November 1, 2004

The Officials Have A Role

As we all know by now, the Green Bay Packers beat the Washington Redskins in the Redskins' final home game before the presidential election. This means that, of course, the incumbent will lose.

What's more interesting is how that loss occurred. The news has been filled with stories of lawyers and vote-watchers being deployed around the country, especially in the "battleground states" (no, those are not Afghanistan and Iraq, where the mission is accomplished and the war is already over). They are doing this to make sure, we optimistically presume, that the election is fair, that no one breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage.

That's just what football officials are for. They are there to make sure that no one breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage.

In our litigious society, 300-pound grown men making millions of dollars a year can be sent into convulsions, and entire stadia full of normally normal people can be turned into writhing lunatics by a little yellow hankie... or more often, the absence of a little yellow hankie. It's amazing that when ten 300-pound men bash each other at full speed, we pay attention to such little things as whether the defensive back's hand was touching or was not touching the receiver's back, never mind whether an advantage was gained or lost by the action.

It occurs to me that the NFL is very similar to politics... or perhaps, our politics have become like the NFL. The news media, for lack of patience and intelligence to educate the electorate on the actual issues, floods Washington with sideline reporters and constantly shouts out the score (49 to 47!), without any real context or analysis. Coverage of the election is more about strategy and tactics to reach certain groups of voters and counteract the other campaign's strategy, and less about what the candidates actually do and what they promise, and what they SHOULD BE doing and promising.

In the presidential election, the media have changed their role over the years. Their role should be one of the referee, watching closely to ensure that neither side breaks the rules or gains an unfair advantage. (Yes, we have lawyers and courts and public officials to do that too, but observing Florida's history and what's already begun in Ohio, I think I want instant replay.) Instead, the media are playing the role of color analyst and play-by-play announcer, somewhat meaningless noise to go along with the pictures we're seeing, and endless debate over the personnel and tactics used by the candidates.

I wonder if the Supreme Court will get involved in the Packers-Redskins game. Maybe a thorough review of the video will show that the flag was thrown erroneously, and the Supreme Court can grant the touchdown and demand a replay of the final few minutes of the game. Logistically, that will be virtually impossible in time to name a president, so they will have to take the results as they would have stood after the Redskins touchdown.

So far I haven't heard of any lawsuits filed over the illegal motion penalty. But today's not over yet.

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