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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Longtime reader(s?) of this blog will know that I have something of a soft spot for films that don’t really give much of a damn about plot or story.  I may be the only person who seriously considers Le Mans (1971, D: Lee Katzin/Steve McQueen; see article on the film here) every time he tries to assemble a top ten list of films in his head.  I am often drawn to films which illuminate action and motion and exteriority.

Luckily for me, the Nightingale Theatre in Chicago programmed a film that could be said to be a spiritual cousin to Le Mans.  This film is entitled Fußball wie noch nie (Football As Never Before) (1970, D: Hellmuth Costard).  It was a privilege to see it, as no prints of the film exist in the USA, and the only way to see it is on a DVD from the Göthe Institute in Boston.  FWNN is a doumentary that centers on George Best (“In the role of a lifetime!”), winger for Manchester United.

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In continuing the trend of spreading the RD seed across the internet, Ted has written a piece for the lovely Fredorrarci’s lovely Sport Is a TV Show blog.  It is about soccer and Gary Cahill.  Enjoy.

More to come in the following days; never you worry.

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mauer

To be human is to know conflict.  Without something to push against, life fades almost to meaninglessness (at least to a sort of Western, dramatic way of thinking).  If it is not to lead to simply the triumph of the mighty, and the probable and ultimate death of one side, conflict must have recourse to some sort of external resolving factor.  Without the arbitrary decision of a third party, two sides of a fight could merely keep extending their claim to the right ad infinitum unto the grave, forced or of old age.  Humans being what they are, though, arbitration is not always satisfactory; bias and simple stupidity can stand in the way.
Enter technology; as the means to record events more and more accurately have increased over the centuries since more or less the invention of literacy, aids to accessing the truth of the world have multiplied.  These records and instruments can be put to all kinds of use for matters judicial and legal, of course; “the camera doesn’t lie”, so they say (said).  Perhaps inevitably, as technology has become more sophisticated, the calls of those who want to eliminate uncertainties arising from the human factor in arbitration have grown louder.  Eliminate the human, and you eliminate errors and biases, they say.  The truth of what actually happened will shine through from underneath the muddy layers of human stupidity; the Rashomon gate will become the scene of certainty.  DNA evidence will show beyond the shadow of a doubt who murdered that man.  Federer’s forehand will be shown to have landed outside the line.
Sports, being fundamentally struggle and conflict, has always made recourse to third party arbitration when available.  The higher the stakes, the more important the role of the arbitrator; the Lakers and the Celtics are not going to make their own foul calls with so much on the line.  Bias is almost always assured in human contests, and often acted upon.  The more the contest means to those involved, the more they will lie and cheat to a favorable (if tainted, no matter) result.  Or at least, it’s possible.  So officials of all kinds arrived to render decisions based on the stated rules of the game, some with more help than others (officiating a horse race is probably easier than refereeing a hockey game, for instance).
As more aids to increasing the signal in a field of noise present themselves in real life, so do they in sports.  HawkEye technology, strikezone metrics, video replay, drug testing; more and more, one hears about these things entering the referee’s world, looking to do his job better than he, and hopefully someday taking his job.  The thinking, presumably, is that one must strip away from the game all trappings of error, potential bias, and interpretation for the true game to shine through, for the result to be purely a measure of which team or contestant is better on the day.  This thinking, though, ignores much of what makes sports so compelling from a dramatic, artistic, and moral perspective and operates from an understanding of sports as a measure of objective truth rather than exercise in conflict.
This thinking is to be resisted.
Sports are narrative in shape, if not in purpose.  While sporting matches do not illuminate aspects of the world in a referential sense, they nonetheless take the shape of stories.    Forces gather, collide, pong around, and the conflict ends one way or another.  Like a story, though, rarely are there two agents shaping the course of the events.  Outside forces great and small, invisible and blatant, get thrown into the mix.  Thor is fighting against the giants again, but Loki pulls the strings; Stringer Bell tries to hold the Police at bay, but Omar wends through the chess match like a three-year old upsetting the board.  Sorry; you get the idea.
If one views sports through this lens, “objective truth” matters about as much as the legality of the drug trade in Baltimore.  This ain’t cribbage; this ain’t a courthouse.  The umpire blowing the call in the baseball game, his expanding strike zone, and his hasty ejection of a pitcher are as much a part of the game as bats, bases, and gloves are.  As Fredorrarci points out in this post, justice works differently in sports, just another piece on the board rather than the over-arching system.  Objective truth gives way to Werner Herzog’s ecstatic truth; a truth viewed in the midst of acting, of doing, of creating; a truth beyond fact.
Sports both comprise part of the modern, mechanized world, and transcend it.  As most readers of the more interesting sporting blogs on the internet know, sports are as much aesthetic as athletic.  All the Myoplex and Rolex timers in the world can’t wipe the absolutely fucking silly grin off of my face as I watch Usain Bolt run the 200m.  All those pre-planned diets fade to grey muck when Thierry Henry bends a half-volley in at the very far upper corner.  Sports illuminate aspects of what it means to be human just as music, cinema, and literature do.  Sports are the arts of the body in conflict.  
And yet, there are those so obsessed with sports as a measure of winners and losers that they would discard the referee as a failure and replace him with perfection.  In replacing a figure who might blow the call with a computer, fans concerned with some kind of Fordist perfection fall victim to modernity’s trap.  Progress runs amok and stamps out the random, the unpredictable, the tempestuous.  Society is mechanized and perfected enough; let the wildness show through, and the observer can learn lessons of another type.  Conflicts rarely go as planned; contingencies, freak occurrences, and bad weather can blast the most perfectly planned operation to smithereens.  Nazi tanks bog down in the Russian mud; the umpire sees the ball land foul.
Even if the calls would always be correct in matters of fact (fair/foul, in/out, first/just behind, caught/trapped), there are increasing cries for using technology to determine intent in sports.  This is utter nonsense.  The best example of this is the dive in soccer, or rather, the “intent to deceive the referee”, as the laws call it.  It is right there in the name: intent.  What is intent?  Is it like motive in a murder case on television?  All the replay in the world cannot establish whether a player INTENDED to do anything, even if he could be shown OBJECTIVELY to have began to fall forward before the defender’s cleats arrived.  This still does not prove intent, despite the screams of the masses (mostly for the losing team) to “stamp out diving”.  All it proves is that he started falling over before the shoes appeared.  The NFL has thankfully drawn limits around what can be reviewed by instant replay to matters of visual fact.
In the main, though, the dramatic question is the overriding one.  Maradona’s goal versus England in 1986, scored with his hand, is legendary.  Had there been technology available to judge this moment, a whole host of narrative intrigue that went on for weeks is obliterated.  To be sure, England’s players probably would tell me to stuff my drama directly up my ass, and perhaps I should.  But all my stuffing wouldn’t take away the fact that at least four of them had let the same Maradona skip past them in the same contest.
This last point is also very important.  No sporting event of any length comes down to one moment.  There are hundreds of disasters waiting to happen to either side in a contest, and no one moment is deciding.  To be sure, they may be evenly matched except for that one moment, but more often than not, one moment of scandal is counterbalanced by nine or ten moments of just poor performance.  Fortune plays a part in conflict; Fortune plays a part in life.  If one could say that there is any kind of spiritual dimension to sport, it is that humans are subject to luck, to strokes of things beyond their control.  Many things happen in life that are beyond folks’ control, and sports are no different.  The wisdom of letting go, of letting moments of ill favor happen in order to transcend them, is a wisdom as old as human’s relationships with gods.  The HawkEye machine knows no such wisdom; it knows only in, or out.

 

[Many thanks to Sport Is a TV Show and the Run of Play for inspiration – Ed.]

To be human is to know conflict.  Without something to push against, life fades almost to meaninglessness (at least to a sort of Western, dramatic way of thinking).  If it is not to lead to simply the triumph of the mighty, and the probable and ultimate death of one side, conflict must have recourse to some sort of external resolving factor.  Without the arbitrary decision of a third party, two sides of a fight could merely keep extending their claim to the right ad infinitum unto the grave, forced or of old age.  Humans being what they are, though, arbitration is not always satisfactory; bias and simple stupidity can stand in the way.

 

Enter technology; as the means to record events more and more accurately have increased over the centuries since more or less the invention of literacy, aids to accessing the truth of the world have multiplied.  These records and instruments can be put to all kinds of use for matters judicial and legal, of course; “the camera doesn’t lie”, so they say (said).  Perhaps inevitably, as technology has become more sophisticated, the calls of those who want to eliminate uncertainties arising from the human factor in arbitration have grown louder.  Eliminate the human, and you eliminate errors and biases, they say.  The truth of what actually happened will shine through from underneath the muddy layers of human stupidity; the Rashomon gate will become the scene of certainty.  DNA evidence will show beyond the shadow of a doubt who murdered that man.  Federer’s forehand will be shown to have landed outside the line.

(more…)

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I’ve written a quick little thing about Arsenal over at Arsenal Station.  We’re diversifying!

vermaelen-and-vanpersie

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youppi

So Sports Illustrated gathered some of their finest (?) writers to compile a list of things they “miss” about baseball. It seems in conjuncture with what is presumably an ongoing series titled “REMEMBER WHEN (presented by Nestle Crunch)”. Naturally, I was enraged by most of the list, being a young whipper snapper, and since apparently all the contributors of this list are crotchety old men fueled by imaginary nostalgia and a penchant for absolutely no fact checking at all. Shall we? We shall.

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2009 MLB All Star Game

Since All-Star voting is a complete joke (read: fans, coaches, players, writers, and 98% of everyone involved with baseball are idiots), figured I’d throw my weight around here. So uh, yeah, this team is meant to represent the best of the first half which, while making me cringe, gives some sort of validity to putting Marco Scutaro on anything with the word “star” attached. (Editors note: 1 player was selected from each team, like the real All-Star game).

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2009 MLB All Star Game

Since All-Star voting is a complete joke (read: fans, coaches, players, writers, and 98% of everyone involved with baseball are idiots), figured I’d throw my weight around here. So uh, yeah, this team is meant to represent the best of the first half which, while making me cringe, gives some sort of validity to putting Marco Scutaro on anything with the word “star” attached. (Editors note: 1 player was selected from each team, like the real All-Star game).

(more…)

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