Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What To Do When You Get Screwed By the Refs

I was among the hundreds of millions of sports fans around the world who looked on with outrage last week as an incompetent referee from Mali stole the game-winning goal from the U.S. soccer team in its World Cup match against Slovenia.

The ref clearly blew it--as he had all game long--and ruined the Americans' amazing comeback from a 2-0 halftime deficit to what would have been a 3-2 win that would have propelled them into the next round of World Cup competition.

I was among the millions of baseball fans who looked on with ourage as umpire Jim Joyce blew the call on what should have been the final out in Detroit pitcher Armando Gallaraga's perfect game. 

I am among the millions of Jews around the world who have looked on with outrage repeatedly over the years as the United Nations and much of the world have consistently held Israel to an outrageous double standard.  The U.N. has routinely ignored horrible behavior on the part of dozens of nations around the world while it routinely sanctions, criticizes, and calls for investigations of Israel for actions that seem very tame and often justifiable in comparison.  Much of the angry and truly vicious anti-Israel response to Flotillagate over the last few weeks can be cited as an example of that double-standard and the plain fact that there are people and nations around the world who are always looking for an excuse to criticize and delegitimize Jews and Israel.

What do we learn from all this?  The most obvious lesson is that for reasons ranging from bias to incompetence to just making an honest mistake, sometimes the refs get it wrong.  Players, teams, people and countries that deserve better sometimes get screwed.  In an imperfect and often unfair world, stuff happens.

But these events of the last month can teach us valuable lessons right now regarding how to respond to these injustices in the most productive way.

Players and coaches of the U.S. soccer team at first expressed anger and frustration over the blown call that cost them so dearly.  It would be shocking if they didn't.  But within a few hours, they seemed to be focused on their next game against Algeria in which a victory would still put them into the next round of the World Cup.

The news media, which ran replays of the horrible call non-stop for more than 24 hours, tried repeatedly to prod U.S. coach Bob Bradley into launching a tirade against the offending official, but Bradley knew that while that response might be fair, it would not be productive.

"You end up saying that's just how it is sometimes and you move on and get ready for the next game," said Bradley after the game.

It is safe to assume that during practice sessions over the next several days, much more time was spent watching tape of the two early goals the U.S. gave up to Slovenia and figuring out how to keep those kinds of mistakes from happening again than was devoted to watching the blown call that cost them the game. If the U.S. team had not played horribly during the first half, the final call would have been meaningless.

The same admirable maturity was shown by the 21-year old pitcher Gallaraga who seemed very philosophical about the baseball immortality that was denied him--particularly after the guilty umpire apologized to him for blowing the call.

"No one's perfect," was Gallaraga's artistic comment after the game.   Like the U.S. soccer team, he could have dwelled on the unfairness of it all for a very long time but instead he chose to move on.  His whole life and career are ahead of them and what's done is done.

As an American Jew who cares a great deal about Israel, I hope that my many "pro-Israel" friends can show more of that kind of maturity and wisdom when it comes to dealing with the many challenges the Jewish homeland continues to face.

It would be possible and perhaps even justifiable to rant about how unfairly Israel has been treated in the worldwide reaction to Flotillagate as well as dozens of other issues over the years.  In fact, I have received dozens of emails and read many articles in recent days that make just that point.  Many of the complaints are valid and much of what is said is substantially true.

But like the athletes who have been dealt with unfairly (admittedly with far less at stake than in the case of Israel), the wisest course of action for that nation's leaders and supporters would be to focus on their future game plan and try to learn from the many questionable decisions its own government has made that might have been counter productive. 

In short, focus your time and energy on the things you can control--not on all the factors (fair or unfair) over which you have no influence.

Instead of demonizing all Muslims in the world, constantly ranting about the biased refs, and insisting that Israel has done everything right and its enemies have done everything wrong, it might be more useful for the "pro-Israel" community to do a little more soul searching, self-analysis, and planning for the many games that remain on the schedule.

It has been disappointing to see how many of my fellow Jews have unfairly characterized the Turks who were killed in Flotillagate as "terrorists" and who have asked members of Congress to sign letters affirming that Israel has a right to defend itself and that Israel shared none of the blame for the fatal confrontation.  This has all come in response to an incident in which none of the participants could fairly be labelled as terrorists by any definition and where Israel was never under attack.   None of these emails and articles are helpful or productive and they change no one's mind.

The issue here is not about right and wrong or fair and unfair.  It is about smart and productive versus one-sided and self-defeating.

Most of Israel's political leaders and supporters in the U.S. are far more educated and experienced than the athletes who have suffered injustices this month.  But in this case, the older and wiser group could learn some valuable lessons about how to respond to getting screwed by the refs--about not losing the insight that the season is long and that players and teams who learn from their mistakes, bounce back from the bad calls, and continually work on their game plans are the ones who win in the long run.

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