Huge Week in Sports Includes Untimely Death, an ‘Impossible’ Record, Uproar Over Officiating, and the NBA’s Encounter With Totalitarianism

October 18, 2019 Updated: October 22, 2019

Commentary

This is the “sweet spot” in the annual calendar for fans of major league sports. The period from the first week of October through the first week of November is the only time each year that all four leagues are in action.

Currently, Major League Baseball is deep into its playoff season, the National Football League (NFL) is far enough along to see which teams are on the upswing and downswing, and the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League have begun their eight-month seasons.

In this “prime time” for sports fans, there has been no shortage of newsworthy events. Two of the most significant, however, have nothing to do with team sports. Together, those two events brought to mind the old “ABC Sports” slogan: “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

On the downside is the awful news of the passing of 27-year-old boxer Patrick Day, who died from brain injuries four days after being knocked unconscious in the ring. Other than Day’s loved ones, nobody feels worse about this tragedy than Charles Conwell, his grief-stricken opponent. God be with them all.

On the upside, Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge accomplished what was long thought to be impossible. He ran a marathon race (26 miles, 385 yards) in under two hours. This is as stunning as when Englishman Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in 1954.

It will be interesting to see if multiple runners will soon duplicate Kipchoge’s feat, as other runners duplicated Bannister’s achievement, or whether this record (unofficial, since it wasn’t a regulation race) will be like Bob Beamon’s 29-foot long jump and stand alone for years.

The passing of Day and the incredible time of Kipchoge were surpassed in media coverage by two developments in major league team sports.

Poor Officiating

The Oct. 14 NFL game between my Detroit Lions and archrival Green Bay Packers featured tons of drama and some great plays. Unfortunately, though, the whole game (won by the Packers, 23–22) was overshadowed by an uproar about the officiating.

Complaints about officiating are one of sports fans’ most common gripes, but what was unusual this time was the virtual tsunami of complaints by spectators who aren’t fans of the Lions, who had been hurt by the calls.

So egregious and one-sided were the blown calls that the whole football world erupted in anger and disbelief. ESPN’s on-air color analyst, Booger McFarland, might have jeopardized his job by not disguising his astonishment and disgust during the live broadcast.

After the game, two former NFL head coaches—the mild-mannered Tony Dungy and the more volatile Jack Del Rio—wrote their objections on Twitter. Fans of various other NFL teams commiserated with Lions fans, including even some fair-minded Packers fans who acknowledged that the Lions were robbed.

Some commenters, including one retired star player for the Packers, raised the specter of corruption by suggesting it was time to look at the bank accounts of the officials. (Ouch! Personally, I very much prefer to think that the problem was incompetence, not corruption. But what a public relations disaster for the NFL that people were openly mentioning the possibility of graft.)

The poor officiating was such a public scandal that even Rush Limbaugh talked about it on his show the next day.

As a Lions fan, I’m used to bad things happening to my team. But I took comfort from the public backlash against the unfairness of what happened on the field of play.

The spontaneous mass protest bespoke the basic decency and sense of fair play that Americans of all political orientations share. These football fans didn’t care which team won the game, but they objected to the officials blowing calls that altered the outcome. God bless them! Way to go, fans! Your sense of justice does you credit.

NBA and China

The other event that received widespread and much-deserved coverage was the dust-up between the NBA and China. It started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wrote on Twitter his support for the residents of Hong Kong in their struggle to keep their freedoms from being snuffed out by the communist regime on the mainland.

The Chinese regime objected strenuously. The American response appeared ambivalent. First, superstar LeBron James essentially stated that Morey didn’t understand what forces he would unleash and suggested that he shouldn’t have sent that tweet. Then, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made it clear to the Chinese that the Chinese demand that Morey be fired was never going to happen, because Americans have a right to free speech.

This is one of those times when issues more important than sports have come to the fore. The Epoch Times reported on Oct. 17 that two U.S. citizens living in China, who run a teaching-English enterprise there, have been arrested.

While not known for sure, this could be partly in retaliation for the NBA’s stance. (By the way, if this is the case, then LeBron’s statement suggesting that it was risky to criticize policies of the Chinese regime seems much more statesmanlike. Initially, it seemed as though his concern was jeopardizing the huge paydays that he and the rest of the NBA would reap from the Chinese market, but perhaps he understood that antagonizing the Chinese communists could trigger grave repercussions to innocent people.)

This raises the vital question of what the NBA should do next. Should they continue to perform in China, hoping to be goodwill ambassadors while maintaining silence about the American values of individual rights?

Or should they pull out of China, leaving billions of potential revenue on the table, on the grounds that China is a giant prison and they don’t want to provide entertainment for the inmates at the price of being emasculated by submitting to a dictator-imposed censorship?

China’s actions are forcing the NBA to engage is some deep soul-searching. Of the major sports stories that this eventful October has included, the biggest one of all is how the NBA responds to China. May they be guided into a wise course of action.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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