Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Socialists Probably Hate Sports....

Currently, many people are protesting in the streets against the phantom "1%" of elite earners that consume the majority of wealth in our country. Fashioning their agenda loosely on socialist principles, it seems strange that many of these people have no problem with how sports are run in our country. In many professional sports, a top-tier athlete (Michael Jordan, Lebron James) might earn 20x what starting players make on the same team.

Similar unfairness exists in the way the contests are decided. If a basketball team loses a close contest by the score of 100-98, it is simply recorded in binary fashion as Win=0, Loss=1. The losing team scored nearly the same amount as the winning team, yet receives 100% of the assigned losses. A "fair system" would reward the winning team with a .51-.49 record The distribution of win-loss records is completely skewed and fails to reward the loser for their skill and effort. Our "unfair" sports system has become accepted methodology that we have no problem with as a society (at amateur or professional level).

People hate to lose, especially when it feels like they are losing all the time.  At the same time, it is crucial to realize that people accept the concept of "winner-take-all" competitions, provided that they have a fair chance at being that winner (who "takes all"). This basic idea of fair-play is twisted by those that attempt to relate fair-playing fields with a "fair" distribution of outcomes. Just because people want fair competition does mean that they want a fair and balanced outcome.

Take football for example, the sport demands a basic set of rules that are enforced by neutral officials. Basic rules outlining what areas are "out of bounds", a touchdown, or a penalty are what defines the competition.

While fans demand an objective set of playing rules that apply to all teams, this does not mean they desire equal outcomes. For instance, Chicago Bears fan wants their team to win 100% of games against the Green Bay Packers, by any method allowed in the rules. If there are subjective calls by the officials, they want to see 100% of them decided in favor of Chicago. If there are unfortunate injuries, the Chicago supporter wants to see 100% of them occur to Green Bay players. There is nothing "fair and balanced" about this distribution of outcomes desired by the Chicago fan, even though the process itself is fair.

Similarly, most sport fans suffer no moral dilemna or quandary when their favorite team has a disproportionate talent advantage versus its peers. Such examples include the NBA (Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan/Pippen/Rodman on roster), NFL (Dallas Cowboys had Troy Aikman/Emmitt Smith/Michael Irvin), or MLB (New York Yankees with highly-paid all-star roster). While fans of these teams enjoy watching them win multiple championships, they admire them for succeeding on objective playing fields with objective rules. The Bulls had to dribble up-and-down the court like every other NBA team, much the same as the Cowboys had to drive a full 100-yard field like every other NFL team. Very few people would celebrate their team's win if it came about from a referee-bribe or clearly rigged match.

So what is the point of this? Fair rules and processes do not always lead to fair outcomes. When they do lead to "fair outcomes", such outcomes are not always deemed desirable, regardless of how random they are.  At the end of the day, they don't split championship trophies into 1/2s or 1/4ths.

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