Saturday, December 17, 2016

Working the Refs....

I don't recall exactly when the term "working the refs" entered the lexicon of sports, but the first coach I recall employing the tactic beyond simple complaining about close calls that didn't go his way was Phil Jackson.

Again, this may be a little hazy, but my memory is that in his post-game press conference, Jackson would drop tidbits such as that the Bulls' opponents had twice as many free throw attempts as the Bulls. Or note a tendency of an opposing player that could be outside of the rules. He wouldn't embarrass the official; he wouldn't take his or his team's focus off their own performance onto the officials, but he would make his point.

Then there's the approach of someone like Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. They seems to respond to every call that doesn't go their way as if it is the greatest injustice in human history. So Chris Paul picks up a technical for screaming at an official 3 minutes into a game where the Clippers got blown out by the Warriors.

There may be some advantages to this approach. It may be that, in the short term, the officials will be aware that they will pay the price for any call that goes against the Clippers. So they may be a bit more reluctant to make such a call.

But over time, this grates on people. Their complaints start being dismissed as them always complaining. The official may develop a hostility to a team that is constantly showing them up.

And it can take the team's focus off of what they need to do to get better. The team starts to see itself as a victim of unjust decisions rather than a unit with agency. Maybe a couple calls didn't go your way. You can still play better.

It doesn't seem absurd that this attitude may be one reason the Clippers have yet to enjoy a deep playoff run.

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When I look at the commentary from many left of center sources about the media, what I see reminds me more of Doc Rivers than Phil Jackson.

A prime example is the notion of "false equivalence." Any time an article mentions the sins of the left in any proximity to some sin of the right, you can count on a series of concerns about "false equivalence" -- that by mentioning these two problems in proximity to each other, the writer is promoting the notion that they are equivalent when they are not even close.

If I can be indulged another sports analogy, this strikes me as akin to criticizing sportswriters for reporting the score from both teams out of fear that some readers would see that both teams scored points, and thus the game ended in a tie.

Yes, some people take mental shortcuts, and some may jump to the "both sides are guilty" conclusion, but I retain hope that people are capable of making value judgments based on the facts presented. And if they're not, I don't think the problem will be solved by declining to report the sins of the side seemed to be better.

I think that false equivalence is best confronted by:

  • being better
  • teaching people to recognize distinctions
  • modeling that themselves.




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