"The threat of people acting in their own enlightened and rational self-interest strikes bureaucrats, politicians and social workers as ominous and dangerous." ~ W.G. Hill
Watching Super Bowl 40
Exclusive to STR
An awful lot of technically-inclined and politically-savvy folks are fond of denigrating sports and their viewers, particularly the professional sports. I don't know why; if it pleases me to watch men or women throwing things or whacking things on fields of grass, plastic, ice or clay, it's my time to waste; I don't owe it to the Plenum to spend all of my time toiling to secure a more glorious future for the proletariat. I can spend my time watching paint dry, if I'm so inclined; that's what "freedom" means. Such a pastime, further, is not proof of my love of piss-flavored discount pilsner, my intrinsic Neanderthalism, or reflexive State-worship. And if the players can make a living playing games and getting people to voluntarily pay to watch them, hell, why not? Too, I take it as an article of faith that it is worth keeping up with professional sports because those sports form an important part of background Americana, that national subconscious that is so very important for the prospective political (or anti-political) activist to be aware of and to make maximal use of. And finally, it's a fun way to spend an afternoon sometimes, carrying on and making an ass of one's self in an acceptably innocuous cause. Yet I digress.
I am what you might call an osmotic Seahawks watcher. All of my family hails from Seattle. Many of those in Alaska are from or have passed through Seattle on their way here, and it is the state to which we are most closely tied; ergo, most of us are Seahawks fans. QED. I have, then, through long exposure to the thesis that Seattle's teams are the pinnacle of excellence, been baptized into that Old-Tyme Seattle Religion, probably the only acceptable religion in the City of Ten Thousand Lattes. Go Seahawks.
It was with some trepidation that I watched the Super Bowl this year; Seattle sports teams have never gotten any respect, and never win anything. I mean, never. (Okay, the Supersonics won the 1979 NBA championship. Nothing since, though.) Doesn't matter how good the Seahawks, the Supersonics, or the Mariners are; Satan will be ice-skating across that proverbial brimstone lake before any of those teams win a championship. Even if they do, the chattering classes will immediately lob salvos of vitriol, thoroughly disabusing any uninformed listener of their mistaken belief that Seattle was worthy of the trophy by virtue of having won the game, instead blaming the weather, man's inhumanity to man, or terrorist intrigue for the Worthy Opposing Team's otherwise-inexplicable loss.
All the same, I figured, what the hell; they've done well all through the season, the Steelers were some Johnny-come-lately backdoor team, got to the Super Bowl by receiving welfare calls from the referees, sure, fine, whatever. Cakewalk. The boys will be sporting those nifty rings, there'll be a trophy in Qwest Field Monday morning, we shall overcome, testify! Amen, hallelujah.
My astrological calculations and imprecations to various gods both astral and nether apparently failed to take into account the seeming blackmail or outright bribery of the game officials into that elusive yet highly-profitable state known as "selective sight."
Okay, forget the fact that the odds of an unbroken string of bad calls that long statistically _proves_ the existence of an axe being ground, a hatchet being lovingly whetted for burial in the Seahawks' back. Forget the fact that Mike Holmgren, in an injudicious moment earlier in the season, pointed out about NFL officials and their apparent, er, inability to avoid making some questionable calls.
Forget all that. Forget the fact that according to the statistics and the tape, not only wouldn't Seattle have lost that game, Seattle didn't lose that game, at least not according to the 21st Century miracle known as "instant replay". You can see it all yourself. Now, I don't pretend to be an expert in all the rules of football, but I know that when two touchdowns are taken away from one team and one given to t'other, when a game official says there are things occurring in the game that mysteriously are not present on any video record of that game or in the memory of any spectator, then somebody's got his thumb on the scale.
What really puts the icing on this fetid cake? What really, really drives this ugly point home? The commentators, John Madden et al., taking several breaks from their gushing on-air hagiography of the Shitsburg Stealers (oops, sorry, was that my outside voice?) - lovingly detailing their intrinsic excellence, their masterful gameplay, their ineffable entitlement to the crown which that wicked band of highwaymen hailing from Seattle are trying to unrighteously usurp from them, their superbness in all measurable ways and some that cannot be encompassed by the mind of mortal man, blah blah blah - to express wonderment at the calls being made by the game officials, who were perhaps watching a game in some twisted parallel universe where Pittsburgh is actually a place worthy of, say, a professional football team and a trophy for it, and is not worthy of, say, a swift and thorough purging with fire and sword.
Yes, that's right, ladies and gentlemen; the commentators, Steelers fans nearly all by the sound of it, actually verbalized disbelief at the sheer audacity of some of the calls made. Almost they approached honesty, they did, in their shock. Yet, again, I digress. Excuse me.
Perhaps my dislike for the outcome of this game is becoming apparent.
However, I'm far from the only one sour about it; several others have stepped forth with a rousing cry of "Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot, over?" Hell, Matt Hasselbeck and Mike Holmgren couldn't hardly keep the "I just bit into a lemon-zested dog turd" pucker off their faces in the post-game interviews, although they were doing a relatively decent job of producing words that indicate a healthy respect for the values of sportsmanship despite the fact that the dictates of truth, justice, and common decency would permit them free license to jump up and scream "WE WERE ROBBED!"
Ahem. Excuse me. Seriously, this time. I promise, I will not further denigrate the obviously syphilis-crazed methamphetamine addicts that have clearly infiltrated the NFL as game officials for the sole purpose of screwing Seattle out of a Super Bowl trophy, or continue to mock their obscenely transparent attempts at backstabbing the Seahawks, which attempts are clearly based in a pathological case of schadenfreude mixed with repressed urges of incestuous necrobestiality. Any more. Starting now.
So what issue here is of interest to Root Strikers? Well, there is a hidden moral here - several, actually - but the one I have in mind will take a moment to explain. To begin with, Mr. Holmgren was not incorrect in his assessment of game officials' multifarious incompetencies. More importantly, he is not alone. Football fans are losing interest in their favorite game, partly because of the obnoxiously otherworldly nature of the calls you can now see there. When your ability to win a game is contingent on how much the referee likes your coach, the game suffers what is usually called a "crisis of confidence," a "credibility gap," or put simply, an "astonishingly humungazoidal problem." (This can be generalized to any government intervention in a free market, by the way; such interventions produce exactly the same type of crisis sooner or later.)
We can see the stigmata of this in the fact that next season, the NFL's games are moving to ESPN, a company with a guaranteed income stream (cable subscribers), as opposed to network television, which has to please advertisers on a more regular basis. ABC has reportedly been losing $150 million per year on Monday Night Football, with ratings continuing to decline. While this mystifies and astonishes analysts from Hell all the way to Breakfast, and provokes the occasional Senate hearing or public excoriation by Internet hacks like yours truly, the truth is evident for those with eyes to see; the market is voting. "We do not like to watch hatchet jobs," says the Viewing Public, "we prefer games that tend toward some semblance of fairness. Perhaps we shall find one over on this other channel. (click) Oh, look! A reality show featuring Hollywood rejects catfighting over who gets to eat the most insects on a remote island! Cool!" Oops, there went a hundred million in advertising revenue. People have enjoyed watching sporting contests and other games since time began, but - surprise! - tend to get a little pissy when they watch obviously-rigged or inconsistently bogus games, feeling somewhat ill-used and insulted, as well they should. This damages both winners and losers; a "win" based on bogus officiation is no satisfaction, a defeat based on same serves only to infuriate. And what do we see in such a situation; the institution which tolerates such poor officiation loses money, for they cannot compel anyone to watch their games or to attend, and if it continues on this path of iniquity, goes out of business. So too shall it be with the NFL; they will either clean their house, or go out of business, as their fans watch other games or their teams peel away from the league and form other leagues with honest officials. That's the way it goes when you don't please your customers, unless you can compel goons to extract money from your (at that point even more displeased) customers at gunpoint, which usually means you're a government agency of some sort.
That will not be enough to return the Super Bowl trophy to Seattle this year, of course, but as free-market advocates we must at all times take the long view. Besides, there's always next year, and I doubt that Paul Allen or his fortune are going anywhere. Of course, waitaminute; as far as I and all other right-thinking, civilized folk are concerned, Seattle did win the Super Bowl; they just had their rings stolen by a bent ref. Congratulations, guys. Go Seahawks.