The Level Playing Field

I think part of why we all love sport so much is that every game, match, or meet starts off even, with everyone having an equal chance to win. Teams of equal size, equal opportunity, the scores all at zero, the playing surface identical…a tableau of possibility and hope that we spectators can pour our emotions into, rejoice or mourn the outcome, then start fresh the next time.

As a coach, the absolute essence of competition was based around the idea that both teams were operating from the same basic framework of rules, events, and number of available lanes, with the only differences being who was on our team and how we chose to use our entries to maximize our chance of doing well. NEVER ONE TIME did any coach try to alter the rules in their favor, eliminate members of my team to gain an advantage, take away my assigned lanes, or outright cheat to win. Imagine your favorite sport:  your team shows up to play, and part of your team is barred from entering. Your scoring area has been reduced while the other team’s is larger. You’d be pissed, right? You’d scream, “NOT FAIR!!!”

That is exactly what is and has been going on in American politics for years. Gerrymandering has reduced the scoring area for Democrats across the country, which to my mind is just flat cheating, despite how “legal” it may be and no matter who is doing it. Writing cheating into law doesn’t make it right, and the concept of the winners getting to draw the districting map for voting was a BAD idea from the start. Gerrymandering has given a huge advantage to Republicans, who are now using that power to further abuse the rules of fair play.

Let’s think about this in terms of the NFL. All of the coaches get together to pass a rule that whoever wins the Superbowl gets to make a rule change that the rest of the league will live under. At the time, the coaches (all being confident in their ability to win the Superbowl) would think this was a great idea, and imagine some minor tweaks they would make. For a few years, the NFC and AFC trade wins, and the changes are relatively benign; then AFC teams win three or four years in a row, and the NFC coaches are disgruntled. A few of them get together, and decide next time one of them wins, they’re going to take advantage of the rule change ability to really make it hard for the AFC to win again. An NFC teams wins, and the rule change that year is that AFC players must play with their ankles tied together during the playoffs and Superbowl. It would be in the rules, but it would make it so no AFC team could ever win the Superbowl again. The level playing field would be gone.

Just this week, Republicans in Tennessee used a violation of a procedural rule (not a LAW, just a rule of behavior in their workplace) as an excuse to expel (not reprimand, EXPEL) members of the House who represent a large, mostly Democratic, portion of Nashville. They used their power to tilt the playing field in their favor and remove their competition and silence their “fans”. This idea offends me to my core. It goes against every single thing I operated under as an athlete and believed in as a coach.

I have to wonder sometimes if any of these Republicans ever played sports. If they did, they’ve certainly forgotten the lessons, and the concept of the level playing field.

If you have to cheat to win, is it really winning? If you have to bully to get your way, are you really strong? I have never understood how the people who do these things can possibly feel as though they’ve achieved something.

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