The Rules of the Game

During this World Cup time, I have been thinking (and blogging) a lot about fairness.  The officiating in this World Cup is some of the worst I have seen and it makes you wonder why video replay hasn’t made its way into the international arena yet.  Upon watching this morning’s games it really dawned on me, and suddenly I was at peace.  

The rules of the game aren’t just the stated rules, but the unstated rules as well (which are essentially the byproducts of the rules themselves).  Only a certain number of refs are on that big open soccer field.  There is no instant replay and no review of calls.  Calls, no matter how awful, stand once called.  This is the game we have chosen to play.

The very first intelligent argument that my ex and I had was over this very same concept, but in the criminal law context.  I was applying to law school at the time and was thinking about what my point of view would be as a lawyer working in a system where so much is screwed up, and during a political administration equivalent of a Right wing circus act.  We started talking about the OJ Simpson criminal trial.  I told my ex that Simpson was innocent (or technically, “not guilty”).  My ex, outrageously disagreed.  Of course he did it.  I had to explain to him that it didn’t matter what we THOUGHT.  What mattered was that outcome, what those jurors said.  I HAD to stand behind OJ at that time, because the system that we had created for ourselves had served the purpose that it set out to.  In America, we have created a legal system where our rights are protected.  Therefore, we take the consequence of letting some guilty people go free, so not to imprison lots of innocent people, falsely.  We wanted it to work this way.  And after all the evidence was heard and arguments argued, that jury said he wasn’t guilty, and you have to believe that the system worked exactly the way it was supposed to.

At the end of the day, my ex and I were so exhausted from arguing we just agreed to disagree on this.  I felt that this wasn’t going to be the first time I had to justify my point of view.  Environmentalists are always seen as fists in the air, bleeding hearts, radical reformists.  I am not.  I do believe the system can always be improved but until then, rules are for following, not for breaking.  Work within the system to create change, I suppose.  And as a lawyer, I really feel that my ethical duty and oath is to uphold the system and make it work the best it can.  

I still think that replay could help soccer immensely.  But until then, I suppose you have to take the “win some, lose some” attitude to these games.  Sometimes goals are disallowed when they should be good, and sometimes we let guilty people go free.  Clearly if the ref KNOWS at the time that it is a good goal, he should allow it.  Clearly, if the jury KNOWS (at least beyond reasonable doubt) at the time that the defendant is guilty, they should convict.  We don’t always KNOW.  And so we’ve chosen that in soccer, when you don’t know, you trust the people who are in the best position TO know, the refs (it is their job after all).  And we’ve chosen in law, that when you don’t know for sure, you can’t put someone behind bars until you do.  The only thing you DO have control over when things don’t go as you want them to…you don’t have to play the game at all.  The choice to play the game is a choice to play by the rules.  

So in the end, I suppose all those bad calls, as painful as they are to think about in this way, are as fair as they get.  You just hope that the next time a call is made, it’s made right, and if it isn’t, then you hope it at least goes your way.

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