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Gaining From A Bad Call: What Should Athletes Do?



If life is a ballgame, then Mike Pesca is our man in the dugout giving us the play by play and the big picture. Pesca, how the heck have you been? It's been a long time.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: I've been well.

MARTIN: OK, good. Well, I've missed you. I can't wait to hear what's on tap for this week. What's on your mind?

PESCA: Well, Rachel, there was a pretty momentous NFL game. So momentous that some people say, oh, you had to be under a rock to have missed it.


PESCA: But I'm thinking you had to have been maybe the mother of a newborn who grew up over 500 miles from the closest NFL city. And while a curious person might not care so much about football. So, I asked a person in that exact demographic...

MARTIN: That would be me.

PESCA: ...yeah, did you hear about that Monday Night Football game and the bad call?

MARTIN: Despite the fact that I am from the great state of Idaho with no NFL teams and the fact that I just had a newborn baby, even I know that there was this big game and there was a bad call and there were replacement refs and there was Seattle and there was another team, the Green Bay Packers.

PESCA: That's right, that's right. What happened was Golden Tate came down with a touchdown that he shouldn't have been credited with a touchdown. He also pushed another player on Green Bay in order to get in the position to get this non-touchdown. Now, I want to focus on one thing that no one has been focused on. When asked about his actions afterward, here's what Golden Tate had to say:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Did you push off?

GOLDEN TATE: I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know what you're talking about?

MARTIN: Deny, deny, deny.

PESCA: Right. And, you know, that's what we expect from our athletes, especially in team sports. Now, everyone was very far from thinking that he should go up to a referee and saying, yeah, you shouldn't have awarded me that touchdown. That's unheard of. It is not the case, however, in individual sports. I mean, golf is famous for policing itself. In cycling, if a rider gets a flat tire or breaks a chain, the pack of riders will stop. But that's individual sports. I think you could see why team sports would be a little bit different.

MARTIN: Because it's not just about the individual. What they do if they cop to a mistake affects the whole team.

PESCA: Right, so there is a greater good. But there is another way of thinking about this that also went on this week. In the top level of Italian soccer, Serie A, a German scored a goal, but he used his hand in doing so. We know that's not allowed in soccer. And he just told the referee that was a hand ball and they took the goal off the board. People so widely praised him as an act of sportsmanship.

MARTIN: Really?

PESCA: So, it got me to questioning why. I talked to a guy named Franklin Foer, who's the editor of the New Republic. He also wrote a book called "How Soccer Explains the World." And I asked him to explain why admitting to a hand ball might be celebrated in the sport of soccer.

FRANKLIN FOER: There's something almost unmanly about the handling of the ball. The game is meant to be played with your feet and if you can't win using your feet, your transgressing the fundamental spirit of the game. It's such an important thing to do.

PESCA: It should also be noted this was not a hand ball that would have affected the outcome of the game, and also this was a club match and so it wasn't the elite national team. I think I'm coming from it from a North American team sport perspective, this idea of admitting to a hand ball in soccer. It's not settled, what's the ethical thing to do.

MARTIN: So, basically, we're a bunch of cheaters in North America. We don't look down on that.

PESCA: The American dream is getting ahead.

MARTIN: OK. You have a curveball for us this week?

PESCA: I do. So, this was the big game that we've been talking about - Monday Night Football. Do you know that the day before there was an amazing game that's all but been lost to history. So, I want to summarize some of the amazing things that happened in the Detroit-Tennessee game 'cause I know that you, Rachel, did not pay attention.

MARTIN: Yeah, that is true. So, do tell.

PESCA: First of all, the teams combined for over a thousand yards of offense. There were five scores of 50 yards or more. The field goal kicker, who had not missed in 20 straight field goals, actually missed two straight but he got the one to tie the game. Now, I went back and watched the highlights and I knew this was an overtime game, and I'm like am I watching the wrong game, 'cause with 20 seconds left Detroit was down by two touchdowns. But they scored, they got an onside kick, they scored again, they forced overtime, and in overtime, the referee mismarked the ball, gave Tennessee 12 free yards and they kicked the only field goal in overtime on that possession. This is a crazy, crazy game.

MARTIN: It is so crazy.

PESCA: So crazy.

MARTIN: So are you, Mike Pesca. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.