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The Sports World Gets Mad, Then Goes Mad

I remember being told by a friend last year, in the heat of the battle for Proposition 8 in California, that "the only reason African-Americans were opposed to gay marriage is that they dislike it when people compare the gay rights movement to the fight for civil rights." While this was clearly meant to be exculpatory, I thought it was a nasty thing to say. My friend was arguing that black people were petty enough to deny gay marriage simply because they resented the manner in which people discussed the issue. What could be more insulting?

I was reminded of this last night when I was watching the absurd amount of negative commentary devoted to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's desicion to "go for it" on 4th-and-2 at the end of Sunday night's game. Jon Cohn has expertly explained the decision already; although it is predictable that the meatheads on ESPN would ignore any and all statistical arguments for why Belichick was right, some commentators went even further than expected. By making the decision he made, the argument went, Belichick showed a lack of faith in his defense ("You have to trust X," being a mantra of mindless sports analysis). One local columnist, for example, writes:

In two months’ time, Belichick may have to convince his defense, the one in which he just exhibited a complete show of no faith with the game on the line, that it can go in to Indy and backbone this team to a win that would be even more crucial than the one that got away on Sunday night.

At this point, that task would seem far more daunting than converting a fourth-and-two from your own 28 with a six-point lead and 2:08 to play in the game.

The whole piece, as well as Teddy Bruschi's ESPN column, is written in this tone. The problem is that while these columns are meant to be a defense of the Patriots', er, defense, they inadvertantly make the team sound pathetic. Because of this one call, the defense is going to be entirely without self-confidence, and might even stop playing hard. The fact that these are professional, extremely-well paid athletes who put tremendous pride into their work goes unmentioned. I know that if I were a Patriots lineman or cornerback, I would be much more insulted by all this nonsense than by Belichick's choice on Sunday.