Category Archives: diving

On gaming the game

A fan-made video highlighting flagrant fouls on Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin has been going viral in the U.S., Taiwan, and Hong Kong. From a New York Times article on the video, which you can watch for yourself below:

Piecing together clips of Lin being whacked in the face, clotheslined, bleeding, tumbling to the floor — all without ever drawing a flagrant foul — Kuei tried to convey that Lin, an American-born son of immigrants from Taiwan, was the victim of excessive physicality from opponents and insufficient protection from the league and its referees.

[…]

With its bruising simplicity, it revived questions about the fairness and consistency of officiating in the N.B.A. and led to conversations about latent racial biases. 

Fans of Lin, especially among the Asian community, have interpreted the video as evidence that Lin is being treated unfairly because of his race. I haven’t watched enough of the NBA to know whether this is true, though there does seem to be a pattern of referees not calling fouls on Lin in cases that are pretty clear-cut. Moreover, in the Times article, ESPN reporter Tom Haberstroh notes that “the 813 fouls that Lin had drawn over the past three seasons represented the highest total for a guard — and the third highest number for any position — without a flagrant foul, a particularly hard foul that can lead to an ejection.”

The video raises some interesting questions about buck-passing in unfair games. Suppose his race is a factor, due to referees’ explicit or implicit racial bias. Then, suppose opponents know referees won’t call fouls on them if they overstep their boundaries with Lin, so they take advantage of this fact to play more aggressively with him. This form of gaming the system would seem unsportsmanlike in most contexts, but part of professional sports (if not other leagues) is that playing to win is the dominant, and often overriding, motive for players. Playing to win often requires playing the refs. This is as much a part of the game as any official rule-bound move. For example, the practice of diving in professional soccer is the new normal.

In this context, I’m not sure if players would be wrong to shrug their shoulders and say “Blame the system” while clocking Lin in the face. But compare this to the question of individual responsibility for collectively caused racial problems in everyday life. Surely there’d be something seriously wrong there about passing the buck to “the system” when one could just refuse to play by the rules of an unfair game.

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Diving in soccer is like [blank] in business

In the comment-thread to a post by “Matiok” about soccer dives, below, I suggested that diving is in some sense significantly worse that most other fouls in sport (say, among fouls that do not involve significantly injuring your opponent). This is because diving involves a player who was not able to better his opponent on the field, and so instead decides to accuse the opponent of a foul in order to gain an advantage. You can’t win fair and square, and not only do you cheat, but you accuse your opponent of being the cheater.

There isn’t a good word for “chickenshit” in formal academic ethics. “Hypocrite” doesn’t quite capture the ethical nastiness of that kind of competitive tactic. (Yes, I realize it’s much more complicated than that, and that we have to look at the way the institution of soccer has evolved, etc, etc. I’ve done some of that in my other blog, here and here.)

But in this post I want to think about how we might fill in the blank in the title of the post. What, in other adversarial realms (like business or politics), resembles diving in soccer?

Well, here’s something similar. In a Reuters story yesterday we learn that:

Nickolas Galiatsatos, owner of Nina’s Bella Pizzeria in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, is accused of putting bags of mice at nearby competitors on Monday afternoon, according to Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood.

The owner of Verona Pizza watched Galiatsatos go into his restroom carrying a bag but emerge empty-handed, and alerted two patrol officers who were in the restaurant, Chitwood said.

The officers found a bag of mice and footprints on a toilet seat, suggesting someone had been trying to reach the ceiling tiles, he said.

The officers then found Galiatsatos near another pizza place, Uncle Nick’s, where he was seen putting something in a trash can. There, police found a bag containing five mice, Chitwood said.

“This guy planted them to put these guys out of business,” Chitwood said. “I’ve been at this for 47 years, and I’ve never seen mice used as a criminal tool.”

Like many divers in soccer, he claimed he had to do this because his opponents were doing the same to him:

Galiatsatos claimed his shop had been infested with mice, and he blamed his competitors for the problem, he said.

Chitwood said that Galiatsatos told police he bought the mice at a pet shop for $10.

He faces misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals, criminal mischief, harassment and disorderly conduct.

A misdemeanor?! You can NOT be serious, ref! Surely that’s a red-cardable offense.

The fine art of the dive

[Note: this is the inaugural post by “Matiok”.]

We should be able to learn a lot about cheating and rule-breaking in all adversarial contexts by examining the clear-cut transgressions we find in sports. Of all of the kinds of cheating in sports, there seems to be something uniquely annoying (or interesting? entertaining?) about diving in soccer. (It is obviously similar to flopping and diving in other sports — except in the sport of diving, of course).
And of all the spectacular dives every week in the world of soccer (many showcased on a fabulous blog, The Diving Board) this one has been garnering an unusual amount of attention lately:
Here’s what The Diving Board has to say about it:

FOR SHAME! This is a whole new level of cheating. Not only has Chile’s Bryan Carrasco taken a ridiculous flop to the turf, but he’s also forced his opponent’s hand up into his face in a pathetic and desperate attempt to win a free kick in his own half. A part of me wants to applaud him for originality, but NO! Just no.

Bryan Carrasco, if you are the future of football then god help us all…

We will talk a lot about the case of soccer diving in future posts. But for now, let’s reflect on this particular innovation in the world of diving. Is it worse than more “typical dives” where players go to the ground in search of a free kick or a penalty kick after minimal or no contact with the opposing player? It does seem quite pre-meditated, doesn’t it? Surely the player thought about this trick before the game began. Perhaps he even practiced it. If so, were other players “implicated” in his scheme? Was his coach? If the referee had been close enough see exactly what happened, the diver himself might have been red-carded (ejected from the game, thereby forcing his team to play the remainder of the game down a man). All considerations of sportsmanship, ethics, and civilization aside, was it worth that risk? Does this player really believe that referees in the future will give him the benefit of the doubt when he is involved in dubious fouls? Does the sport of soccer itself lose credibility with this kind of publicity?