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Gans: Fans need some perspective (Oct. 9)

Sam Gans | Monday, October 8, 2012

As Two-Face so eloquently stated in “The Dark Knight,” “It’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s fair!”

The whole notion of accountability – who it is fair to blame when a problem occurs and who it is fair to expect to fix it – has been in the news often recently as we move closer to the presidential election. Both candidates have tried to portray the necessity of different groups sacrificing some things they want for what the candidates believe is fair to help the nation.

Sports also have a nature of accountability, but in a different sense. All you have to do to see the fair result of a game is look at the scoreboard after it. The team that scores the most points – by virtue of making the most big plays and making the fewest amount of mistakes – is the better one, at least on that day, no matter what you may want as a fan. The team that does not perform the best is held accountable in a simple way: It lost.

But that’s in a perfect world that doesn’t factor in a key outside influence known as game officials.

Fans, including myself, don’t want to believe it’s possible that their team could simply just not be as good as the opponent. This is what makes referees such easy scapegoats. It’s a way to say the final score is not actually fair. It’s a way to hold someone besides your heroes accountable for the fact they could not get the job done on the field that day. And the media only helps spur this view.

The officials have been in the news a lot lately. The most recent example was Friday’s National League wildcard game between Atlanta and St. Louis. The Braves, batting in the bottom of the eighth down 6-3, should have had the bases loaded with one out, but a horrendous infield fly call gave Atlanta two outs and runners on only second and third base.

The ruling was referred to as “game-changing” by fans and the media alike. Well, it technically did change the game. Outcome-changing, on the other hand? Probably not. The score would not have changed. The Braves still would have been down three runs. If the next three at bats went the way they did, Atlanta would still have entered the ninth down multiple runs, though 6-4 instead of 6-3.

Regardless of the call’s impact, it makes an easy excuse to allow Braves fans to forget that Atlanta committed three more errors and left 10 more men stranded than the Cardinals, and, frankly, didn’t deserve to win.

Another gaffe occurred in the now infamous ending to the Packers vs. Seahawks game two weeks ago. In this case, Packers fans have a much more legitimate gripe, because it was outcome-changing, and Green Bay did deserve to win.

But it was also the Packers’ poor offensive performance that put them in the position to lose in the first place, as they gained fewer than 270 total yards all night. I maintain there were three winners that emerged from that game. The Seahawks and the NFL referees, who were back on the field three days later after settling their lockout, were the obvious ones.

But also, ironically, the Packers’ offensive line won. America’s entire focus shifted from Green Bay allowing a whopping eight sacks to the call at the end of the game. Plus, guard T.J. Lang gained an additional 70,000 Twitter followers in a span of 24 hours due to his expletive-laden tweets directed toward the NFL. And everyone knows Twitter followers are much more important than wins and losses.

If you still doubt the lengths fans and the media will go to blame anyone but the athletes on the field, I give you two names: Steve Bartman and Alex Gonzalez. Bartman – who did nothing wrong – was the scapegoat, not the Major League shortstop that botched the routine inning-ending double play. Why?

This column is not trying to take away blame from officials and give them a free pass. On the contrary, good officiating protects the integrity of the game, and they should be held accountable by the leagues. And fans have the right to be upset when a bad call plays a role in a loss.

All this is asking is for fans to, first and foremost, acknowledge their team’s faults and admit their performance was the ultimate reason they lost, even if they don’t want to.