Beware of the Judges, or Going to the Cards

“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” – Proverbs 18:17

In sports, and in life, there is a significant risk in having a matter settled by a decision, even a supposedly “unbiased” decision, of another.

This weekend boxer Manny Pacquiao learned this lesson clearly and simply – don’t let it go to the cards. Pacquiao, widely held to be the best boxer in the world, lost a split-decision to Tim Bradley. The announcers and unofficial scorecards showed Pacquiao winning easily. The “fight statistics” showed Pacquiao completely out classing Bradley. Even Bradley apparently thought he had lost, according to Bob Arum who promotes both fighters. Then the decision came … a split decision for Bradley.

The point is simple – if Pacquiao had knocked Bradley out none of this controversy would exist.

Sports fans know full well that complaining about the officials (and possibly their unjust motives) is a world-wide phenomenon. While we’re probably wrong about the motives of the officials (at least most of the time), the greater frustration rings true. When a major part of the outcome of an event is determined by the judgments of a third party there is a significant piece of it that is out of our hands. And if we lose, we’ll always wonder, just a bit, whether we were robbed. Whether we actually were the better player, or team, or performer – but the judge ruled otherwise either by mistake, or possibly through unscrupulous motives.

The most frustrating rulings by far are those that involve intent. When the ref has to not only determine what happened – which can be quite difficult in the melee of a game – but also the intent of the offenders, it leaves us open to broad-sweeping failures in interpretation and enforcement. For instance, how does one determine if a late hit was intended to cause injury or simply an outcome of over-exuberance? The decision matters. How does one determine, in basketball, if an elbow to the side of the head was intentional or accidental – and whether to call it a foul, or eject the player and suspend him for the next few games?

The rules are better when intent is not an issue. When enforcement only depends on actions.

We have the same problem in our legal system. The nanny-state thought police in congress and various state legislatures have made the motives of the heart for a criminal. I’m not talking here about something like pre-meditation in a murder case, which may have some reasonable evidentiary basis (and Biblical basis). I’m talking rather about the “hate crime” police who work to make extra-double punishment for people who thought “wrong thoughts” during the commission of a crime.

Murder is wrong, but murder while harboring racist sentiment is apparently doubly wrong. Assault is wrong, but assault motivated by homophobic prejudice is apparently doubly wrong. Paying someone less than an equally productive co-worker is, I guess wrong, but doing so because one is a female (the one getting the lower pay, mind you) is doubly wrong.

Now we face two problems. The first is the problem of false conviction. That if you find yourself charged with a crime of which you are innocent, there is a chance that you will be wrongly convicted. It’s an old problem and the justice system has worked very hard minimize this possibility. The second problem is that the punishments and possibly even the outcomes now depend on whether someone had some socially unacceptable motives in their heart with an alleged crime occurred.

As with Pac-man, best to not let it go to the cards, or the judges. If you can reach accommodation before trial (or before the decision) then do so. You never know how the flawed human who has power over you will rule.

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