All Work and No Replay

I don’t come out swinging on the big issues very often. But, hey, if the Supreme Court is allowed to make a big deal out of its declarations, then I’m not keeping silent about instant replay.

In high-level professional sports, a referee (also known as “zebra,” “blue,” and “are you blind”) may use instant replay technology to review a ruling on the field. Sometimes players or coaches indicate their desire to challenge a call by placing dirt, spit, or other foreign objects on the shoes of the referees. Other times, the referees can self-evaluate by going into a booth and watching YouTube videos until they confirm that the evidence is inconclusive.

wimbledonInstant replay is a huge problem. I realized this realization this morning. I woke up at bar-closing time to watch the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which, despite the inhumane time difference, still takes place in England.

I’m no athlete, so I’m allowed to sip on performance enhancing drugs whenever I please. But I couldn’t whip up a cuppa, because the match was already in progress. Sure, there’s always commercial “breaks,” but these are engineered to commandeer my focus. Anytime a commercial comes on, I am as rapt as a dog sniffing another dog’s puckered furries.

Just when I resigned myself to gnawing on coffee beans, a player challenged the line umpire’s call. This challenge required the chair umpire to confer with the camera robots, which are never wrong. (So far as we know. No one challenges the camera robots.) In my experience with spectating sports, the review process takes maybe twenty minutes, during which the commentators determine the correct ruling in thirty seconds and then struggle to fill airtime.

I brewed my salvation during the interlude. But when I came back, the match was finished. Turns out, in tennis, instant replay is actually pretty close to instant. And that brevity is part of the huge problem. The rest of the problem is that, in every sport, instant replays are used too sparingly. Fortunately, the problem has simple solutions: we audiences need longer instant replays, and we need more of them.

Modern life already places too many demands on us. Official reviews during sporting events should be the guaranteed breaks we so desperately need if we want to exercise, change the oil in the car, fetch another beer, or simply make some quality giggle time with our romantic partners.

spoon fedBy implementing more instant replays, benefits would trickle into other aspects of us sports fans’ daily lives. For instance, the more review time Wimbledon grants me to make breakfast, the more bananas I use. The more bananas I use, the quicker we run out of food in the house, and the more likely it is that we will get to lick Nutella off a spoon for dinner.

But whatever the scrumptious side effects of less-than-instant replays, sports are not about enhancing the pleasure of our daily lives. Sports are about winning and losing. And we can only know who is better when we, as a nation, stop relying on human perception and start employing instant replay on every single incident.

If you still believe in the infallibility of referees, then you have never watched football. A game of football—known by Americans as “real football”—is a mess of approximations. For instance, on a first down in the National Football League, the zebras set the chain markers oh roughly where the ball is. When a football player is tackled beneath seventeen other behemoths, he cheats the ball forward on the playing field. The are-you-blinds never fall for this trick, so they put the ball back to precisely about where it maybe was when the guy was walloped.

Only when the ball appears close to another first down will the referees escort the chain crew onto the field, carefully and attentively, as though the chain crew is bearing Fabergé eggs on teaspoons and not a ten-yard length of chain. The referees then measure the location of the ball down to its final stitch.

refereesPlease! If the referees are going to make such a circus of measuring a first down, they should employ a replay crew in Camp David or the International Space Station. Otherwise, they might as well regress to declaring a landmark for every play: “First down is the brown patch!”

Sure, brawls will break out over which brown patch they meant. Good! Brawls take even longer than replays. A couple of those, and I can polish off a law degree. Just in time to represent all the refs losing their jobs to instant replay.


This Fool’s Gold originally appeared on The KC Post.

(Featured image of NFL referees copyright Keith Allison/CC. The kid doing eating right copyright nvainio/CC.)


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