Technology is an easy target for our ire. If you’ve ever cursed at a television or a laptop, you know this. The same is true in sports with instant replay. It’s easy to villainize video replay in a pique of anthropomorphic angst, lamenting how it has altered sports, and not for the better.
The scourge of instant replay changes the outcomes of games and saps enjoyment from them. It has become the fine print of sports, the annoying service agreement you click past at your own peril. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, who had a game-tying goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals wiped out by a dubious replay review.
Here’s the thing. Video replay isn’t getting it wrong. It’s not ruining sports. We are. Don’t blame the technology. It doesn’t make any decisions. Blame the people applying it. Like most technology, video replay is only as helpful or harmful as the human beings employing it. It’s easy to rail against replay, but the real problem is human error.
In an attempt to correct our mistakes and compensate for our flaws, we’re only exacerbating them with replay. Instead of using replay to fix glaring and obvious mistakes, it’s now used to erase reality on technicalities.
There is no play in sports that causes my blood to boil like a Major League Baseball review of a safe/out call at second base. You know the play. The baserunner has beaten the tag, but the laws of physics cause his momentum to lift him off the bag for a millisecond while a too-late tag is still being applied, an imperceptible and technical out. But here comes the manager’s challenge. Suddenly, that player is out. It’s absurd, a pure perversion of why replay was instituted in baseball in the first place.
The baserunner made no attempt to advance. He merely succumbed to motion and momentum. Baseball could fix this detestable play tomorrow. But it ignores it. So, now we have players who purposefully hold the tag on baserunners longer than the final Lord of the Rings movies in hopes of stealing an out. If I could banish this play from the planet for eternity, I would.
This is the problem. Like people misusing e-mail in phishing scams to hack an account or Facebook being repurposed to spread false political propaganda, technology has unintended consequences and unforeseen negative effects in the hands of human beings. So, we’re stuck with replay being used to highlight venial transgressions and picayune violations. We’re left with it being the “gotcha” of sports.
Replay was designed to correct injustices in sports, not create them.
Twice in these NHL playoffs, the fragility of the rectitude of replay when funneled through the prism of human application has been exposed. The aforementioned Avalanche no-goal on May 8 stands out. In the second period of Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, Colorado’s Colin Wilson netted the apparent game-tying goal. However, the San Jose Sharks challenged the play for being offsides.
In fuzzy pixels on the opposite side of the blue line from where San Jose turned over the puck and Colorado flicked it into the zone, it appeared that Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog had one skate inside the zone as he stepped off the ice for a line change. Instead of a 2-2 game, the goal was overturned for offsides. Colorado lost, 3-2. The actual score of the game was: Technicality 1, Common Sense 0.
Is this replay’s fault? Nope. The same goes for the “goal” the Columbus Blue Jackets scored against the Bruins in Game 4 of their semifinal series. It came after the puck deflected off the protective netting, which signals out of play, but none of the on-ice officials saw it. Artemi Panarin deposited the rebound of a shot by Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had collected the dead puck after it bounced off the netting back on to the ice. Replay clearly showed the puck went out of play and the goal should have been waved off.
But the NHL general managers had approved a rule that prevented that from happening, saying such a goal could be rescinded only if the puck went in directly off the netting or was scored by the first person to touch the puck after it returned to play. The rule — and the humans behind it — actually prevented replay from doing the exact job it was designed to do.
It’s only going to get worse as replay technology improves and as its uses in sports expand to more equivocal matters. Replay is the Rubin’s vase of sports viewing. What you see is colored by perception.
The NFL’s decision to extend the use of instant replay in the coming season to include offensive and defensive pass interference penalties, including retroactively putting a flag on the field when one wasn’t thrown, is an abomination waiting to happen. Like a foul in the NBA, you could find technical pass interference on almost every pass play in an NFL game.
The NFL already has the most capricious, time-consuming, and confusing application of video replay review, thanks in part to senior vice president of officiating Alberto “Reverse’em All” Riveron and his gut-feeling rulings. Good old, Reverse’em All Riveron believes in a 51-49 percent likelihood, not the clear and obvious standard. His overturning of a Buffalo Bills touchdown against the Patriots in 2017 remains a replay travesty. His replay applications of the catch rule were so technical that season that the NFL had him tone it down for that season’s Super Bowl.
The worst part of the NFL’s new pass interference replay review rule is that it’s entirely in response to a controversial non-call that hurt the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game. Replay was instituted to improve the accuracy of officiating and make sports contests fairer, not to settle old scores and address grievances.
Replay is supposed to remove human error from the equation, a technological band-aid for bad judgment. But as long as human beings are the ones overseeing replay, it will always be subject to misuse, poor judgment, and human error.
Upon further review, video replay in sports isn’t the problem. The problem is operator error.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.