Thursday, June 9, 2011

shameless promotion (2.0): the inevitable "rules" column

This week's column from the St. Clair Times, which reads like it was written by a 75-year-old crank.
Rules are rules, even when we know they’re really not

Every year around this time, the same scenario plays itself out.

It’s the NBA Finals. Superstars for one team or another — think Dr. J, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan or Lebron James — is leading his team toward that championship trophy he’s been playing for since the season started some time two years earlier (seriously, do these seasons ever end?).

There will come a point at which the superstar needs to make something happen to help his team win. And he will inevitably break a rule to make that thing happen. And no one will care.

He might take too many steps. He might reach in and not get called for it. He might (like Jordan famously did in 1998) flagrantly shove someone to create space for the clinching jump shot.

Regardless, it’s almost a certainty there will be no call from the officials. And like a wrestler with a distracting manager, the superstar will walk off carrying the championship gold.

I bring this up because it drives my dad insane. “Those are the rules!” he says every year. “Why do we even have the rules if we’re not going to make people follow them?”

Not that he doesn’t have a point here. Last week, when Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel “resigned” in an effort to escape the NCAA firing squad, there came the inevitable discussion about the NCAA’s rules.

“The rules are arcane and antiquated,” went the chorus. “It’s unfair.”

And the answer is: Of course the rules are bad. Of course they should be changed. Of course the NCAA should be somewhat embarrassed that it continues to propagate and defend this absurd idea of “amateur” sports while it makes a killing for itself and its corporate partners.

It’s a world full of hypocrites. No one denies that.

That’s not the point. The point is that Tressel, a veteran of college football for more than 30 years, knew the rules. And he did not follow them.

In the real world, we are bound by rules that everyone hates, at every turn.

Speed limits, for example. Do I think the limit should be 35 miles per hour through town? No, I’d like to see that changed. But that’s the rule; if I break it, that’s on me.

Look, I realize that disobedience to law is sometimes the only way things change in this world. Once upon a time, the rule of law treated people of color as second-class citizens and kept women from voting or holding jobs. Those kinds of merit-less regulations have no place in a free society anyway.

It’s just that there is no noble social agenda in Ohio State’s refusal to comply with the NCAA, or NBA officials refusing to enforce their own league’s mandates. That’s actually just underhanded opportunism, the actions of organizations basically saying, “Yeah … those rules don’t apply to us.”

And it keeps happening. Every year.

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