalated with every close pitch.
A coach in the first base dugout said something to Nate about a strike call. Nate quickly turned to him (without removing his mask). “I’m not having any of that tonight!” he barked back, putting an end to any dissent.
The crowd around me amplified their displeasure with the call (which was correct). My blood began to boil as I witnessed the ignorance of the fans around me, leading them via peer pressure and convention to verbally berate a man simply doing his job. The crowd noise died down just as my instincts took over.
“Atta boy, Nate,” I said in a normal volume, perhaps just loud enough for those around me to hear.
In the matter of a mere moment, I began to question why I had just responded the way I did. My first thought was one of terror. I wondered if I had crossed a line by using his first name. I didn’t want to give the fans more ammunition in the form of his first name, even though it was announced over the public address system and was listed in the game’s box score. Many officials wish to remain anonymous, citing the fact that the biggest compliment an official can receive is the knowledge that nobody even noticed them. I thought Nate might turn around and have the stadium staff eject me for calling him by his name.
Then I thought of the respect I had just shown him. Had Nate even heard me, maybe his thought was, “Did someone in the crowd just cheer for me?” If I had been in his shoes, perhaps it would have been a welcome change from the vitriol that normally comes with the territory. Ultimately, I responded because I felt like I was being attacked. I projected myself onto Nate, as we shared a fraternal bond as keepers of the flame in the greatest game ever invented. Every derogatory comment at Nate was a derogatory comment at me, an innocent fan trying to enjoy his vacation.
Another close pitch came in. Regardless of the call, the fans of the Saguaros thought it was wrong. I looked into the first base dugout, thinking the same coach was about to chirp again. Instead, I saw something that was strangely comforting.
The coaching staff assembled on the side of the dugout nearest to me turned around and looked at something in the dugout, then turned back with a satisfied look on their collective faces. Then it happened again, even with the crowd becoming worse. It took me a few pitches of this same behavior to realize what was happening: a television monitor on a delay was behind them, and the coaches looked to see if Nate called the questionable pitch properly. Every time I watched the phenomenon, Nate got every call correct, leaving the coaches silent and content, but not the crowd.
A man one section over from me started making comments that increased on the scale of belligerence. “That’s the fourth strike of that at-bat, Nate!” said the man. I cocked my head to look at him while keeping Nate in the corner of my eye. I wanted to slap this stranger for the verbal abuse he was hurling at a man who has dedicated his life to the craft of officiating, sacrificing so much to trudge from city to city, hotel to hotel, just to live the dream that only so few could live.
My girlfriend leaned towards me. “Do you want to go over and say something to him?” she asked.
“No,” I said rather loudly, intent on having those around me hear what I was saying. “I don’t know if he’s drunk or if he has a gun or a weapon.”
A man on the other side of me turned to me. “Excuse me,” he asked, “but what are you talking about?”
“That man over there,” I replied while gesturing. “He’s being completely inappropriate in his comments towards the home plate umpire.”
The man became intrigued. “Do you know him?”
“I know some umpires,” I said. “I’ve been umpiring for fifteen years. I lead my local chapter of umpires. And I can say with certainty that behavior such as what that man is exhibiting is why we have a global shortage of sports officials.”
The gentleman became interested. He began to ask me about my background in the game, genuinely trying to learn more. He was one of the few guys who had heckled Nate earlier; after speaking with me, that behavior ended.
As our conversation about umpire abuse continued, an older lady behind me, perhaps in her early 50’s, chimed in. “That’s part of the game.”
At that moment, I refused to turn around and acknowledge such a ridiculous comment.
I began to wonder if most people around me felt the same way as her. If they did, they lacked the courage and fortitude to speak their minds. Most simply sunk in their chairs, choosing to focus on the game instead of the casual conversation I was having with a stranger. Maybe I was being judged, maybe not.
Although I wasn’t surprised, I was equal parts offended and angered that someone consciously believed that abusing sports officials was a right held by others. I was two time zones away from home, and I had encountered the behavior and opinions that I have sworn to change in others. Do I dare turn around and ask this woman, “Would you like it if I came to where you work and verbally abused you for hours on end?”
Our society has accepted the convention of poor sportsmanship in the same way many of our ancestors accepted racism as a convention. It is a learned behavior that is imprinted on our subconscious from our experiences. If our experiences consist of watching our parents partake in these behaviors, then we begin to mimic them as a way of fitting in with the adult crowd, begging for acceptance into the clique of cool kids. Whether it’s heckling umpires, booing players, hazing teammates, or any other accepted tradition, it’s time we stand up and speak the truth:
It's not part of the game.
By Mark Gola
VP of Marketing & Publicity
There are many different forms of poor sportsmanship. Most instances are fueled by negativity, an undesirable result, or uncontrolled criticism. However, there are times when adults believe they are helping, only to truly be hurting the athletes, coaches, and team.
It’s tough for parents to avoid shouting out what they see and feel during a sporting event, but coaching from the sidelines or behind the fence is a form of poor sportsmanship. This does not include reinforcing what the coaches are preaching, such as a helpful reminder to an athlete ("Keep boxing out!") or words of encouragement (“Shake that one off and get the next one!”). What we’re addressing are adults who holler directives with no regard for the coaches, the athletes, and the consequences of their actions.
You’re undermining the coaching staff. Whether you agree with them or not, the coaches are in charge of the team. They decide who is playing when and where, what game strategy shall be used, and what style of play is best. Yelling out instructions that conflict with what the staff is coaching is exceptionally damaging. It puts the athlete in a difficult position – "Who should I listen to? My coach or my parent?" It can generate doubt amongst other parents who would otherwise not think to partake in the same behavior. It can also cause strife between teammates. If the quality of the coaching staff is in question, address it in a parent meeting or after the season is over.
You’re not allowing the athletes to think for themselves. Telling an athlete what to do, when to do it, where to stand, and when to move is fastening shackles on their ability to develop instinct and creativity. Yes, it is painful to watch young athletes make mistakes, but it’s how they learn. Discuss teaching points with them before the game, after the game, or out in the backyard. But during the game, it’s their time to play. We’ve had our time.
You’re sending a message that listening to the person in charge is optional. This is a bad message to send on and off the field. It basically says, “Respect authority, but only if you agree with them. If not, don’t listen.” That will not work out long-term in sports or in life.
Most don’t want to hear what you have to say. Every parent who watches their sons and daughters compete have thoughts, opinions, and emotions. It’s completely normal. The need to verbalize those thoughts, opinions, and emotions becomes the issue. When a spectator constantly complains, yells, or coaches throughout the contest, it’s downright irritating. It takes away from spectator enjoyment.
If you’re a parent who has difficulty keeping your thoughts to yourself, remove yourself. Stand down in the corner or in the outfield to give yourself the freedom to react (within reason). If that’s too much to ask, you should ask yourself why.
It’s understood that not every coach in charge is the best. Some have great personalities but lack knowledge. Others can teach the sport but lack composure. If you’re a parent that has a lot to offer to young athletes, take the appropriate steps to become a coach yourself. But until then, enjoy the sporting event as a spectator.
By Mark Gola
VP of Marketing and Publicity
There are moments in nearly every sporting event when a player, coach, or fan encounters a fork in the road. Do I take the path that allows my emotions to get the best of me and fall victim to a display of poor sportsmanship? Or do I take the path of discipline and show poise?
There are so many elements surrounding athletic events that we don’t control. Demonstrating good sportsmanship is a component that lies 100 percent within our control. When confronted with a situation riddled with turmoil, every coach, player, and parent gets to determine how they will handle their actions.
Let’s take a simple example of when an athlete encounters a fork in the road. Consider a baseball game where a batter is at the plate with the bases loaded and one out. It’s late in the game and the batter's team is down by one run. With a 2-2 count, the batter takes a called strike three. In that moment, the batter has a decision to make:
Listen, it’s not easy. Competitive juices are flowing; an opportunity to have a big moment was missed, composed with failure in front of everyone in attendance. But one must work at it, just like other aspects of the game. Further, any successful athlete will tell you that the most important play is the next play. If emotions can't be kept in check, the ability to focus on the next play will suffer.
Teammates will notice. Opponents will notice. Coaches will notice. Game officials will notice. Recruiters will notice.
Make the decision to become exceptional at sportsmanship. You’ll not only choose the right path at each fork you encounter, but you’ll begin to take others with you.
Topics like this and more are discussed regularly on How You Play The Game, the official podcast of OSIP. On January 1, OSIP founder Jack Furlong and chairperson Sean Ryan will produce their 100th episode of the program. Dale Scott will join them on the podcast, and Furlong will announce the release of his highly anticipated book, On Sportsmanship: A Critical Reader and Handbook. The mission of the book is to “reveal the steps to ensuring that each person does their best at treating others with respect in sports and competition.”
Tune in to listen to the podcast and also learn more about OSIP at osipfoundation.org.
As 2019 comes to a close, we wrap our year with one final topic before we move on: the ignorance of pundits to facts.
However, we're not talking about politics or the news. That's beyond the scope of this blog. The one item to address: Game 6 of the 2019 World Series.
In Game 6, the Washington Nationals almost self-destructed into handing a championship to the Houston Astros. Trea Turner was called out due to runner's lane interference by umpire Sam Holbrook, causing a frenzy both on the field and in the media. Manager Dave Martinez was ejected from a World Series game due to this. Fans all over social media were ready to lynch Holbrook. The championship of baseball was about to be determined by an umpire's call for interference...until Anthony Rendon hit a ball into the seats and extended the series to Game 7, where the Nationals would ultimately win.
The problem? The call was CORRECT.
Every person who complained about the call failed to realize that it was the correct call. The runner cannot run outside of the lane in the last half of the distance from home to first base. But even after cooler heads prevailed and Thanksgiving approached, Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo and his cohorts continue to harp on the fact that interference should not have been called.
Russo doubled down on his claim by stating that MLB officials were thankful for the Rendon home run because it took the focus off the play in question. Perhaps the statement was more opinion than fact, and perhaps MLB was prepared to stand by the call if necessary as the correct call, even if it meant the entertainment value of the sport was severely diminished. But the constant pushing of such an opinion rings of the older pundit who refuses to accept that the opinion is simply wrong.
Maybe this is a microcosm of our society in general. We dig our heels in when our opinions are challenged and claim that we are allowed to have our own opinions, even when they are wrong. Our defenses go up because our integrity appears to be challenged. It's a tired song and dance that speaks to our inability to have a meaningful conversation and progress as a society.
Note this, though: to progress as a society does not have a correlation to being a stereotypical progressive. It has nothing to do with the alignment with the left and the right of the political spectrum. It simply means being respectful to the facts and understanding that nobody will think less of you if you happen to change your opinion.
The issue is that it's easier to just turn off the television or the radio than to actually offer a differing opinion.
The fact of the matter is that we're not here to push an agenda. We're here to simply awaken people to civil reality and ask that they treat others the way they would wish to be treated. It has become a difficult task, but one we at OSIP are proud to undertake.
That's why we are here to announce that our blog, The Strike Zone, will be changing. Namely, the posts will be few and far between. The success of our podcast, How You Play The Game, has taken more of our attention, and there is only so much time to go around. Both the blog and the podcast duplicate the same purpose: for us to discuss issues of sportsmanship in a particular manner. We may continue to use the blog for some posts from time to time, and we will not be taking our posts down. But the regular posts on the third Wednesday of each month will cease, and we encourage you to listen to our podcast, which is released on the 1st and 15th of each month. And like we said above, perhaps we may change our minds later and come back to the blog. We know you won't think less of us!
Until next time, as we say on the podcast, treat each other with respect.
Last month, we discussed the poor behavior by players and coaches while noting the psychological aspects of the conflict. Now, in an act of therapy, let's look at the conflict that arises in the mind of the dissenting fan.
Allow me to break whatever the blog equivalent is of the fourth wall is (which barely even applies because I am transitioning from a discussion that does not involve myself to one that tells a personal narrative) as I tell a story about my experience.
One of the more difficult conflicts I experienced this past summer dealt with my personal connection to the New York Yankees as they rose to prominence with unsportsmanlike conduct being used as a bonding catalyst. Whether it was Aaron Boone's "Savages In The Box" tirade or Brett Gardner's violent attack on the dugout with his bat, the team and the fans rallied around these drive success in the old "us against the world" last stand that tends to be high-risk-high-reward.
Before September even arrived, I found myself heartbroken that my Yankees would act in such a way. I felt like the Yankees didn't care about me, a diehard fan, because this new methodology created a stronger bond among the players and the larger fan base. However, I had the ability to take a brief step back and examine the oddity of why I would feel such grief over this.
This grief seemed unfounded. Nobody died. Nobody broke up with me. However, a personal relationship significantly changed, and that's where I discovered the heart of the problem.
As fans, we form a bond with our teams and our athletes to the point where we project ourselves onto them. We identify with them. We consider ourselves part of the team. We even put ourselves in the shoes of our favorite athletes much like how we put ourselves in the shoes of our favorite superheroes. It's the adult equivalent to when we would pretend to be our favorite athlete in the backyard and play through scenarios of hitting the walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series.
So when the Yankees began to act this way, I was heartbroken because I saw myself as part of the team that was doing this. I felt like I was being personally attacked and offended by the people I loved (where I felt I belonged). In the fantasy world of my mind, I saw myself as yet another person in that clubhouse who put on the pinstripes each day. And now I felt like the ostracized member of the team that refused to bond, making me the outcast in the clubhouse, probably soon to be cut, traded, or just let go.
As an aside, keep in mind that the primitive mindset of the athletic culture maintains this type of idiotic bonding as a staple, even when the rest of the culture is adapting to the pampering of spoiled athletes and a more modern approach that differs from how things were in the past 50-plus years. Frankly, none of these methods, whether primitive or modern, are 100% right and have significant flaws that were never reconciled. So if a player didn't go along with whatever was happening in the clubhouse, that player was (and still can be) demoralized and outcast like a high school clique.
Regardless, what we can control is how we, the individual fans, can handle this feeling of dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, it requires us to grow up a little, which is difficult. But with a short term pain comes a long term gain.
The objective is to disassociate ourselves with our favorite teams. In turn, this may allow us to disassociate with those who do not share our opinion, much like how players and coaches have to disassociate with a call that goes against them from an umpire (as discussed last month). We can still be a fan of the team and enjoy watching or following the team, but we can do it in a way that says we are more than just a fan.
There is actually an element of empowering to this. When we identify with a team to the point of being so invested that this disappointment can occur, we limit ourselves into realizing our full potential. Each of us, as individuals, are more than just a part of a fan base. We are beautiful beings with value that goes beyond fandom and identification. This is the same psychological limiting that occurs when we identify with an organization such as a fraternity/sorority to the point of a volunteer affiliation with no tangible benefit other than just "being a part of something."
You have the ability to see yourself as more than just a blind fan. You have the ability to proclaim that you are a dissenting fan who roots for a team without endorsing a behavior. It's quite similar to the method that should be used more in politics, where you can have the opinions that align with a particular ideology without necessarily endorsing a candidate, legislation, or decisions. You don't have to be grouped into the whole.
You are beautiful.
Let me preface this entire post by saying this is all me. I don't intend to offend anyone with this post, but I know how sensitive some of these topics can be. As such, I would ask that anyone who has a problem with these thoughts solely look to me, not this organization.
Also, let me state that I am merely suggesting similarities with these arguments in order to make a point. I don't want to suggest that the current battles negate any previous battles, nor do I want to diminish the gravitas of our history and the pain felt by so many to this day. These discussions are meant to spark conversation, never to be divisive.
While surveying the landscape of the ridiculous hatred of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez, I noticed a trend that I probably should have noticed much earlier. Fans of opposing teams shared a bond in a mutual hatred of Hernandez. In essence, two fan bases that would normally rip each other to shreds have found a common ground of people to hate rather than each other: umpires.
It's not quite "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Maybe it's closer to the two major political parties finding common ground in agreeing on patriotism. Perhaps the better image is of two rival fans arguing with each other at the bar while watching their teams square off against one another, only to find the one place they can agree is on their hatred of the umpires calling the game.
The idea of finding common ground (or at least reducing tension) between rivals is, in theory, positive. But the method used of finding a new entity to hate together becomes faulty when said entity is innocent. It would be one thing if political parties came together to hate terrorists, which has occurred in history. Terrorists, by definition, are not people that are normally positive. (Even if they are claiming the title of "freedom fighter," the nature of the entire scenario is a bit more conflicted based on the violence.)
Officials, on the other hand, are not the same negative entity. However, based on the nature of how fan bases can agree upon such hatred, we reach the unfortunate and incorrect conclusion that officials should be the target of such disdain. This faulty logic is the type of material that leads us, as a group of people (or even a society) down the wrong path in judging a group of people improperly.
As a result, we can simplify this equation. People hate officials simply because they are officials. It is compounded by inaccurate interpretations of data rather than fully understanding rules and mechanics. Thus, it has nothing to do with actual performance nor the content of the character of each person. The official is hated because he/she wears the stripes/uniform.
If you've successfully completed a high school social studies course about the 20th century, you may have encountered this template before: people are being judged by the color of their skin, not the content of their character. Substitute "skin" with "uniform" and you'll have an accurate description of this situation.
The systematic hatred of officials (simply because they're officials) is a new type of racism. There, I said it.
Please note this has nothing to do with whether an official is of a particular race/gender/ethnicity/disability/religion/sexual orientation, etc. It is simply because the person puts on the uniform of an official and goes to work as an official that the hatred is directed at him/her.
Without going through the entire dissertation on the nature of the civil rights movement, I think it's a very basic, safe, and general summary to simply say that African Americans were disliked because they had a different skin color. People ignorantly perceived and inferred things that led to feeling slighted by the African American community.
Again, it's not an exact "copy and paste" job, but the same is happening with officials because there is an ignorance on the part of the fans. Rather than taking the time to understand the calls made by the officials based on rules and mechanics, fans just assume the officials are not only wrong, but the sworn enemy.
This ideology is perpetuated by the impressionable behavior of fans everywhere not understanding the consequences of their actions. That behavior breeds the ignorance. It is a vicious cycle that continues to create and grow an unnecessary hatred towards a group of people that have done nothing to deserve the hatred.
Now, perhaps you might suggest that a bad call by the official is what causes this to occur. Not only does MLB data show that their umpires are right more than 97% of the time when calling balls and strikes (which is higher than the 91% of the correct calls made by the computerized strike zone), but the laziness on the part of the fan to understand how and why a call is made is not excused when the officials are right more than 97% of the time. So, the majority of the "bad calls" are actually correct calls improperly judged by an uneducated fan.
But let's go deeper. Let's say that the bad call is actually incorrect and falls into that margin that is less than 3%. There are two psychological elements that are forgotten when fans are in the heat of association with a team. First, fans will forget that the officials are not actively trying to get the calls wrong. If that is ever not the case, then the situation is usually a case similar to a bribery or other legal issue, not the content of the character of the official in a vacuum. Second, fans will associate with their teams so deeply that they will assume that a bad call is a personal attack against each fan, rather than just an incorrectly adjudicated decision that only affects a game and not the realities of life and death.
Put simply, the hatred for officials has grown in the same ignorant manner as general racism, and it is perpetuated in a silent way where the overwhelming majority of people do not have the ability (or the knowledge) to stand up for the officials.
How do we solve this? Well, if we still have problems with racism in the 21st century, it stands to reason that the problem of racism against officials will also not be eliminated anytime soon. But we can hope to curb it in the small ways that we can.
Individually, it is incumbent upon all people to look inside their own heart and ask if their view on officials is appropriate. Further, the question must be asked if each person's behavior towards officials mirrors that view in a proper way.
But it also comes down to similar things that we must do to combat all racism. For example, we know that certain words/names are very racist in nature. The same holds true for officials. Terms such as "ump show" are actually very offensive because they contain the negative connotation that demeans officials who are trying to do the best job they can.
If we are serious about eliminating the unfair treatment of minorities, officials should be considered here as well. They are the minority compared to the participants, coaches, and fans, and they are treated the worst. It's not about being overly sensitive. It's about eliminating hate.
We hear it all the time, whether it is in the media, from fans, or even coaches and parents yelling it at officials: one controversial call, and that official blew the game for a team.
News flash: that's false.
It's easy to pinpoint one call in a game that is the turning point and can decide the outcome of a contest. But when we do that, we are no longer admiring the proverbial forest for the trees. We delineate an entire competition down to one moment, which makes for fantastic drama, but seldom represents reality. (In fact, maybe Hollywood could learn another lesson on how to not poison us moving forward...)
Anytime there is a close call in the later stages of a game, an official has to make a split second decision, which will usually please half of the people present and upset the other half. It's not a situation that is enviable by most, including the official. After all, it's not like the official could have avoided trouble if he or she had made the opposite call: the roles would just be reversed with the upset half now happy and the happy half now upset.
But what happens when replays show us a blown call that can't be changed? Or what happens when a coach or parent (or even player) sees it one way and the official sees it differently? The common conclusion is that the official was clearly wrong and is the sole culprit for the outcome of the contest. However, the truth is the exact opposite.
During the course of any sporting event, a multitude of action will occur that can alter the balance of power defined as who is "winning." Baseball changes with each pitch. Football changes with each play from scrimmage. Tennis changes with each serve. The list goes on. Seldom does anyone realize that every single one of these actions can affect the course of a game an equal or greater amount than the call of one official at a moment that is slightly highlighted. In short, every time a coach tells me the one call I made cost his team the game, I remind myself that the team had ample opportunities to prevent me from even having to make that call. Although I take responsibility for the call, I'm not the reason that team lost.
Further, there's an even greater notion at stake that people fail to recall in these situations: great teams overcome bad calls.
The teams that win are the ones that don't stop to argue about the bad calls. The teams that win are the ones that shrug them off and overcome them to the point where the bad call didn't matter.
When a marathon runner trips during the marathon, does he or she stop to examine the spot where he or she fell? Does the runner complain to anyone and everyone about how it is the fault of the ground for causing the runner to lose time? No! The runner gets up and hurries along to make up for the lost time!
The same goes for great teams and great athletes.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.