Though I quite enjoy many things about watching my favorite team play football, I don’t like what it does to me as a person. So I’m done. It’s a matter of first things first, my personal authenticity taking precedence over my enjoyment and entertainment. I’ll explain below, but please understand that this is not some rash move over my favorite team’s loss in its season opener last night. I still love the FSU Seminoles, and wish them and all their fans the best!
The Personal Issues at Stake
Anger. If I’ve already had a difficult day, a frustrating football game tends to incite me to anger rather easily. I note that I’m tempted to criticize my team’s errors unfairly–as if I were the superior athlete, and could have done better myself. The same goes for coaching and officiating errors. That is, I find myself getting angry and grouchy, and that’s just not a good place to be–and especially over matters that are of secondary importance in life. I’ll say some more about anger later in this article.
Competition. I’ve already quit–pretty much–competing with other people. I don’t like what sort of person I can become when competing. Cold. Calculating. Driven. I used to be a decent tennis player, and was even better at ping pong, but I saw this ugliness enough times to realize that there’s something there, and that competition tends to bring it out of me. I even noticed this a few years back when Words With Friends was big on Facebook. I’d get requests from old friends I have not seen in years, and in the course of the game, that same cold drive would rear its ugly head. I simply do not want my friendships to be characterized by a spirit of competition. Think what it says about you when seeing the name of a high school classmate you haven’t seen in person for 30-something years brings up a feeling of competition, rather than of love, concern, or longing.
I do occasionally play something competitive, but I tend to limit it only to family or really close friends. And even then, it doesn’t take much of it to take me to a place I don’t want to go. Football, of course, is quite competitive in its spirit, even for the spectators. And while I can certainly watch a game without assaulting anybody, I just don’t like that underlying spirit.
Time. I have often struggled to weigh out the value of the 3-4 hours each week of the football season that I have spent watching the Florida State Seminoles play football. They are the only team of any sort that I follow. I have no shortage of projects going on–even some very important ones, like books and research. If you figure 13 games at 4 hours each, that’s 52 hours a year that are not only spent on football, but that are not spent on any of my value-producing projects. I quit watching football a couple of years back for this very reason, but missed it so much that I figured it was a worthy investment in entertainment. This time, however, I’ve done some further thinking about the downsides of anger and the competitive spirit.
The Problems with the Game
So, what is it about football, in particular, that so easily incites me to anger? Mostly, it’s injustice of one sort or another.
Inconsistency in Officiating. I’ve long had concerns over the frequency of injustices in the officiating, and last night’s game made for a few more prime examples. For instance, here’s a screenshot from last night’s game, with Alabama beating Florida State 24-7 in a season opener. In the picture, the FSU receiver, in position to catch a sure-thing touchdown pass is flagrantly fouled by an Alabama defensive player. No flag was thrown. Millions of people saw it. It was obvious. But no flag was thrown. In a game that will stop for several minutes to review certain touchdown calls, the technology certainly exists to study this foul again and again, but the NCAA simply doesn’t care enough to change its rules to make such plays reviewable. It’s as if review only counts on the actual scoring play, but not on the series of plays that led up to that score, making it possible.
One more example from last night’s game was this: An Alabama punt receiver supposedly signaled for a fair catch, with a very quick flip of the hand that doesn’t seem to have made it higher than his shoulder pad, if memory serves. An FSU player tackled him once the kickoff was caught, and was promptly penalized for violating the fair catch rule. Now, let’s take a moment to review the rule about signaling a fair catch, since this is important to this discussion:
(Download the rules for yourself here.)
Was the Alabama player penalized for making an invalid signal? No. But FSU was penalized for tackling him. That is simply unjust. (Read a story about it here, on an Alabama-friendly website.) And to add insult to injury, it just so happens that a nearly-exact scenario occurred later in this same game, but with quite a different outcome. This time, FSU was receiving the punt. And this time, the receiver signaled for the fair catch, the signal being at least a little clearer than when the Alabama player had done it previously, by the way. And this time, the Alabama player hit the FSU player. But this time, there was no flag. No penalty–even though millions of people saw it, and even though the rules are very clear.
Then there was the case where the FSU quarterback, scrambling to evade a backfield sack, scurried out of bounds, and was hit viciously at the sideline with a helmet-to-helmet blow that knocked him several yards out of bounds. I don’t dispute the hit, mind you, for I couldn’t see that it was a late hit. A flag was immediately thrown, however, but the foul was dismissed. There was no official review of the footage, either. Nor were we shown sufficient replay footage of the hit to determine just what had happened. It appeared to me on the one replay I saw, however, that the helmet-to-helmet contact was both clear and strong, that the player was indeed “defenseless”, and that this qualified under the “targeting” rule. A violation of that rule calls for a 15-yard penalty, a first down, and the summary ejection of the offending player from the game. None of this happened.
Now, I could go on and on about this sort of thing, for I have noted much of it over the years. I believe it was last year when FSU coach, Jimbo Fischer complained publicly about bad officiating costing him a game against Clemson, and he was fined $20,000 for it by the Atlantic Coast Conference, whose officials had run the game. Since when is free speech not considered a fundamental right in this country?
It seems to me that there is a certain incorrigibility in the paradigms of the officiating crews. They seem oh-so-diligent in some matters, reviewing them again and again, and even giving the “benefit of the doubt” in some questionable calls. But that’s only some of the time. Then there are the other times, when they seem negligently disinterested in meting out justice on the playing field. Being a justice sort of guy, this aggravates me considerably. And it doesn’t matter what’s causing it. Whether it’s a simple matter of not seeing a foul, or some dark and sinister plot to influence the outcome of games by bad officiating, it is still very hurtful to a reality-based assessment of the game.
Silly Rules. Some rules in football are simply silly and need further attention. For example, I’d like to test the doctrine of whether a receiver has satisfactory “control” over the ball after catching it. As you may know, many a touchdown has been overruled when a study of the video footage showed that the receiver did not have adequately-firm control of the ball at the time that the scoring supposedly occurred. We all realize, however, that there’s a big difference between one case and another. We can imagine a slapstick skit that someone like Dick Van Dyke might have done with juggling a football, not quite getting complete control for many seconds, and the best-case bobbling that is often called into question in actual games. So here’s a test of this doctrine of ball control, to reveal that maybe it could use a little help:
Imagine that a team has the ball, and is backed up practically to its own end zone, with the line of scrimmage at the 6-inch line. The quarterback takes the snap and passes to an un-covered wide receiver who has stayed at the line of scrimmage standing at the sideline. The receiver bobbles the ball, never completely controlling it. He begins to run in this same fashion, advancing the ball down the field, just inside the sideline. Along the way, the ball bounces off his hands, off his pads, off his facemask, without ever having been taken firmly into his command. He runs 110 yards like this, running straight through the opposite end zone. A touchdown is signaled by the officials, but under further review, it is overruled on account of the receiver not having had sufficient “control” of the ball.
In this scenario, the receiver managed to relocate that ball 110 yards, keeping it off the ground, but this is considered insufficient? I think that a reality check is in order here.
There are other examples of faulty rules, of course, such as Jimbo Fisher’s criticism of the targeting penalty, but they are outside the scope of this brief post. I do note, however, that some of these seem a little suspicious–as if they were designed to give the officials the power to influence a game for their own motives, rather than for the pure motive of seeing that the game is justly played and scored. It doesn’t matter, of course, whether they are sinister, or simply absent-minded; it hurts the truth of the matter just the same.
Dumb Commentator Remarks. I suppose it stands to reason that when you pay a guy and tell him to talk through the entire football game, you’re going to get some communications from him that don’t have much value. And I do tire of much of the fluff that comes from their mouths. I’ve heard plenty, for example, of how so-and-so is really a “physical player”–as if his other teammates are only “mental” or “spiritual” players. And then, of course, there’s the matter of accurate pronunciation, which doesn’t seem to be a very high priority for many of them. Not only do many player’s names get repeatedly mangled, but I have been amazed at the numbers of commentators who pronounce that oh-so-simple word, Florida (FLOOR-i-duh) as FLAH-er-duh. It’s really not that hard, guys, and it shows that you’re just not very concerned with reality-based pronunciations.
But it runs deeper than all this, for it seems that many commentators are eager to find a “narrative” for each game. They want to pin the game to a certain dramatic theme, and often do it far in advance of sufficient evidence from which to make the case. For example, in last night’s game, Alabama head coach Nick Saban mentioned at the half time that they would hope in the second half to capitalize on some FSU errors. So, when FSU made its first error in the second half, the commentators immediately seized upon this theme, as if it were certain that the rest of the game would be characterized by it. There was no way they could know, of course, that any further FSU errors would occur, nor whether Alabama would make make a multitude of costly errors itself. No, they were satisfied just having a story to tell, whether it would prove true or not.
Overgeneralization and oversimplification are very common cognitive errors in general, and this seems to be the way that the commentators (or their audiences–or their producers) want it. They don’t want to tell a story that pins the game’s outcome on errors and bad officiating and great UA special teams work. No, the errors theme is simple, so that’s what they’re going to go with.
A cogntively-tired-and-weak culture has only so much tolerance for ferreting out all these issues. One who complains is quite likely to be branded a “sore loser” because it’s simply easier to dismiss the complainant that way, than to hear his case, and then wonder what to do about improving the state of football. But you should know that you’re reading the post of a guy who fairly diligent against “my-side bias”—that is, that bias that relaxes the rules when doing so would benefit his own team, and wants them strictly enforced if it hurts the other. Indeed, I HATE it when a bad call penalizes an opponent, because that robs of all of having a true, reality-based contest between the two teams. I can tolerate losing–if it’s a fair loss.
When you put all this together into one package, well, it’s quite tiring. And while I looked eagerly forward to the season opener last night, I think I’m making a good decision to forego the football experience altogether from here forward. I may occasionally watch some other game in which I am not personally invested as I am with my own alma mater, but I’ll refrain from watching the remainder of the FSU season. This is a personal decision for me, based on what I think is best for my own life. It is not some judgment upon the football-watching world that they ought to cut it out. Perhaps you fare better than I do when watching, and if that’s the case, I wish you all the best!
So, now it falls to me to decide how to use my former football time in better ways. I guess we’ll see how I do!