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On June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga was standing on the mound one out away from completing one of baseballs most hallowed accomplishments, a perfect game. The anticipation was palpable at Comerica Park, and the fans were standing on their feet with a nervous excitement. On the third pitch the ball was hit to the first baseman’s right and Gallaraga went to cover the first base bag. After beating the batter by a step and a half, Armando was ready to jump for joy after completing the improbable.
But, Jim Joyce had other plans in mind that night. The runner was called safe, and Gallaraga’s quest for history, would have to continue a different night.
Gallaraga, in his book, recalls that all could do was smile, because that was how his parents raised him. He was taught by his parents that in the hardest times, it doesn’t matter how you feel on the inside, but what you show on the outside.
So despite the knowledge that the runner should have been called out, he smiled (Gallaraga et al. 202).
The damage being done, Gallaraga calmly got the next batter to fly out, and walked to the dugout. The ensuing news cycle was all about how Joyce should be fired and that Gallaraga’s name should be added to the record books, albeit with an asterisk. But slowly a new theme emerged, having video review technology available for the umpires could have prevented this sad saga. Galarraga would have been able to smile for real, because the call would have been overturned.
The most memorable moment, would not have been of the smile, but of a perfect game. Galarraga’s tale is one of tragedy and what ifs, but it was more importantly the straw that broke the camel’s back in the creation of video replay’s use in baseball.
Baseball has been around in a professional manner since the 1880’s, football since the 1920’s, and basketball since the 1940’s. This means that there is a lot of sports history between just the big three American sports. A massive majority of these years was spent without replay review in these sports. This is the basis for the main argument you will hear against the use of supplemental video review in sports. The “old-timers” or “purists” (as they see themselves), claim this is tradition and we shouldn’t change how sports are played. They also would like to say, that using this replay adds unnecessary extra time to sports games that are getting longer and longer over the years.
They question remains, would the sports leagues have used replay technology if they had the availability to it in the 1800’s? Or is it that it takes away from the game in some other way, too much time, ambiguous to the interpretation of the umpire watching the replay, etc.
If the technology was available, they would have used it. Referees, umpires, and officials in general, all have one thing in common; they are all human. Humans make mistakes, and are also prone to other problems, like addictions or bias.
Tim Donaghy, who was an NBA referee for fifteen years is a perfect example. He was working for a group that was headed by a mob gangster from New Jersey, whom Donaghy went to high school with. He was approached and slowly bought in on the money to be made and the gambling bug that he couldn’t get enough of. In an interview after serving his sentence for gambling on NBA games, he recalls his feelings during that time period. “He said the wins came easy and so did the money. ‘It’s euphoria,’ he said. ‘I’m making picks. I’m the go-to guy. And I’m continually winning at an unbelievable rate (Abbott).’ It is clear, that for Donaghy, his vice was money and the feelings that came with winning his bets.
Donaghy also comments on being the “go-to guy”. This feeling of belonging and acceptance was something he desperately wanted in his life and it was enough of an impetus for him to break the law. Belonging and acceptance, along with every other human emotion is something a computer can’t feel. A computer or video replay system can’t be “bought off” in this manner, and this problem could have been avoided.
Interestingly, Donaghy mentions another tactic that allowed him to be successful in 17 of 25 bets, a 68% success rate. “Donaghy said he made money was to bet on big underdogs when Dick Bavetta was one of the referees, because Bavetta liked to keep games close.” Donaghy also commented on bias and the predispositions of officials against certain players. He pointed out that teams that Allen Iverson played for would underperform when Steve Javier was one of the referees, but would tend to beat the spread when Joe Crawford officiated (Abbott).
So in essence, one of the keys that allowed Donaghy to win his wagers, was knowing the referees were human, each with their own biases. All Donaghy did, was figure out a way to profit off the information.
Joseph Price and Justin Wolfers, published a study entitled Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees. Price, at the time of the publication, was a grad student at Cornell, and Wolfers, a professor at the Wharton School for Business. Their study was hoping to find out if referees, who are supposed to be impartial, would consciously or subconsciously perform more favorably to players of their own race. The results were not exactly as out there as they had thought, but were quite alarming nonetheless.
The evaluators we study—NBA referees—are effectively randomly assigned to each game. Moreover, the number of games played each year is large, so we can assess both a very clear baseline rate at which individual players commit fouls, and also a clear baseline for the number of fouls called by different referees. Against this baseline, we find systematic evidence of an own race bias. Notably, players earn up to 4 percent fewer fouls or score up to 2½ percent more points when they are the recipients of a positive own-race bias, rather than a negative opposite-race effect. Player statistics that one might think are unaffected by referee behavior are uncorrelated with referee race. The bias in refereeing is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew assigned to the game (Price, Wolfers 3).
The two and a half percent more points could have potentially changed all the outcomes of games with a three point margin. That comes out to roughly seven percent of all games played in a season or 1 in 14. This is too much power for an “impartial” referee to wield.
In 2014, a follow up study was conducted, and it was discovered that racial inequality had almost disappeared. What the study did show, is that it is very hard to mask ones and predispositions unless one is called out on it. Without the study done in 2007, who knows if the bias in the NBA officiating would still be there. This would be a good reason to implement a referee who controlled a monitor with video review from somewhere else in the stadium or arena, to help keep the referees in check; not because they’re bad at their jobs, but because they are human.
A reason why video replay would be unbeneficial in sports as a whole, can’t be analyzed by numbers, but as a valid reason nonetheless. In an article written by Jay Caspian Kang for the New York Times, Kang presents what many claim to be the reason they follow sports. Sports, whether by watching or playing, take us out of our boring and monotonous lives, and allows us to enjoy unbridled fun through healthy (or sometimes unhealthy) competition (Kang).
Kang questions if adding replay to sports takes away some of the fun that comes with watching sports. When you watch an incredible play to end a great game, the last thing you want to see is the fan is ten minutes of every angle of the play being shown to confirm what is already known; the team you follow has won or lost. “There’s an implicit cost analysis in these moments: We pause or at least hiccup in our response to make sure that the whole thing won’t be overturned upon review (Kang).” Kang calls this “replay anxiety”, the feeling of wanting to shout for joy or grown in disgust, but not being able to, because the play has to be reviewed first.
Drew Sharp also has his objections to video replay technology being used in sports. Through the lens of college football, Sharp argues that there is too much video replay in the sport. For years, sports teams had to play through the officiating and sometimes calls don’t go a team’s way. That is part of the game. Sharp quotes the saying “bad calls don’t lose you the game, bad plays do.” Sharp points out, that while trying to make the game more perfect, all we’ve managed to do is magnify the imperfections (Sharp).
Tennis, while being the one of the last sports to implement video replay, was surprisingly one of the first sports to recognize the need. Liz Clarke a reporter for The Washington Post, wrote in June of 2018 about the expansion of the technology in the sport as a whole. The World Tennis Association first recognized the need in 2004, when Serena Williams lost a set and the subsequent match because the line judge that called the ball inbounds, was overturned by the chair umpire. While they apologized after the fact, the damage was done and they started paying attention to the use of replay in tennis (Clarke).
It is not just the major American sports that have taken notice. Major League Soccer (MLS) has employed the use of replay as well. Video replay was added to the MLS in July of 2017 and it was tested in youth soccer games before the all-star break of that year, to prepare the referees for the implementation of the system. Being the last American sports league to add replay review, afforded the MLS to have the opportunity to see the positives and the pitfalls of video replay. “If it’s used in the right way, this will be an absolutely wonderful addition to our sport,” said Howard Webb, a former Premier League official, who since March 1 has overseen the V.A.R. (Video Assistance Referee) training in MLS. “If it’s overused, it’s going to make our sport a mess (Shpigel).”
While Kang and Sharp think that video replay should be removed from sports entirely, in reality it has done much more good than bad. It takes the onus out of the referees hands; even though it adds more time, it assures that the right call is being called way more often. It not only has made a difference in the major sports, but has seen success in soccer and tennis as well. With the expanded use of this technology, it is hoped that we won’t have to watch another Galarraga or Williams, lose out on a perfect game or a grand slam title due to human error. Just because our ancestors in the 1800’s made do without cars, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them. The technology is available and we should use it.
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