"It's better in fact to be guilty of manslaughter than of fraud about what is fair and just." -- Plato, The Republic.
Plato probably wasn't speaking of the recent NFL debacle when he uttered these words but he might as well have been. Yes, the 'legitimate' referees are back as everyone breathes a sigh of relief, but the apoplectic delirium we all witnessed last Monday night as the Seattle Seahawks 'gained' a very tarnished win over the Green Bay Packers says a great deal, not only about our obsession with sports but our political consciousness as well. Sports always does.
Anyone caught up even slightly in the news flow of the past week could not/can not escape the analysis, the recriminations, the blame, the projected guilt as 'America's game' took on the visceral out of control acceleration of a train wreck.
Unlike the leisurely pace of baseball which drifts and meanders for a seemingly endless 7 months or more, football gives us the staccato bursts of jet fuel several times a week for a mere four months. It grounds us to its weekly rhythms, we see its players as relentless warriors. And all we want back from our devotion is a fair contest, a just competition in which players and teams win or lose based on seemingly absolute merit and not the mere suggestion of chance or someone else's whim.
Politically we may be divided, but the law and order of a gridiron is a sacred bond that cannot be torn asunder. Politics may make strange bedfellows but have we witnessed greater mismatched bedmates than a Scott Walker and a Barack Obama both of who weighed in on the travesty that was 'befalling' us all? The greatest union buster of them all -- Mr. Walker was literally pleading for the union 'guys in white hats' to ride in and save the day.
The hedge fund managers masquerading as team owners would eventually have their day destroying the referees' defined benefit plan (costing as little as 3 million dollars on profits of 9 billion every year), but they should have a little consideration for the Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the world. Didn't these owners (most of whom are Wall Street denizens) realize the importance of competent and judicious regulators -- I'm sorry, I mean referees -- and that without functioning, well trained experts in the field of play there might be unfair advantage to one set of participants above another?
How exasperated did Aaron Rodgers look, how impotent, fighting the absurdity of a situation in which he thought he knew the game, understood the rules he had been taught since childhood -- and suddenly they were being created on the fly (pun intended). "Hey," his pained expression seemed to cry out, "This game is rigged."
Well, these past four years many of us have had our own 'Aaron Rodgers' moment, found that the rules we thought we knew didn't apply anymore either. A mortgage could be rescinded after it was chopped up into CDO tranches and shipped off to a bucket shop in Asia; a home repossessed. Banks conveniently forgot to bring (or even to possess) proper documentation as home after home was foreclosed upon. A steady reliable paycheck no longer steady nor reliable. Slowly we realized that our own game was rigged as well. Our lives turned upside down. No instant replay to reverse these decisions.
We have of course seen this movie before. Wall Street managers and hands-off politicians hiring no regulators or at best hiring 'amateur bureaucrats' -- freshly minted college graduates, lowly paid civil servants to audit and regulate systems that are by their very design ridiculously complicated and almost impossible to adequately understand from 'the outside.'
If we have all just learned how unworkable it is for replacement refs to adapt to the speed and complexity of the NFL, imagine trying to utilize a similar plan to impede the bankers who slice and dice derivative contracts with the velocity of light and the complexity of quantum mechanics. The Republican Congress and its operatives would have us do just that.
No, a football team isn't Wall Street, but billion dollar football owners are. The fact that they shamelessly hired amateur referees and judges so far in over their heads they were drowning shows an absolute contempt for their own product. And that should give us all pause. Imagine how they feel about the rest of us.