But then a funny thing happened—the whole thing was celebrated. Joyce, Galarraga, the Detroit Tigers and the sport of baseball… every last one of them were looked at as heroic and/or people to be emulated. Before anyone could digest what had happened it was the worst call ever, but then just as quickly the fastest 180-degree turn in public opinion took place and knocked it all off kilter.
Easy. Joyce admitted he was human. He stood before everyone and did not make excuses when he said that he messed up. He apologized to Galarraga, accepted criticism stoically and offered to fix things any way that he could.
In other words, Joyce held himself accountable. Though there was no need to change the outcome of the game, machinations were in place for oversight. In the case with the imperfect game nothing was changed, though Major League Baseball says the matter was under review.
As Americans and sports fans, we demand that type of assurance that the game is on the level. After all, who wants to invest time and energy into being a fan only to see it all erased by the whims of one man? That’s why maverick referee Tim Donaghy’s admission that he fixed NBA games so offensive and made the jail sentence he served justifiable… people don’t just put money into sports, but they also give up their time. Nothing is more valuable than time.
And that’s why the finish of the World Cup match between the U.S. and Slovenia made me so angry.
I should point out that outcomes of games rarely upset me. Oh sure, when I was a kid I was disappointed if my team lost and I’ve been known to show emotion in regard to the McCaskey High basketball team. But for the most part the correct tact (I think) is to look at a game as a painting or a work of art that should be allowed to unfold organically. It’s more enjoyable to sit back, relax and let things play out.
So when a guy like referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali thrusts himself into a game and essentially determines the outcome, it’s too much to bear. For those of us who got out of bed especially early in order to watch the game, Coulibaly stole from us, too.
By now most sports fans have seen or heard about the go-ahead go that was scored by the U.S. and inexplicably waived off by because of some unexplained phantom foul. Making matters more twisted is the fact that the goal would have been exactly what the U.S. needed to advance to the knockout round of the World Cup for just the third time ever and first time since 2002. Because the game against Slovenia ended in a tie, the U.S. must win its final game against Algeria to guarantee a berth in the round of 16.
The U.S. team seemingly did its job by beating Slovenia, the referee, however, had a different agenda.
The part that’s most maddening about how the debacle unfolded is that there was no explanation or oversight. Sure, Coulibaly likely won’t referee another game as big as a World Cup match, but why was there no system in place to make sure mistakes like this one cannot occur? Or, why was there no official call made on the spot or comment from FIFA?
Hey, some of us got up early to watch the World Cup. Our day was ruined!
Anyway, Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl has seen this all before and offered this in his latest from South Africa:
As much as I love soccer, I do get extremely frustrated by how often the postgame discussion revolves around the referee's decisions. No sport, not even NBA basketball, approaches soccer when it comes to officiating controversy. And no sport does less to provide teams and fans with explanations for refereeing decisions. The fact is that we may never know why Coulibaly waved off the U.S. goal -- FIFA doesn't allow a pool reporter to interview the referee, as most sports do, and I got no response when I e-mailed FIFA's head press officer in search of an explanation.
In the postgame mixed zone, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he hadn't seen replays yet, but he had received 43 text messages from people who had watched the replay and not seen a foul. “We don't know what the foul was,” said Gulati. “We'll ask, but they're not required to tell us.”
Like Wahl, I love soccer—especially the World Cup. But I can understand why a lot of Americans haven’t warmed up to the sport because of things that happened in Friday’s match. In the U.S. sports leagues the officials explain the call on the spot… it was holding or clipping. Safe or out, foul or play on. Sure, that doesn’t mean a call isn’t open to second-guessing, but at least we know what is happening and why.
Hey, it’s our time—we’re owed at least that much.