Saturday, January 24, 2009

There's Always Next Season

In Texas, a girl's high school basketball game ended in a 100-0 squeaker and

officials from the winning school say they are trying to do the right thing by seeking a forfeit and apologizing for the margin of victory.
The losing team -- the one that watched the other team roll up 100 points while it didn't manage even a single free throw -- consisted of high school girls with learning disabilities.

And yet I deny that apologizing and ceding a forfeit is the right thing. Were it the right thing to cede victory to the most sympathetic team, basketball wouldn't need a ball, courts, baskets, backboards, uniforms, referees who don't know a walking violation when they see it, or the rest.

Basketball is not about righting life's wrongs. One plays basketball for the same reason one plays any competitive team sport: to win the game by outscoring the other team. I know from experience it's painful to lose in basketball and in other sports, but the pain of losing, even losing by wide margins, is part of the ethos of sport. Scratch that -- it's in the very brick and mortar of sport.

But isn't it graceless, cruel, punitive? That the winning-but-guilty team was Christian ever more closely ties this case to Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals:
Watching suffering makes people feel good; creating suffering makes them feel even better—that’s a harsh principle, but an old, powerful, and human, all-too-human major principle, which, by the way, even the apes might perhaps agree with as well. For people say that, in thinking up bizarre cruelties, the apes already anticipate a great many human actions and are, as it were, an “audition.” Without cruelty there is no celebration: that’s what the oldest and longest human history teaches us—and with punishment, too, there is so much celebration!
Here, here. And without cruelty there is no competitive sport -- "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" are interlaced.

And in any case, which brings more humiliation: losing 100-0 despite your best effort, or "winning" by means of a pity-based forfeit? No contest.


Mike said...

Quite correct Dale. A little lax defense late in the game would have been worthwhile, just to show that it isn't that big a deal. The forfeit, on the other hand, only makes the incident seem more important that it actually was.

K said...

I think everyone has missed the point on this. One of the key elements of sports is SPORTSMANSHIP. These girls and their coach clearly failed to learn this life lesson. Once you are safely in the lead, a good winner would put in their second string, and allow the other team to lose with some dignity. Being a good winner is as important as being a good loser.

The girls deserved to forfeit, and the coach deserved to be fired. And the ref should be reprimanded for not calling the game. How could that kind of blow-out be allowed in a scholastic sports league? How can there have been no mercy rule to stop the madness?

larryniven said...

If I may, K, what if they had put in their scrubs? (I dunno if they did, cause I honestly don't care enough about the details to read the story, but the actual fact of the matter is irrelevant to the argument I'm about to make.) Would you still say that the winning team was unsportsmanlike? Because there's a point at which handicapping oneself becomes more unsportsmanlike than continuing to beat down one's opponent.

Also, I think you're making a mistake in saying that they should be allowed to forfeit. Obviously someone at that school is embarrassed by their performance - why allow them to mitigate that embarrassment, to take the easy way out? If it's appropriate for them to be ashamed - if they really did make the dick move and play the starters for their regular minutes, say - then they ought to stay ashamed, period. If, on the other hand, they ought not be ashamed - if they played as respectfully as they could have, given the circumstances - then letting them forfeit teaches them something false about sportsmanship (for instance, that it's their job to institute a mercy rule in the middle of a game, even where none exists). Basically, I'm with Iron & Wine on this one:

Said the plainclothes cop to the beauty queen
"I've seen nothing but a spoke in the wheel"
So she gave up her crown to a kid with a crutch
And they both felt cheated after closing the deal

Dale said...

LN, good points. And bonus points for Iron & Wine.