We are closing in on opening day for our Wilmington Sharks baseball team. The Thursday after Memorial Day two squads of college players will bring their skills, big-league hopes, and wooden bats to Buck Hardee field for the summer. What they won’t bring are unredacted copies of the Mueller Report and three particularly divisive words: “Upon Further Review.”
I cringe when I hear those words.
Last time I went to a Sharks game, I saw up-and-coming talent play a great brand of baseball without the tedium of long gaps in play (as if baseball isn’t slow enough) to review whether a foot hit the bag a micro-second before a ball actually touched the glove—or a ball hit the glove a millisecond before a foot hit the bag.
Anyone who attended last month’s “Damn Yankees” at Thalian Hall, or even played or watched baseball or softball, understands the umpire’s only qualification is blindness. Blind umps used to be part of many of our sports. At most levels blind umps are still part of the process, (including the Sharks Coastal Plain League). At the highest levels of most of our money sports, blind umps have yielded to three dreaded words: “Upon Further Review.” Those words are used more frequently than the sacrifice bunt in baseball and should probably be part of some tailgate parties in football.
I don’t like replay reviews because they slow the game, they reject human fallibility in favor of the perceived infallibility of technology, and most importantly because they elevate amusements to essentials. As much as I love sports, I know they are not essential. How many people’s lives will truly be impacted long-term whether Steph Curry’s foot was on the line or not—or whether Maximum Security or Country House won the Kentucky Derby?
Trouble is, so much money rides on the outcome of our distractions, and so much technology helps us play by the rules that I’m almost as accepting of replay reviews in sports as I am of Congressional investigations and oversight committees. The process of fairness is at least as important as the outcome in sports and politics.
Jumping your lane and bumping other horses is against the rules in a horse race. The review call to strip the apparent winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby crown was historic—but not really controversial. Country House’s trainer even stated, “If this (Kentucky Derby) was a $10,000 stakes race on a Thursday, the call would be a no-brainer.” When Maximum Security lost, one view of fairness won.
Of course, not everyone sees fairness the same. “Outcome Junkies” focus on winning at all costs. Getting across the finish line first is the only real rule. Bend the other rules, break the other rules, damn the other rules … that’s fairness. Replay reviews reduce their kind of fairness and that’s just not fair. Outcome Junkies may also hold beliefs such as, “If you didn’t get caught, you didn’t do it,” and “If the president does it, it’s not a crime.” Replay reviews and investigations are both examples of an out of control “politically correct” culture that prevents the best horse from winning.
We’re a complicated people. On the one hand, we tolerate replay reviews for amusements that impact few people for a few moments. On the other hand, in matters that impact millions of lives for generations, we couldn’t wait for a recount to determine the presidency in 2000, tarnishing an election, and diminishing both George Bush and our electoral process.
The recent Mueller Report concluded Russia bumped other horses and undoubtedly cleared the path for Ol’ 45. Our collective response has been muted and focused on either defending or damning the winner of 2016’s tainted horse race. It’s clear, with such a delegitimized presidency and tainted electoral process, we all lose.
Replay reviews for our amusements are here to stay. Special investigations and conflict about how to clean up our electoral horse races are here to stay, too. Maybe it’s time for me to read Mueller’s unredacted report and really get charged up about indictments and likely obstruction of justice.
Upon further review, I’ll wait for the Sharks season to open.