So, who really won that game? It was all that was talked about this past week. On that last play Monday night, was it a touchdown catch by Seattle’s Golden Tate or an interception by Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings? (By this point, I think the answer is beyond a reasonable doubt). Even I, who must confess to only a passing interest in pro football, was drawn in by the controversy. The referees’ (even I saw one ref put his arms straight up in the air while simultaneously the other waved his arms back and forth at waist level, though I missed the prior penalty) ruling(s) meant a win for the Seahawks and a loss for the Green Bay Packers. Although we love to hate the Packers here in Chicago, there was little to celebrate. Why weren’t we happy about the outcome?
Maybe because there is a deeper chord being struck here. We hold dear a basic expectation of fairness that was violated by the blown call. We expect outcomes to be determined by a clear set of rules that are applied equitably. We don’t really want to win at all costs or even have the Packers lose at all costs. Maybe we could substitute “if it isn’t fair” for the phrase “at all costs.” This expectation of fairness exists not only in football but in many other arenas—even outside the world of sports.
Like in the field where conflicts are resolved in our democracy—our judicial system. This should be a level playing field. This should be where clear rules are applied equitably. Here there is an expectation of fairness that transcends sports. The Commission on Professionalism’s raison d’etre is to fulfill the expectation that people seeking a resolution of a problem or dispute may count on justice– delivered with equity, effectiveness and efficiency.
In summing up the Monday night football game, Jasper Zweibel had the following to say: “Because of a blown call, really two blown calls in one, the Packers lost the game and the NFL lost its integrity.” The NFL obviously agreed that its integrity was being undermined. It swiftly resolved the dispute with the National Football League Referees Association, and those referees are back on the job.
Similarly, the integrity of our court system relies on delivering fairness. That is central to our democracy. It cannot be delivered on a Hail Mary pass and a questionable ruling.