Instant replay was always going to lead to this. Maximum Security was obviously the fastest horse at Sunday’s Kentucky Derby, until video review intervened to tell you that what you just watched wasn’t the true version of reality.
That’s what instant replay in sports does: decides that the second-fastest horse in a race really should be the winner, and disqualifies the actual winner for normal activity.
The easiest way to prevent this from happening again would be to ban all video reviews from every corner of the sports world. But fans and leagues would never go for that, as the temptation to correct obvious wrongs is too hard to resist.
So here’s the second-easiest way to claw back the tyrannical regime of instant replay: ban slow-motion reviews of anything involving a body, human or otherwise.
The point of video review is to reach objective truths and prevent heinous errors. Instead, it’s created its own version of truth, one that has little to do with what happens on the field, court, or track. As for preventing the worst mistakes, well, ask any Saints fan.
When it comes to balls, there are hard truths. The tennis ball hit the line or it missed it. The baseball went over the foul pole or to the left of it. Slow motion doesn’t ruin our understanding of what happened in those situations; it clarifies it. It’s hard to imagine a legalistic definition of “in bounds” being championship-determining, so as benevolent tyrant, I’ll allow replay to tell us what really happened with balls.
But no more reviews telling us what a person actually did with their body. Studies have show that slow-motion gives the viewer a “false impression of premeditation.” This has obvious narrow implications for reviews of flagrant fouls in the NBA and helmet hits in the NFL, where intent matters and slow-motion drives a sense of it. It also has broad implications for situations like Sunday. What was in real time an animal reacting to noise appears on video to be a nefarious attempt to box out opponents, if you’re looking for that.
The truths that replay tells aren’t useful. The rules of basketball were never intended to punish a player for grazing a ball as it was slapped out of his hand. No umpire was ever trained to watch if a runner’s hand bounced off a base for a split second while a tag was being applied.
This compromise would still prevent the most egregious mistakes. A full-speed viewing of the decisive play in the NFC Championship Game would have enough to overturn the call on the field. Ben Simmons did elbow Kyle Lowry in the groin when the refs weren’t looking; no slo-mo required.