Life is often unfair, so we sometimes turn to sports to get a little balance. Of course, sports themselves aren’t always fair, either, but they have more rules and arbiters and overlords than a lot of our messy so-called real world.
Sometimes those rules and arbiters and infrastructures work, sometimes not. We’ve gotten some mixed messages on fairness in the past week, from the umpire confab during Game 1 of the World Series to the suspension of Brandon Meriweather to a bullying complaint about a high school football blowout.
Wednesday night’s contretemps in Boston is a tricky case. Right prevailed — the first-inning call made by Dana DeMuth on a play at second base was clearly wrong. His five fellow umpires saw it differently — as did Boston Manager John Farrell — and overturned the call.
Fair or not fair? Well, for one night, fair. The right decision was made. This was not an unimportant late-season game between last-place teams; this was a World Series game (although the decision did not affect the outcome). The problem is the precedent. While we hope a similar situation will not arrive, because the Series crew is made up of the best umpires in the game, we’ve seen during the season that the best umpires in the game aren’t as good as they used to be. (Or perhaps with all the new technology, we can more easily see that they were never as good as we thought.)
Next year, wider instant replay will be introduced, but for now, Mike Matheny will be waiting to pounce on the next bad call that goes against his Cardinals. This one was outrageously obvious — to everyone except DeMuth, apparently. Even Matheny, after watching replays back at the hotel early Thursday morning, must have said, “Oops. My bad.” But not all the calls will be that incontrovertible. So how will the umpiring crew fairly decide which should be debated and which shouldn’t? The can of worms is open now, and the onus will be on the umpires to treat both teams’ complaints fairly.
Meriweather’s original two-game suspension seemed fair when his past actions were factored into the equation, but it also seemed almost certain it would be reduced to one game on appeal — and so it was. In fact, it’s possible the league suspended him for two games to leave some room for reduction. Give him one game, and you risk the suspension being lifted entirely. The league, after all, is trying to send a message — a message being received by everyone other than Meriweather, apparently.
Even Meriweather’s teammates say he has to adapt the way he plays to the new rules designed to protect players’ heads. And yet he continues on his merry way — or Meri way, as it were. The paucity of talented players in Washington’s secondary makes it difficult to cut Meriweather loose, but the team also can ill-afford 30 yards in penalty yardage every week.
And if suspensions are being determined not by what the player deserves but by what the league thinks will shake out after the appeals process, something is wrong with the system.
Then there is Aledo High School, the No. 1 team in Texas’s Class 4A. After Aledo beat Fort Worth Western Hills, 91-0, last weekend, a parent of a Western Hills player filed a bullying complaint against Aledo’s coaching staff.
Aledo is undefeated and averages 69.3 points a game; Western Hills is winless and has allowed at least 60 points in four of its seven games. Aledo Coach Tim Buchanan pulled his starters after 21 snaps, and his team threw just 10 times. Beginning in the third quarter, the clock ran continuously. The Western Hills coach said afterward he didn’t see what Aledo could have done differently.
And yet Buchanan was investigated for bullying because all bullying complaints must be investigated (and that’s a good thing). The anonymous parent said he didn’t know what to say to his child after the game. Buddy, you had better figure it out. The kid plays for a bad football team, and it lost to one of the best teams in the state. This isn’t complex.
It also diminishes the point of the bullying policy, which is to protect kids whose lives are made so miserable that losing a football game by 91 points would seem like a visit to Disneyland by comparison. Buchanan said this week that the investigation found no evidence of bullying.
And that seems fair.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.