Monday, December 28, 2009

as it pertains to sports

I got a call today from Leon. He congratulated me on my fantasy football win. He complained a little about the Steeler's game. According to him, Baltimore had 3 touchdowns called back for penalties. He said, "There are two sets of rules in the NFL: Those for the Steelers and those for everyone else."

I agree with him on this.

A few minutes later, Shawn let out a whoop. He is a Steelers fan. He typically hides from any highlights or news programs that might leak the score until he can watch the game on demand though the NFL package, a nifty trick when you live half-way around the world, and the live games are broadcast in the middle of the night. He was beaming about the second penalty, which had just happened for him.

I whined a little about how the Steelers get all the calls, and the Lions (my team) definitely don't. He was quick to defend his team. He used my theory --my own ideas-- against me.

"Winners win. Losers lose," he said. "The Steelers have a reputation. We are a hard-hitting, blue-collar, team with a strong work ethic. Sure, the refs see that and reward us. But, like you said, that frame is co-created." He added, "Yes, we get some calls for us, but we seem to do well at the critical times in games. And we get penalized a lot, too. We are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL."

I don't know about that last bit. I don't want to look it up either. It makes a valid point anyway. Winners overcome adversity. I like the idea, though, that the Steelers are somehow able to project the frame that they are winners so strongly that even refs buy into it. Furthermore, I admit, the Lions have been losers so long that people --even refs-- are content to frame them as losers.

Now that I think about it, I have witnessed something that suggests the lowly Lions can dare to hope. My high school basketball team, the Pellston Hornets, were losers for a long time. The school was a small school, and it was country. When I first started playing and watching games, it seemed like the refs were always out to get us. It seemed like every call at every critical moment went against us. I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Murmurs would spread through the crowd, and sometimes the refs would be booed. Okay, it happened a lot.

The thing is booing the ref for bad calls... well... that is low status behavior. It is what losers do.

Then we got a different coach. I don't know if it was his idea. I don't know it it coincided with a state or nation-wide movement, but there were T-shirts and such with the slogan, "Good sports are winners." I remember him hushing the fans after blatantly bad calls. It took a few years, but the fans were re-educated to encourage the players after a bad call, rather than boo the ref. Let's say there was a blocking foul when everyone could see it should have been a charge. Coach would clap his hands and say, "Junior, you got to beat him to that spot. Get there a second quicker." It didn't matter that the kid had done exactly that. Coach demanded he do it even better.

Then something happened. I noticed a few times we started to get crucial calls to go our way. Sometimes the call would be iffy (at best). I would smirk under my hand and think, "We got away with one there."

Everyone gets bad calls against them. If you are able to endure those, if you are able to over-come them, if you are able to maintain your frame that you are a winner by continuing to display high-status posturing, you can subtly influence refs to view you as a winner, and even though they try to maintain their impartiality.

In and of itself, framing yourself as a winner by itself isn't enough to win. Still, sometimes, especially in highly competitive fields, it is the smallest of differences that separate winners from losers. In the case of the Steelers vs. Baltimore with playoffs on the line, Baltimore had three touchdowns called back and only lost by three points. Those were some important penalties.

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