Sunday, November 07, 2010

More Sportsthink genius...

...courtesy of my local newspaper: Today's sports section implies that the Dallas Cowboys are a surprising* 1-and-6 not because of a talent shortfall or key injuries, or because they're simply underperforming, but because they "seem to have given up." Is there tangible evidence for this accusation? I'd like to hear it. (Can there be tangible evidence? And see, that's the whole point: We make up this crap because it's sexy and provocative and generates conversation, yet it dwells in a realm that defies proof.)

Remember the danger here: If every time somebody fails to meet expectations we instinctively reason backwards and ascribe that failure to a character flaw rather than a contextual variable or "just one of those things," we end up constantly judging people, blaming them for setbacks in which they may play no role whatsoever. They're just innocent bystanders.

This is tragic and unfair in all walks of life (it is, of course, sickeningly prevalent in today's business world), but particularly so when applied to young athletes, who are led to believe, for example, that they lost a game because they "didn't want it enough."

It's total bullshit, and somebody at an elite level of sports needs to step forward and say so.

* indeed, shocking, based on preseason picks.


Cal said...

Well Steve, I usually agree with you on the Sportsthink genre. But the play of the Cowboys safety Mike Jenkins during Sunday night's game was very curious. He didn't even try to tackle one of the Packers on a play, and just let him score a TD. This was the same kind of thing that Randy Moss has shown over and over. And that includes the pass that he just gave up on in his last game as a Viking. Moss' famous statement is "I play when I want to play".

On the Cowboys shocking season, I wish someone would present a list online of all the "experts" who predicted them to go to the Super Bowl.

It just further confirms what Philip Tetlock did in studying the predictions of political commentators. Their ability to predict was terrible, and it was even worse the more expert they were deemed by the media. I know from following financial information, very few economists saw the magnitude of the recent economic debacle. And of those who did, they were always years early in their predictions. I'm sure it's that way in the sciences and other fields also. For example, we still don't have a cure for most cancers.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, perhaps in this case I am guilty of mistaken assumptions of my own, but you and I both know that sportscasters are constantly drawing these sorts of inferences about teams without any of the specifics such as you cite here. Besides, I wonder if, in watching a 1-and-6 (now disastrously 1-and-7) team, we tend to look for evidence that confirms our hypothesis about lack of desire. I'm also reminded of idiosyncratic pitcher David Wells. When Boomer was going well, which was most of the time, his quirks were considered entertaining and "hip." When he was going less well, those same quirks inspired comments about his "commitment" to the game. See also under "Robinson Cano," before this past season.

Even in Philadelphia's stunning victory over the Colts this past Sunday, which I watched from beginning to end, there were odd episodes, e.g. where an Eagle safety seemed to give up on a play or a defensive lineman just waved at a passing ball carrier instead of leveling the guy.

Then again, with the NFL now flagging anything that resembles actual contact, it's a wonder that anybody tackles anybody anymore.