Why We Fuck Up

In the bloodless war between computers and referees, computers win 100% of the time.

Research shows that baseball umpires are less likely to call a strike after they’ve called the previous pitch a strike.

Soccer referees flub offside calls all the time. Why wouldn’t they? They are asked to judge a split-second half-centimeter difference in player positioning from twenty meters away.

Funny thing is, after the blown call, the TV broadcast rewinds and replays the action in slow motion. Neon lines materialize and frame the play. High-definition lenses confer with powerful computer servers, and we have a near-instant, perfect judgment of what we just watched. The information is both thrilling and useless, like finding out a high school crush really liked you, 20 years later.

Why don’t we simply replace those near-sighted, weak-willed meat bags with infallible, unswayable robo-refs?

Because deep down, we like the chaos of it all. Because when shit goes sideways and our guy or gal misses the line by a nose hair (or did they?), we need a person to blame, a human voodoo doll to stick our pins.We need an idiot.

Ideally, computers would watch Them, and nervous humans would watch Us. At the end of the day, we want a fair game. But for Them, it should be extra fair.

Why We Act

In the summer of 1993, I ate nothing but Goldfish and ice cream, just to get out of playing Little League.

In third grade, my grandma signed me up for Little League. She’d noticed that I spent all of my free time playing Sega Genesis and reading Calvin and Hobbes and (rightfully) insisted that I’d benefit from physical activity and socialization.

It did not go well.

There were two problems:

  1. I didn’t watch baseball.
  2. I didn’t care about winning.

As a result, I tried very hard to not try very hard. I’ll never forget the time I spent an at-bat slowly striking out while my coach barked from the dugout, “Choke up on your bat!”

I still don’t know what that means.

The last day of Little League season was Family Day, a full day potluck cookout. Each of the players’ families was responsible for bringing something for everybody on the team to eat. I asked my mom to buy a giant tub of Goldfish crackers, since that wouldn’t require any preparation. That, and napkins. People always need more napkins.

However, when Family Day arrived, I refused to go. I had already decided I was done with Little League, so why would I have lunch with teammates I didn’t care about? My mom was relieved, because she didn’t have to waste a day in the hot sun small-talking yuppie parents.

Thus, I spent the rest of the summer eating through that Family-size tub myself, handful by tiny handful.

I cared so little about Little League that I couldn’t even bother to show up to a potluck.

That’s about the least you can care about anything.

What Came Next

Sports fans love war metaphors. The gridiron is their battlefield. Supporters don their war paint before the big game, gnaw on grilled red meat, chant their bloodthirsty songs. We drape our athletes in combat virtues; we laud their bravery, sacrifice, ingenuity, brotherhood.

Strangely, I can’t recall the last war that had a time limit. Perhaps the penalty shootouts in soccer recall a classical era in warfare, when armies lined up, met in the middle, and cut each other down to a man. Unfortunately, times have advanced considerably.

For sports to earn their combat metaphors, we must update the rules.

Let’s abandon time limits completely. For any team or athlete to win, the opposition must submit. Games will continue indefinitely until players cannot continue due to exhaustion. Fan supporters may join the game as their players wilt, an amateur reserve of weekend warriors.

Games of soccer would last for days until the coach throws his tie onto the pitch. Basketball games would end with scores like 3856 – 505; yet another crushing defeat for the Knicks.

And, crucially, fans of both the Dodgers and the Giants would shake their heads after a grueling 5 week marathon ends in mutually agreed detente. What was the point, they’d ask themselves.

What was the bloody point?