Two reasons to cheer the bad Hail Mary call

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The public outrage was so massive and heated that millions immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong in America. You’d think the American president had been caught red-handed in bed performing group sex with socialists and Republicans. But the news that went viral worldwide is that it was terribly wrong that a Hail Mary call was answered and the Packers lost a football game.

Nobody knows where the official who scored the touchdown against the Packers is hiding out. Rumor has it that he works for Bank of America and now is enrolled in a witness protection program. Insiders say that his hair, a wizened grey when he made the call, has completely fallen out. Will he ever be asked to work again as a referee, perhaps in a high school JV game? Now that his NFL moonlighting days are finished he no doubt has special sympathies for JV players everywhere, especially the chosen few JV kids who blew their parts when they got a shot at playing on the varsity stage.

The good people in Viking Land have two reasons to be happy with the decision that sent the Packers down to defeat. The second reason is that we now have proof that massive numbers of Americans are capable of moral outrage. Most of us really do have the capacity to understand the difference between just playing the game and playing by the rules of the game.

That it takes a spectacle as important as a football game to bring this out of us makes us seem––collectively in the world’s eyes––careless, immoral and ridiculous. How often is silence the only response we make to outrageously unfair play both at home and abroad? Our dubious wars in the Mideast, which have contributed to hundreds of thousands of casualties, have elicited plenty of “Arab rage” but no chorus of outrage about the sources of that rage. And since 2008 complaints about the dirty dealings of mortgage lenders and bankers who sent the nation spiraling downward toward a second great depression stirred up only a few rather tame anti-Wall Street demonstrations that petered out. The ref who made the bad call against the Packers probably fears for his life, even though all he did was make a mistake in the heat of a moment. We don’t know how he behaved as a Bank of America employee, but on the actual football field he didn’t drop bombs on anyone and didn’t cheat and lie to make himself rich.

When we get a daily dose of instant replays on the daily news shows that make it obvious what (and who) is going terribly wrong, it’s hard to claim we don’t know what’s going on. A more credible claim is that bad news makes us so numb we have to take in football games to feel good about half the time. In a political climate full of acrimony, irrationality and lies even some fact-checkers have gone mum. A recent article in the Star/Tribune tells us that an Associated Press editor finds Michele Bachmann “burdensome,” so often “prone to statements that just don’t add up” that the AP staff has a de facto “quota” on fact-checking her claims. Is she counting on Hail Mary passes to get her a cheap win on election day? Will she continue to get away with statements that “just don’t add up”? Where is American outrage against the untruthfulness and bad calls of public officials?

We have good reasons to expect professional behavior from our politicians, just as we expect it from judges, doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers and referees.  But the term “professional” now commonly is usurped by anyone who makes money without having anything to profess. This money-making professional shows no interest in standards of proficiency, conduct or ethics. This type’s emergence is especially troubling in an economy driven by money managers whose only profession is to make money by betting with somebody else’s, and in government circles where high-priced lobbyists determine how their client politicians vote. When lobbyists and money speak louder than ethical values and common sense, it’s refreshing to see the outrage generated by that one bad Hail Mary call. Inside that outrage is a quiet but deeply held belief in quality and fair play. Like football some things are sacred in America.

The swift and loud public response to that bad call on the football field is not a sign of a great American awakening. But it is an indicator of what lies dormant in most of us, a profound capacity for fairness and sound judgment based on good evidence. We expect good work and good works from our genuine professionals and our labor force. In street terms the replacement referee who made the bad call was a “scab,” a soloist seeking individual profit by undermining the collective agreement professional referees try to negotiate with fat-cat owners of pro football teams who collectivize their resources and responses to reject union demands. Ironically, in a political climate blowing ill winds at unions of all sorts, football fans want unionized professionals back on the playing field. Fans have confidence that unionized referees have the proper training, expertise and trustworthiness needed for the game. 

As ordinary working folk find it difficult in hard economic times to make a living wage, and as unions find politicians and bosses targeting them for extinction, our dormant sense of fair play may open its eyes to new opportunities and responsibilities. Union members should pay special attention to what the public outrage against the bad Hail Mary call is saying to them. Bosses have fumbled the ball into union hands. Unions now have a chance to show Americans that wage demands are tied to professional standards of ethics, fiscal responsibility, and quality work.