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Quick Inside Slant: Week 4

Impressions of the 2015 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

batted ball

Whenever anyone on Game of Thrones or any other overly dramatic TV show says something is punishable by “a fate worse than death,” I picture that person tied down to a rock while birds of prey peck at his innards every night until he eventually loses consciousness and his soul takes absence of his body. And then he is reincarnated as a Lions fan.

Oh my word! Karma is a fickle mistress, Mr. Tate! They’re doing it again! And by that, I could mean either the refs are handing the Seahawks a home victory on Monday night that they don’t deserve OR the refs are screwing the Lions out of a win on national TV again. As soon as KJ Wright batted that ball through the back of the end zone, I knew it was illegal, something nobody on the officiating staff, the broadcast team, or the Lions organization was aware of. And then nothing happened. And even more egregiously, nobody said anything about it until the game was over. Then, Gerry Austin told us all what I already knew. Sometimes I hate being right all the time.

The NFL’s System of Lies

The NFL thinks we’re stupid. This insult of my intelligence is far more aggravating than knowing the league is full of some terrible people. Dean Blandino came out and said that the back judge thought that the bat wasn’t necessarily intentional, which is why he never threw the flag. Yeah, right. And I’ll bet he didn’t really forget his anniversary, but the locket he bought his wife just had the wrong inscription on it, so he had to send it back. The NFL is trying as hard as they can not to say “The back judge didn’t know the rule” because that would cause some irreversible public uproar about competence in the officials and thus, the NFL office. And saying that the ref didn’t see it when he is clearly staring right at it in every video the world has of this play wasn’t going to fly. So either the back judge, or the on-field officiating staff, or most likely the NFL officiating office, decided to concoct this explanation of the whole “ref not thinking it was intentional” thing. Because it was either that or the public uproar.

How to Be an Official

referee-batted

I’m not sure why that guy didn’t throw his flag, because illegally batting the ball isn’t necessarily a complicated or obscure rule. You can’t bat the ball, especially not out of bounds, and especially not in the end zone. Easy peasy. It even has its own hand signal. And just in case you’re wrong, you can throw the flag and talk it over with your buddies – some of whom may know they rule – and you can pick it up. The Lions happen to know you can do that, even on judgment calls. So either A) the ref didn’t know the rule, or B) the ref didn’t think it was an intentional bat, or – and here’s my theory – C) he didn’t think it affected the outcome of the play, so he didn’t bother throwing his flag.

When I was first taught how to officiate sports back in the 90s, there was this concept of advantage. Soccer players know what I’m talking about. If there was a hand check in a basketball game that caused a turnover, you’d have to call the foul. But if there was a hand check and the ball remained in the possession of the ball-handler, you could let it go and simply shout out “watch the hand checking” and you didn’t have to stop the clock and waste everybody’s time. This was confirmed at a conference by a panel of four professional officials in baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. But sometime over the next ten years, that rule changed, mostly because of the presence of video cameras everywhere, as noted by a similar panel at a similar conference. Everything you did as an official was scrutinized on video, whether official or on a fan’s cell phone, so advantage started to disappear as refs were being held accountable for every play. Thus, it’s hard for me to believe that this back judge saw this happen and thought to himself “Well, the ball is probably going out anyway, why bother costing Kam Chancellor his glory by throwing a meaningless flag? Besides, all my errors can be wiped up in the replay booth anyway.” But it does sound like the most reasonable explanation. Except maybe for D.

D) He figured the play would be under review anyway, so because he wasn’t sure of the rule at the time it happened, maybe he just froze. Officials are now being taught to let plays extend further than normal because of replay. If you’re not sure if the runner is down before the ball comes out, swallow that whistle and let the play run and it can all be mopped up in replay. Maybe that’s what had the official frozen still, with his hand temporarily reaching for his flag – or something else on his belt buckle. But I’m sure Dean Blandino would just say he thought he felt his pager going off.

Everything is Subjective

As it turns out, in a rather unfortunate turn of events for the Lions, the batting of a ball out of bounds somehow falls into the “subjective” category of plays that aren’t reviewable. See, the NFL says that subjective plays are not available for review, and I agree on some level. How can you possibly regulate holding or pass interference in replay when there is so much subjectivity to those plays and there is borderline contact on nearly every play? Whichever team didn’t get the call would have a legitimate complaint and the refs would be attacked by the players, coaches, fans, and media for every call. It can’t happen.

But why in the heck is this play considered subjective? Because it’s somehow easier to determine intent in the moment than on video? Then you’re going to turn around and tell me that determining when a player gains or loses control of the ball is NOT subjective and therefore more easily seen on video? Just like any video replay, look at it and if you’re not absolutely sure it’s a bat, don’t reverse it. But I doubt you’ll find anyone on earth other than that back judge who thinks this ball wasn’t intentionally batted out of bounds. Perhaps it isn’t subjectivity that is the culprit here, but something else.

Missing the Point

If you’d like to see a monkey banging on a keyboard for three minutes, please watch Trent Dilfer try to defend the call on the Monday Night Football post game show. He started by trying to say that the ball was definitely going out of bounds, then he compared it to holding away from the play, then I think he actually threw some feces at the camera. Steve Young and Ray Lewis tried several times to talk their colleague back to reality. “Hey Trent, that’s an interesting point and thanks for playing devil’s advocate, but seriously, you can come back to reality now… Really, the gig is up, buddy… Please stop talking. You’re embarrassing the network.” But they lost him. I’m not sure what his agenda was – perhaps he was playing against Calvin Johnson in his fantasy league or something – but it certainly wasn’t motivated by logic. And it probably helped the case against the NFL to see what it looked like to try to defend their point. Like when that Trump supporter went on that rant about illegal immigrants at his rally. That plan sounds stupid now, doesn’t it?

 

 

Anyway, I’m not really here to provide answers for the NFL. But if I was, I’d start by making that play reviewable, along with pretty much anything other than holding and pass interference (how is a face mask not reviewable either?). Also, there are many, many flags that are thrown and picked up after a referee conference, but (with the exception of intentional grounding) there are never any flags that aren’t thrown but then thrown after that conference. So when in doubt, throw the flag. And of course, whenever possible, don’t be a Lions fan.

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Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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