Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Breaking the Rules ever the Right Thing to do?

Do you think the NFL is monitoring this blog? 

My favorite zebra photo.  That's Calvin throwing the flag as an Outlaw
is administering punishment upon a Houston blocker who has
been stretching the rules.

A few weeks ago I did a three-part series on officials.  I called them zebras.  Lots of photos, a little narrative.  I expressed some admiration for the job they do.  I said evidence of the quality of their work is that I never notice them during the games.  Only on my computer when an official shows up blocking my camera view of the play.

Within a couple weeks of my posts on officials NFL officiating becomes big - BIG - news.  Monday night's amazing officiating errors gave the game to Seattle when Green Bay obviously won.  I wonder if all this focus on officiating was in any way inspired by our blog?  Nah.

Tonight's game welcomes back the official officials. 

Don't be surprised if players hug the zebras. 

A while back I did a couple posts about stretching the rules.  I suggested that stretching the rules is part of the game. Sometimes it is sound strategy. If you're playing safety and the receiver has a step on you with a clear path to the end zone, interference, though illegal, may be the best thing to do. If you get caught interfering, the official will give the offense the ball at the point of the foul - and not in the end zone for six points. If you don't get caught... Well if the officials don't see, is it still cheating? 

Here's a link to a video of the final play Monday.   If you play it full screen and watch closely at about 14 seconds into the video, you can see flagrant offensive interference.  Seattle number 81, Tate, pushes Green Bay number 37, Shields, firmly in the back, both hands, knocking him to the ground,  out of the play.  That should have ended the game with a Seattle penalty and a Green Bay win, regardless of your opinion on who caught or didn't catch the pass. 

But the officials didn't see it.

If the official didn't see it was it still cheating? 

I'm an NFL fan.  I enjoy college games,  I enjoy the Outlaws games, I even enjoy little league games.  But the NFL plays at a whole different level.  These are the best athletes in the world.  The level of the play is amazing. 

They're even the best at stretching the rules.  Watching games these past three weeks, we've seen case after case of an NFL professional player stretching the rules and not being caught by the unofficial officials.  NFL games have seven officials (the Outlaws games have five).  Seven zebras to watch twenty-two players.  Twenty-two players who are battling for their careers.  Careers that depend on winning. 

The most striking thing for me in these three weeks is how good the official officials are.  It is incredibly difficult is to control twenty-two highly motivated, super talented athletes.  Athletes who stretch the rules because winning is vitally important.  Sometimes they don't get caught holding or interfering.  Even if they do get caught the prescribed penalty may be more desirable than letting your opponent make the play. 

Which raises an interesting philosophical question.

I checked my Outlaws photos looking for pictures of Outlaws stretching the rules.  I have a few from previous year's teams but none from the 2012 season.

Holding, hand to face.  Two rules being broken in one play.

Holding.  Illegal unless the Outlaw (in black) has the ball.
Holding.  Maybe delaying the tackler just enough,
giving the runner a slight edge.

Should the 2012 team should have stretched the rules just a little more?  This wasn't the Outlaws best season.  Would it have been better with a few more holds? 

In sports the goal is to win.  Rules define how you play.  The rules come with two parts.  First, defining the rule, what is legal and what isn't.  Second, defining the consequences of breaking the rule. 

Here's the philosophical question for you: 

If the consequences of breaking the rule are less than the consequences of obeying, shouldn't you go ahead and break the rule?   Tate broke the rule and the Seahawks won. 

As I raise the question I struggle against my own morality.  I value integrity.  I believe in doing what's right, in living by the rules.  Yet here I am suggesting, advocating even, deliberate breaking of the rules of the game. 

I think the answer is in the last word of the last paragraph:  "game." 

Football is a game. 

Life isn't.

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