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Upon further review, instant replay an all-around benefit
Posted: Wed June 24, 1998
Of all the crazy things in sportalmost all sport, from the National Football League to figure skatingthe goofiest is the fear of using existing video technology to certify the truth.
In only three sports that I'm aware ofhorse racing, people racing and ice hockeycameras are employed to make sure that the correct result is obtained. Everywhere else, we persist living in this Alice-in-Wonderland world where the cameras prove instantly that the referee made a bad call, and yet we go on blithely accepting a lie.
It's strange, too, because sport has certainly not shied away from progress. Video, in particular, is a staple of every game. Most football coaches, in fact, will not admit that a game was even played until they have watched films over and over and over. Yet football is one of the sports that refuses to allow instant replay to help determine the correctness of decisions that determine the outcome of a play, a game, a season.
Famously, of course, the NFL used instant-replay officiating for several seasons, correcting many calls, but a small number of antediluvian minds now thwarts the desires of the progressive majority to restore the 20th century to football.
The reasons always advanced to refuse to seek the truth in sport by all possible means are the following:
1) Using video technology will remove the "human element" from officiating.
2) Nobody's perfect. We accept that players will make mistakes, so we should tolerate referees also messing up; and,
3) It slows down the action to stop and get things right.
Well, let's consider those arguments. Those who maintain that instant replay trumps the human element are, really, nothing more than selective Luddites. Players use technology. Quarterbacks even wear radios in their helmets. Why single out officials to remain deprived of the modern world?
As for the contention that referees should not be denied the right to make mistakesthat fails to consider responsibility. When a player screws up, he or his team suffers the consequence of his action. But an umpire's error punishes innocent victims.
The final contention, that studying instant replay takes too much time, is true enough. But most sports nowadays take a half hour to play the last two minutes and load up commercials throughout every game, and so we're dealing with a lot of hypocrisy here; wasting a little time in the pursuit of fairness seems to be a small price to pay.
Officials could hardly object to being supported by technology. Hockey referees, for example, do not seem to have lost any of their manhood now that there are cameras to help them determine whether a puck moving at the speed of a bullet made the net. Using video to get it right doesn't usurp officials. Rather, it supports and comforts them.
But ultimately, the refusal of most major sports to use instant replay smacks of hubris. The idea should be: Get it rightnot to worry about somebody's tender feelings or a little extra time. Sadly, soon enough, a team or a player is going to win a world championship on a bad call, and everybody is going to know that an injustice was doneknow that seconds after the mistake was madeand yet the error will stand, foolishly, in perpetuity.
These commentaries, which appear each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, are posted weekly by CNN/SI.
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