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Inside looking out: Why video replay strikes out

Published April 20. 2019 06:05AM

The National Football League has allowed coaches to dispute calls made by officials since 1999 and has recently expanded their video replays to include certain penalties. Major League Baseball instituted video reviews of close plays in 2015, and the National Basketball Association has reviewed last-second shots and other marginal game situations since 2002.

For athletes and fans alike, the consensus is that video replay fixes incorrect calls made by officials that can affect who wins and who loses the games.

Yet for hundreds of thousands of professional sports games played before the advent of video review, whatever calls made in the blink of an eye by officials were final, whether they were right or wrong. Of course an integral part of watching sports back then included the arguments over calls that accompanied many a contest, but with no technical means in which to right the wrong, fix the mistake, correct the human error, the games played on and the results were whatever the final scores dictated they were.

Baseball fans often delighted in watching Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver or New York Yankees Manager Lou Piniella rush out of their dugouts to scream at umpires and kick dirt on their shoes over the calls that didn’t favor their teams.

With slow-motion replay, many calls today made by humans in real time are overturned. To be honest, games played by imperfect athletes ruled by imperfect officials are now for the most part with video replay tweaked to perfection in the sports arenas at the collegiate and professional levels of play.

Yet on levels of athletic competition with high school and younger kids, the games are still officiated by the human eye.

I still can accept these contests where the officials’ calls are right even when they’re wrong. And as a longtime football and baseball coach, my teams have lost games due to what might have been wrong calls, but the lesson kids learn can be more important than winning or losing. Everyone makes mistakes, and some of them result in disappointing consequences. Life is not always fair. We can’t always right the wrong.

It amazes me how often I hear imperfect people berate the imperfect people who are in charge of athletic fair play. This past winter I listened to a woman who sat in the bleachers at her daughter’s high school basketball game shout her displeasure at both officials to a point of her own exhaustion.

One comment she directed at an official was, “Show me your certification. You must have failed the test!” Another was, “You stink! You are a disgrace to the game!”

When an official of a youth game makes a split-second decision, someone in the stands or at the player’s bench is going to be unhappy. The official is favoring the other team, they say. He’s helping them win. Perhaps he bet money on the game! How about we just say he made the call based upon what he saw?

We have to live with it and move on. A popular saying reflects the experience. I never lose. I either win or I learn.

In sports, when video replay determines an outcome that is against the team we root for, we hate the truth as much as we hate the wrong calls made by officials. If the review gets a call right that favors the other team, we would rather have the wrong call made to help our team win the game.

No one gives back the trophy if he wins because of an official’s wrong calls. When a teacher marks an incorrect test answer right on a test, no student says, “Hey, Mr. Smith, you gave me a grade higher than I deserve.”

Sports writer Will Leich raises this question about close plays in baseball games that are determined by video review.

“If technology offered the promise of perfect monitoring of movement, a sort of closed-circuit surveillance state in which every play was registered and adjudicated exactly as it happened, with no potential for misuse or arbitrary judgment or inequitable application, would we embrace it? Or would we just want to clobber it with a bat?”

Imagine if our entire lives were managed by technology that prevented us from ever making another mistake?

Major league baseball administrators are talking about installing a computer-operated laser strike zone that would call balls and strikes accurately and replace the imperfect home plate umpire. This sounds to me like we would be taking another step toward replacing the imperfect human race with robots.

The idea of computers replacing humans prompts me to ask myself this question:

Where’s my bat?

Rich Strack can be reached at

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