I was quite the soccer player when I was a teenager, but never got into watching it until recently. Like many new American soccer fans, it really grinds my gears when the players pretend to get fouled, fall to the ground, and roll around in agony as if they have been picked off by a sniper.
As a defender, I always assumed the offensive players were doing this with extreme purpose, They were trying to cheat. Soccer gets a bad wrap for this, but we see the same phenomenon in every sport. Basketball players aghast they did not get the call. Baseball players kicking up dirt claiming they were actually safe at first. And I always thought this was a specific strategy to cheat the game. Which is why it bothered me so much.
Recently, sports – including basketball, baseball, and soccer – have instituted a system of reviewing close calls to make sure the refs get it right. And as I’ve been watching this throughout the sports world, I am starting to realize all that flailing and flopping is much more sinister than just trying to cheat. And that it is not something solely relegated to sports.
This is an example of art (sport) imitating life. This idea of “taking a dive”, pretending to be hurt or otherwise bamboozle the referee into giving you an advantage is a cultural problem, not an athletic one.
After all, the instituting of instant replay came into effect because so many players, coaches, and casual fans are constantly bellyaching over “bad calls”. They focus in on one moment where a ref made a choice and claim they were cheated, as if that moment were the only one in the game and the players were not responsible for it, what happened before or after.
The funny thing about this is that when they put the use of replay into place (via coaches challenges, etc.), it became clear the players are not trying to bamboozle the refs. They are bamboozled themselves! And so am I. So are you. We are a self-deluded society and sports is a perfect metaphor.
How many times have you, if you are a modern sports fan, seen a player jump up and down, gesticulate, and beg their coach to use a “coach’s challenge” to try to overturn a call. They are not acting. They are SURE they know what happened. It is almost comical. Coaches routinely ignore their player’s plea.
Why? Because the players are biased. They are looking for every competitive advantage they can get. So much so that they see some that are not even there. Everything is viewed from their lens of getting an advantage and avoiding a disadvantage. It warps their perspective.
Isn’t that why we need referees in the first place? They are meant to be arbiters of justice. The biased players can’t see reality as accurately as an unbiased official. Sure there may be anecdotes when a ref gets it wrong or is overcome by his own bias. But by and large, their distance leads to better judgement.
In our society, we are looking for our own advantages (and looking to avoid disadvantages). And that shades the way we see the world. The way we pre-interpret events filters how we perceive events. It is like that optical illusion of a dress that went viral a few years ago – half saw it as gold and the other half saw it as blue. The key was in what assumptions your mind made about the dress’ surroundings (was it inside/outside, etc.). And that changed the way your eye perceived the color.
Taking a Dive
The real trouble though comes when we refuse to acknowledge our own bias. We start to see our filtered truth as THE TRUTH. We start to fall down, expecting a foul, and really, genuinely feel as though we have been fouled. But life does not always have a replay system to set things right (and truly, how many players even look at the replay and swear they see something that confirms their initial position).
So, we take a dive. I am not saying there are not times when we are genuinely fouled, but there are also times when we are not. And it is increasingly difficult for us to tell the difference. It is not that we are cheating. It is that we are so biased and so untrusting of the referees in our society, that we see things as we see them and not as they are.
The real scary thing in today’s world is this: what do you do when you no longer trust the referee? When there are institutions or systems that are broken. Imagine if players called their own fouls in a professional league. It would be chaos. Anarchy. And that is where we are heading. Unless we can find arbiters we all trust, which is becoming less and less likely.
The only other choice is to refuse to play. To split and start your own league where you can decide the rules and the people who will enforce them. Maybe this is the right choice if the refs are corrupt. But, beware, you are taking your filters and your bias with you.