College football has the same problem as the #MeToo movement

When I’m teaching Economics, I lean heavily on real life examples to explain economic concepts. The “textbook” example of a term may be the most accurate real life example, but it can also be overly complicated, or obscure, or just plain boring. So I enjoy trying to come up with examples targeted to whatever group is in front of me.

Unsurprisingly, I use sports analogies to explain everything. For one, they come to mind easily, but more importantly, I think they are the most effective tool at my disposal. The way I see it, most of life’s problems and solutions can be also found in athletics, and athletics provides a much simpler environment to understand — it has fewer variables and shades of gray. If you understand athletics at a high level across a broad spectrum, you have an opportunity to make all sorts of connections to the real world. The best coaches hit that highest tier because they teach how to live in a way that is undeniably true and good, and at that point team excellence is just a by-product. I’m thinking of John Wooden or Greg Popovich, but since this is about college football, I’m willing to use an old Nick Saban rant as an example of coaches having real-world insight.

When it comes to learning, having a starting point is everything. You have to build up, like climbing a wall to rob a home run, or go sideways to find a clear path forward, like juking a defender. When I’m coaching skills to someone who is new to a sport, I always ask if they have experience with other sports. If they do, I will include as many comparisons, or contrasts, as I can. Example: teaching a softball player how to serve a volleyball. You can immediately make connections between throwing a ball and serving a ball. [You would not believe how many girls I see who try to serve with the wrong foot forward, over and over]. Or, if they don’t follow through and need more power, just ask them if they stop swinging the bat when they make contact with a softball. Immediate connection. So, if I can use a sports analogy in class that helps establish solid footing before wading to the deep end, I’m going to do it every time.

Last week, I attempted a sports analogy that I’ve never verbalized before, and I was dissatisfied. It’s a sensitive subject, so the analogy needs to be crisp. It’s clear in my head, but I need to organize it on “paper” so I can communicate it effectively.

So, the #MeToo movement. It’s complicated, right? And I’m no expert, but that’s the point. I want to choose something complex in our current society, and use a sports analogy to show how I understand at least a part of it. The analogy and the explanation, together, are intended to demonstrate how effective sports analogies can be, even with tricky subject matter.

Let’s start here: people often lie when they think doing so is in their best interest. This causes problems. On some level, the #MeToo movement is about questioning how we choose who to believe, and holding people accountable. In many #MeToo cases, there are only two witnesses, and one of them must be lying. From a likelihood perspective, we intuitively think it’s more likely the accused harasser/abuser/worse is lying, to defend themselves. And I think that’s fair. The motivation for a false accusation would have to be more complicated, and “entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” The simplest explanation is most often correct. The problem is, potential accusers often don’t trust the system enough to come forward in the first place, especially when the timing is unfavorable and/or it’s easy to imagine reasons why the accusation could be false (like discrediting a Supreme Court Justice nominee).

So, the movement starts around the Harvey Weinstein case, builds momentum, and crescendos sometime around the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. That’s all well and good. There’s a he-said, she-said standoff. The incentives for both sides to lie are perfectly clear. Both political parties are too invested to possibly be capable of having a rational perspective. I’m watching from a distance, curious, and finally, I see one thing that I know is wrong.

#BelieveAllWomen

I’m not sure where the balance started, or how much leverage shifted, but I know the movement should stop and dig in sometime before it tips to #BelieveAllWomen. If we hit that point, then an accusation becomes a guilty verdict, and there will be people who will not be able to resist that power and will abuse it. Innocent people will be punished, and liars will be rewarded, but it won’t stop there; the liars will get sloppy, and once enough false accusations have been called out and discredited, the entire system crumbles, and we’re back where we started, or worse. Who loses? The actual victims.

It’s simple, really. And yeah, I’m sure the majority of the #MeToo movement doesn’t endorse #BelieveAllWomen, but they shouldn’t just not endorse it, they should actively fight against it. As for anyone who is on the #BelieveAllWomen train, just slow down, you’re moving too fast. Consider human nature. Consider college football.

The equivalent hashtag in college football is #BelieveAllInjuries.

The current rules of college football do not question injuries in the slightest, and as a result incentivize fans to boo injured players in certain situations. Here’s an example. An offense is driving down the field, usually late in a close game, and the defense is “on its heels”. Defenders are exhausted and appear to be on the verge of giving up a key score. If the offense doesn’t substitute players, according to the rules, the defense can’t either, so maybe there’s a mismatch that keeps getting exploited. The defense is either out of timeouts or has to save them for the next drive. What happens in this situation? Someone on the defense gets injured.

“Injured.” This is such a common strategy to stop the flow of the game that defensive coaches have signals to instruct players to fake an injury. Sometimes, this even happens on a play where the defense has 12 men on the field and wants to avoid a five-yard penalty! Much lower stakes, and it still makes sense to fake an injury. When a player goes down in these situations, they are booed mercilessly. And you can’t blame the fans, because often it’s quite clear on the replay that a coach is telling a player to drop to the ground. The fans are being trained to disbelieve all injuries when it may benefit the defense to pause the game.

Getting a cramp counts as an injury, and currently the “penalty” for being injured enough to stop the game is to leave the field for one play. One play! If it’s a player you wanted to sub anyway, it’s actually a reward!

Eventually, this is going to result in the worst possible outcome. A player is going to sustain a serious injury, and the crowd is going to boo him while he’s down on the field, possibly the last play of his athletic career. Injuries are a horrid, unavoidable aspect of sports (and life), and someone who is truly injured should never, ever be booed. Injuries should be sacred — never faked, never booed. But under the current rules of the game, players, teams, and fans are incentivized to be sacrilegious.

You see the connection at this point. What is the worst possible outcome of being the victim of sexual harassment? Being booed by the crowd when you come forward to tell your story, to claim you’ve been injured. Surely we can create good enough rules to avoid the worst possible outcome; is that too much to ask?

All I’ve really done here is reframed the parable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The point of this post is not that lying causing problems. My point is simply demonstrating that a complicated situation in everyday life also shows up in a game. Understand the game, understand life.

If you can brainstorm how to solve college football’s problem, it should make it easier to transfer your solutions back to the real world, despite more pressure and higher stakes.

As usual, there isn’t a perfect solution, but here is a start. Hold people accountable for their actions. Heap exorbitant penalties on players and teams who are found to be faking injuries. Some sports and leagues have started to penalize players for flopping, and this isn’t much different. If someone tells you they are injured, it’s incredibly difficult to tell them they aren’t. But, you can’t just give up on holding them accountable! P.E. teachers know this better than anyone, that’s why doctor’s notes are a thing. If a football player is injured enough to stop the game, he should see an independent doctor or trainer. He should miss the rest of that drive, just on principal. And if the third party (combination of doctors and replays) determines it wasn’t legitimate, hold the player out the rest of the game (or more).

[Side note: this is only a problem in football because of the rule to stop the game! If that rule changes, behavior would change. Maybe, if the offense is up on the line of scrimmage, you change the rule so the play finishes, then you check on the injured player. Soccer is more like this now, basketball too.]

In real life? More tricky, but incentives still apply. It’s hard to prove someone is lying, but so what? It’s also hard to catch people driving in the HOV lane illegally, and any number of other crimes. How do we solve that? You just have super-high penalties for when you do catch them. Jussie Smollet should be a cautionary tale. Vontaze Burfict should be out of organized football.

Did the content live up to the headline? Probably not. The headline is click-baity. But, current rules incentivize click-baity headlines, so here we are. #separateblogpost

5 thoughts on “College football has the same problem as the #MeToo movement

Add yours

  1. I’m pretty sure there are school districts that would fire you for posting such offensive content.

    But I’m totally with you.

    #yourefine (what I said to every kid who “got hurt” for 4 years…)

    Like

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