Thursday, November 19, 2009


Today the soccer world is flustered with the handball heard (felt?) 'round the world. With France's Thierry Henry committing a handball leading to the game-winning and World Cup berth-clinching goal and the refs missing the call, "football" diehards are screaming for do-overs and negations. I can understand being upset with the officials missing a crucial call that blatantly altered the outcome of the game. Clearly, it's wrong. But the fact that people are blasting Henry for committing the handball is ridiculous.

He's being labeled a cheat, a dishonest, unworthy player who is drawing more outrage than Kanye West. And for what?

Henry didn't commit a dirty play. He didn't take out an opponent or yank someone to the ground by their ponytail (it's been a rough few days for soccer, huh?). He failed to admit in the heat of action that the refs missed a call and allowed his team to take the lead and secure a World Cup berth. And while he "came clean" after the game, perhaps the most telling aspect of the press conference is the fact that he is not the ref, and it is not his job to police the game. His job is to put the ball in the net.

Saying someone is cheating implies a blatant attempt to defraud the game through outside means. Athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs are true cheats. Baseball pitchers who try to doctor the ball before pitching or batters who cork their bats are the cheaters. Those guys aren't on the same level as a catcher who is trying to frame a pitch, or a guard who gets away with holding and clutching a guy's shoulder pads.

To label Henry a cheater is completely and utterly absurd. It's ludicrous. This isn't a major league baseball player taking steroids or HGH, corking a bat or doctoring a ball. It's not a hockey goalie with illegally-large pads. He isn't Bill Belichick. This is simply a matter of a guy getting away with one.

Professional athletes are paid to go out there and find ways to win. The majority of the time, it happens within the rules of the game. Occasionally referees and officials miss calls (see the 2009 MLB playoffs), but it doesn't mean the players who committed the illegal actions are cheaters.

Is an NFL offensive lineman a cheater when he's not called for a hold? Should he go tell the ref to throw a flag?

Is an NBA player who travels supposed to hold back his shot? Should he stop, hand the ball to the ref and say "I traveled"?

If a volleyball player has a ball go off his hand and out of bounds, but the up-ref doesn't see it: It's NO TOUCH city out there.

If a MLB first baseman knows a throw pulled him off the bag, but the ump calls the runner OUT anyway, is it the first baseman's job to correct him? If he doesn't, does that make him a cheater?

NO! If anything, it makes him a traitor, someone who has now become detrimental to his own team's success.

Officials miss calls, and players get away with stuff in every sport. Players in any sport are going to do anything they can to attempt to get an advantage. In the NBA, most traveling offenses go uncalled. In the NFL, we're told holding happens on every play. Does that make the linemen all cheaters?

No. It doesn't.

People complain about NBA legend Michael Jordan, saying he pushed off Byron Russell in 1998. Whether or not you think it's true, it's not cheating the way that people view baseball's Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire.

Cheating implies a malicious and premeditated action. Thierry Henry might have put a hand on the ball, but he's not a cheater.

1 comment:

JT Stally said...

I didn't realize traveling was still a rule in the NBA! I just assumed they'd gotten rid of that when I watch LeBron James pick up his dribble at the arc and carry the ball the rest of the way every time he touches it. Hmm.

Well written piece.

Personally I think Bill Belichick would tell you that if you aren't cheating you aren't trying, just like if you aren't trying to convert a 4th down with a 6-point lead you aren't trying!

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