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Pro sports and the not-so-subtle art of bitching

Mike Olson Avatar
January 12, 2024

A few weeks back, when the Denver Nuggets faced off against the Golden State Warriors, Nikola Jokic got a rare night with the favorable whistle. So rare was the occasion, that even a few of the national outlets called out how uncommon it was. No matter to Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who called the entire affair “disgusting”, and spoke of how defense had been legislated from the game. He subsequently mentioned that he/the team would be commenting on such things to the league.

It was only slightly poetic, as a few nights earlier when Jokic couldn’t beg a foul to the point of getting bounced on a single tech for complaining. His coach, Michael Malone mentioned mentioning something to the league. He also mentioned voicing his displeasure instead of his star to help them both.

Neither coach is alone in such a commentary. Things go south in a game, and players and coaches alike are curious as to who will answer for the mistakes. LeBron James and the Lakers, Kerr and the Warriors, Mark Cuban and the Mavericks, name a team, and there has been a voice or several from an organization who have lined up to say something about how a game was called, and actually seem to line up somewhat regularly to voice their complaints. Rumor had it that Cuban’s video staff was primed for these occasions, they faced them with such regularity.

Move over to the NFL for the high-stakes games that make up the playoff race, and the chorus sounds very familiar, especially from the side that loses. We were unhappy with how those chains were placed, where that interference was called, that they noticed that obvious offsides, etc. The literal litany of complaints seems so weighty that you wonder who on earth is doing the intake. Is there an entire department? Oh, you bet there is.

It’s true with every sport. It’s even true with every space outside of sport as well. People who flew with airlines lodged over 60,000 complaints last year. That’s north of 150 a day. That falls in the middle of a lot of companies/groups daily averages. Government departments, department stores, and even mom and pop shops report record numbers of complainants registering their displeasure over their meal/widget/experience, and would like to know what on earth is to be done about it.

Which ends up being the rub of the whole thing, doesn’t it? Does this feedback actually get anything done? Are the outcomes of all of this complaining actually pushing forward better outcomes? Proponents would say yes, and with some historical data to back them up in the form of most major social science change the answer to some form of impedance that the masses grew tired of. Dissidents would argue that even if that is true, that we’ve seemingly encouraged our way to a space that everyone just seems to be bitching about everything all the time.

The seemingly busy complaints departments that each professional sports league has to now staff rolls that data back into their operations as quietly as fans and organizations will let them, with facets like challenges, instant replays, end-of-game reporting, officials staffing and more all coming about from this friction to help the folks trying to keep the game fair and not have to answer “what-if” questions when outcomes are not what they ought to have been.

Where does it all go from here? Does some ‘roided-out 3D version of SportsDataIO start deciding which interactions in the NBA are fouls and which are not? Does a laser-level-meets-jumbotron tool start calling foul balls for baseball? If something with AI actually reaches sentience, will it be able to define if there’s any way to touch an NFL quarterback without roughing him at this juncture?

Oops. Sorry. I was complaining.

So which is it? Positive or negative? Pro or con? With this new era of intaking everyone’s dissatisfaction profoundly upon us, surely the outcome of that intake will eventually be that we’ll just get it all exactly perfectly right every time… and then we’ll never need to complain again. Right?

Riiiiiight. Until we get there, you know where to register your complaints.

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