I have mostly ignored the ongoing NFL playoff games, but I found myself on the couch watching the last quarter of the Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game on Sunday. I turned it on just in time to see the reaction to the reversed Dez Bryant fourth-down reception. The overturned call would end the Cowboys’ drive and season, and I would witness a peculiar trait some humans possess.
I’ve stopped being the sports junkie who read all of the major sports websites and smaller blogs I enjoyed every day a few years ago, so much of the sports analysis and commentary I read comes from Twitter, for better or for worse. Twitter was in full “outrage” mode after the reversed Bryant reception. Nearly everyone I saw tweeting on the issue believed the referees were wrong in reversing the ruling on the field of a completed catch. Some even implied the NFL fixed the game so the Packers would win.
Those people shouldn’t be taken seriously, but I found it interesting that less than a week earlier fans were slinging allegations that the Cowboys frequently received special treatment from the NFL and did receive special treatment in a reversed passed interference call in the Cowboys’ Wild Card game against the Detroit Lions. Links to a story on the vice president of officiating for the NFL attending a party bus with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ son were shared around the web as proof the fix was on in favor of the Cowboys.
In every sport where betting and a large amount of money is involved, there will be those who claim outcomes are fixed. But no evidence has been found of a mass fix in the country’s biggest professional leagues that goes all the way up the ladder.
What’s really happening is more nuanced: fans are merely showing their confirmation bias and victim mentality. If one, or a few, calls or play goes against a favorite team or for a disliked team, the league and maybe even the world is against that team.
Humans express this way of thinking all the time. Something doesn’t go our way, and the forces of the universe are suddenly against us. We feel the same way when it comes to watching our favorite sports teams play. Our brain remembers and enhances the negative calls and mostly forgets the times where a play was wrongly called in our team’s favor.
Per NFL rules, the reversing of Bryant’s catch was correct. It’s OK if you believe the NFL’s “Calvin Johnson Rule” is crap, but don’t fall into the trap your brain wants you to and believe one play in a sport – where over 100 are run each game – single-handedly decided the outcome of a contest.