By In Stuff

Thoughts on Diving and Golf

The biggest sports story in the world over the weekend was probably the foul called when the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben fell to the ground after some sort of tangle with Mexico’s Rafa Marquez. The foul led to the penalty shot that led to the Netherlands stunning come-from-behind victory over Mexico. Replays, like art, will be interpreted different ways by different people. Many feel sure that Robben took a dive.

Here’s something crazy: Robben would ADMIT taking a dive in the game … but not that one. That’s precious, isn’t it? Robben has a reputation of being — as the superb ESPN announcer and Everton manager Roberto Martinez would say — “fragile.” Even the slightest touch can send him sprawling, especially if he happens to be in the box. This hardly makes him unique among gifted players; you have probably seen the many YouTube videos mocking Cristiano Ronaldo’s diving tendencies, including this classic one: How to dive like Cristiano Ronaldo (Tutorial by a 2-year-old). Neymar is a glorious player; there’s a Neymar Top 5 Diving compilation on YouTube too.

Robben admitted that earlier in the match he had taken one of his Robben flops — “I have to apologise — in the first half I took a dive, and I really shouldn’t do that. That was a stupid, stupid thing to do.” He then insisted that in extra time he really was fouled. And that the sky WAS falling.

Was it a dive?

Well, we can argue about that forever — it does seem that Marquez stepped on his foot, which can be called a foul. And it does seem that Robben then went into a crazy, stretching, “Help! I’ve been shot!” plunge. My guess is that the more orange in your eyes, the less of a dive it seems.

But there’s something else I find more interesting, something seemingly unrelated that I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks.

OK, so you will remember at the U.S. Open, Martin Kaymer went into Sunday’s final round with a five-shot lead. No golfer had blown a five-shot lead in almost 100 years — and Kaymer certainly would not blow it. But we were looking up the history; the last man to lose a five-shot lead at the U.S. Open was a golfer you probably never heard of named Mike Brady, not the one busy with three boys of his own. He was a gifted golfer who was sometimes called “King.” He lost the lead to a golfer you probably have heard of — the great Walter Hagen.

There are a million Hagen stories, and we could get sidetracked for days if we start telling them, but I think the one that is representative comes from 1926 when Hagen was to play Leo Diegel in the final match of the PGA Championship, then a match-play tournament. The story has been told many times in many different ways, but the basic plot points are these: Hagen was out partying the night before, like he always did. Hagen is the man credited with the saying, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” When Hagen got back to the hotel the next morning, still teetering, he ran into a startled fan.

“Mr. Hagen, the fan said in disgust. “Do you know that Diegel has been in bed since ten o’clock last night?”

“Maybe he has been in bed,” Hagen said. “But he hasn’t been sleeping.”

Hagen beat Diegel, of course. That was later. In 1919, Hagen trailed Brady by five shots going into the final round of the U.S. Open. Brady then fell apart. Hagen actually had a putt to win on the 72nd hole and, being Hagen, he stopped the action and and asked for someone to get Brady to come out so he could watch the winning putt go in. Brady did come out, and Hagen lipped out his putt. There would be a playoff.

The night before the playoff, Hagen partied with Al Jolson and others while Brady was in bed, probably not sleeping. Then came the match itself, an 18-hole playoff, and Hagen held the lead by two shots going into the 17th hole. There, though, he hit a miserable shot that got lodged in a mud bank — it was was planted so deep in the mud that Hagen might never have found it without the good sportsmanship of his competitor. Brady found the ball and pointed it out. Hagen walked over; he could barely even see the ball in the mud. This was a bad situation. The tournament was suddenly very much in doubt.

What to do next? Walter Hagen was more than just a wonderful golfer … he was a crafty guy, the most successful professional golfer in that age when professionals were viewed as hustlers and amateur golf reigned as respectable golf. According to the book “Sir Walter: Walter Hagen and the Invention of Professional Golf,” Hagen approached officials and declared that his ball must have been stepped on by a spectator — how else could it have lodged so deeply? The problem with that theory was that nobody stood anywhere NEAR that golf ball. So that one didn’t work.

What next? Hagen came up with an ingenious little idea. He announced that he wasn’t sure that this was his golf ball. One of the more obscure rules in golf is that if you are not sure about the identity of the golf ball, you are allowed to pick it up and identify it — this is to prevent players from hitting the wrong golf ball, which is an automatic two-shot penalty.

Of course, the spirit of the rule insists: There must be some doubt about the golf ball’s identity. And in this case, there was almost certainly no doubt. Everybody had seen it fly in that general area. It clearly wasn’t Brady’s ball. Yes, there was the tiniest chance the ball had been lodged there from earlier in the week — but realistically nobody thought that was the case. Hagen was at least 99% sure it was his ball, probably 100% sure. But the officials could not prevent him from identifying his golf ball if he chose to invoke that rule. He pulled the ball out of the mud, identified it as his ball, replaced it in a way where he could actually hit the ball. He made double bogey on the hole and won the playoff by one shot.

What fascinates me about this story is … it’s only a story because it’s golf. In every other sport, more or less, Hagen would have been EXPECTED to mess around with the rule to gain an advantage.

This is because in other sports, players take little-to-no responsibility for self-officiating. The division is clear. Players play. Officials officiate. Umpires umpire. Only in golf would Walter Hagen’s decision to play the rules to his advantage be viewed as even a little bit shady or unsportsmanlike. We don’t just accept players and coaches to play fast and loose with rules, we often celebrate them for it. We admire NFL coaches who teach their players how to get away with holding. We nod at the craftiness of NBA players who draw a tiny bit of contact on three-point shots so they can get three free throws. This is how the games are played at the highest level.

When we begin playing sports, in the neighborhood, we obviously officiate ourselves. We call our own fouls on the basketball court or soccer pitch. We call our own lines in tennis. We determine ourselves if the defender touched the ball-carrier with two hands or one, we make our own out-safe calls in baseball or kickball or stickball or punchball. This often leads to arguments and sometimes even the abrupt ending of games, but generally speaking we find ways to work it out because it’s more fun to play than to argue.

As time goes on and the stakes get higher, though, we lose that responsibility. Coaches will try to make sure things are fair. That seems the first level. Various lightly trained people will umpire little league games or referee youth soccer. In these situations, the players still have SOME responsibility for keeping the game fair.

But as the umpires get better trained and (presumably) better paid, that responsibility recedes. High school officials are better than youth officials. College officials are better than high school ones. Professionals are expected to be something near perfect. And, of course, in most sports we now have another level above officials — we have instant replay. It becomes the officials and umpires job to call the game, not the players.

When you divide the game like that — when you put ALL the responsibility of keeping a game fair with the umpire, referee, official — the players role changes. He or she now has no culpability whatsoever for keeping the game fair; that’s the official’s job. It gets to the point where even if you KNOW the official made a mistake that benefited you or your team, you are not supposed to say so. It will all even out in the end, or so we tell ourselves.

But it goes even beyond that. It becomes acceptable for the player to try and FOOL the official. It becomes more than acceptable. It becomes part of the game.

This seems most true in soccer, where players flop to the ground repeatedly in order to draw fouls that are not fouls. There’s something I’ve noticed a lot in this World Cup; it might not be new, but defenders will fall down on the ball and put their hands on it. This puts the official in a severe position. If he does not believe the defenseman was fouled — and often they were not — then this is a deliberate handball which should draw a yellow card, perhaps even a red card if it prevented a breakaway. But as a friend of mine says, if a referee ever ACTUALLY gave out a yellow card on one of these plays, it would be a worldwide incident. So the referee always just calls it a foul, even if he suspects the defender dived.

But this diving stuff is true in every sport. The NBA has put in anti-diving rules, which seem to have helped some. In the NFL, punters will dive if anyone happens to get anywhere near them, but also defensive linemen will often exaggerate an action in order to show the referee that they are being held. In baseball, players will pretend to get hit by pitches when they were not. There are all manners of subtle and not-so-subtle referee-delusion in the NHL. Then it isn’t just diving. College coaches try to intimidate officials into giving them favorable calls — it’s called “working the ref” and it’s absolutely expected. Catchers try to get umpires to call outside pitches strikes by subtly moving their glove over the plate and holding it there; this is called “framing pitches” and it’s an art form. Tennis players have long tried to get an advantage by browbeating the umpire.

Well, what else can you expect when the players are told that they bear almost no accountability for the game being played in a fair way? Roberto Martinez clearly thought Robben dived but, at the same time, credited him for putting the referee in a position where he had to make a decision. This is at the heart of our games; only Robben knows for sure if he dived. But the sport does not ask him to take any responsibility for that. The sport asks a referee to make his best guess.

Golf has cheating too, of course, and it has people who cynically bend the rules to gain an advantage. Human nature is human nature. But for the most part, golf is a sport judged by conscience. At the highest level, there are countless examples of players turning themselves in for some minor violation or gallantly accepting a penalty that seems absurd and extreme. At the 1968 Maters, golfer Robert De Vicenzo lost his chance at a playoff because he signed a scorecard (added bp by Tommy Aaron) that gave a him a score one shot higher than he actually had. His self-effacing response (“What a stupid I am!”) is legendary in the annals of sportsmanship.

Every now and again, you will hear people talk about how golf should lighten up on some of these rules or it should spend more time sending out rules officials or supervising the game using modern technology. But I like what Tom Watson has to say about that. He says that golf is special BECAUSE it has those sometimes onerous rules and because the game largely relies on the players’ honor. The penalty for cheating is knowing that you cheated. In golf, for most, that’s still a penalty.

I think of the line in “Quiz Show” where Dick Goodwin is telling the story of an uncle who told his wife about this affair he’d had years before.

“Why did you tell her?” Goodwin had said to his uncle. “You got away with it.”

And his uncle said: “It was the ‘getting away with it’ part that I couldn’t live with.”

Did Arjen Robben get away with something? Only he knows for certain. I suspect he’ll have no trouble living with it.

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76 Responses to Thoughts on Diving and Golf

  1. bullman says:

    Dive. One of the top athletes in the world loses balance to the point of belly-flopping based on a foot touch? Easy to solve, issue red cards for flopping.

    • Beffenette says:

      He was fouled, it was just a gentle foul but Robben made sure it was called. That’s what he’s supposed to do. A dive is when there is no foul and the player flops, that’s not the case this time.

      It’s the same as selling the foul in NBA or NFL.

  2. PhilM says:

    I’ll admit to not knowing all the rules (and presumably soccer does have some), but one foot is out of bounds when he touches the ball with the other — only the location of the ball matters?

    Oh, and dive. There was no excuse not to put that untouched right foot down and keep, you know, running.

    • Yes, unlike in American football or basketball, it does not matter if the player is on the line, it just matters where the ball is.

    • Steve says:

      Yes, only the position of the ball matters in soccer. The players can be wherever.

    • Scott P. says:

      “Oh, and dive. There was no excuse not to put that untouched right foot down and keep, you know, running.”

      His right foot trips over the Mexican player’s shin, it’s clear from the video.

      • Richard Aronson says:

        Understand that I’m a tournament bridge player. I have called the director on myself as we (ethically) misbid our way to an absolute zero in a national championship game. I’m a big fan of ethics and I hate divers and cheats: I’m looking at you, Golden Tate. You too, A.J. Pierzynski.

        I watched the link at least ten times. I am not certain that there was any contact between his right foot and the defender.

        I am certain that the defender did step on his left foot, which at the very least slowed him down. So I am certain he was fouled.

        Thus, Robben (if he dove) had a choice: try to keep a probably dead play alive and risk no penalty being called when he deserved one, or exaggerate the contact (dive) to increase the chance of getting the call he deserved.

        I have seen lots of dives that drew calls based on less or no contact: this one doesn’t much bother me. I think the real solution is to have FIFA review every call and if a dive, even a borderline dive, leads to a penalty call, then a four game penalty is applied, with no appeal. The burden will be on all players to try not to fall and trust the officials to call it. That will stop dives short. Unfair, perhaps, to the rare player who legally falls after a hard to spot foul, but for every one of those there are at least ten fakes.

  3. jim louis says:

    The U.S. seems in love with soccer at the moment (the time zone of Brazil couldn’t be more perfect, and is likely why the ratings are through the roof). Millions are watching.

    And millions of Americans are turned off by Arjen Robben’s flop. It’s not that he fell. He had a reason to. It’s the body gyrating and fake pained expression on his face. Many American sports fans think soccer is soft, “wuss” sport, and Robben’s acting job will help that stereotype to continue.

    Flopping happens in other sports (the NBA’s the worst). And it’s equally despised.

    Enjoyed the Hagen story.

  4. Call it Schrödinger’s Flop: it was simultaneously a foul AND a dive. I think the bigger question this raises is whether any foul in the box should be an automatic penalty kick. I’m not sure what the solution is – you can’t exactly give out a free kick from right next to the goal – but a penalty kick handed out for what was very clearly not a direct scoring opportunity (Robben was facing away from goal at the time) seems like an excessive punishment. I’m not sure what the solution is, though. Even if you allow the ref more leeway to determine whether a penalty kick should be given based on the legitimacy of the scoring chance, what is the reward for a team who gets fouled in the box absent a clear goal-scoring chance? A free kick from the position of their choosing outside the box, maybe?

    • JimV says:

      The only problem with that is that there were 2 other Dutch players in the box and in a position to receive a cross. Once he is clear of that first defender, he is in prime position to setup the winning goal. If it’s a foul (and having your foot stepped-on is a foul) then it’s also a penalty.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      The problem is (and we cannot tell from this video) is that Robben had clearly established inside position ending the possibility of offsides, and with one more unfouled step may have had an easy pass to a streaking teammate for the goal. I’m fine with the rule as it stands: you don’t bet on baseball, you don’t touch the punter, you don’t touch a guy in the box, or you risk a really painful penalty.

  5. bl says:

    Surprised you didn’t mention the Djokovic action last week at Wimbledon. Instead of replaying a point when the ref got the call wrong he gave the point to his opponent.

    I actually suspect Robben will have no trouble living with it. Sure he’s gotten over that guilt years ago.

  6. Zac Schmitt says:

    It was a dive. It was also a foul, though.

  7. DjangoZ says:

    As many others have said, this one isn’t hard to call: it was a foul and Robben greatly exaggerated it by flopping about. Both things happened.

    I think a more interesting point is that if Robben hadn’t exaggerated the foul he still would have fallen down and The Netherlands would have received a penalty. The flopping about just made it look bad and actually could have made the ref pause and wonder if it was “simulation”. Robben made it worse for his team, not better.

    • Jonny Scrum-half says:

      I absolutely don’t agree with your second point. Watch Robben’s legs, both of which somehow lose the ability to seek the ground after he leaps over the defender’s leg. There’s no way he should have fallen.

      I also don’t think that I agree that it was a foul, although most people seem to share your view. Any contact was so minimal that calling a foul seems excessive. But I don’t know the rules well enough to completely disagree.

      • Steve says:

        I think a basic problem is that it is very, very hard sometimes even with multiple replays, to determine whether or not a player really lost his balance due to contact. Sometimes minimal contact will absolutely trip you up, and sometimes a solid hard knock won’t.

        In this case, Robben had his foot stepped on while he was moving his other leg forward. We’ve all seen a QB fall over when the center steps on his foot. It’s a foul. Robben then probably embellished it. The tricky part, as others have noted, is that sometimes you don’t get the call if you’re really impeded but somehow keep your balance. That’s an injustice too.

        A couple of other points:

        1. It’s easy to propose broad scale rules in a major sport when you’re a casual fan. Somebody’s always proposing that soccer scrap the offside rule in favor of a hockey blue line approach. That might make a fine sport also, but it’s also pretty silly to think that you’ve solved a sport’s problems by thinking about it for thirty seconds. The problem of diving in the box being overincentivized is not news to anyone who watches the sport. All solutions have serious drawbacks. The players know that a foul in the box is a death sentence and the game has developed with that in mind. Change that and you’ll switch the balance to more fouls in the box, and fewer goals. Not to mention that you’ll be making the official’s job even harder if you make it so that it’s only a penalty if it looks like a goal is in the offing. Try judging that noncontroversially.

        Basically, how seriously would you take someone who has watched half a baseball game and told you that the game is too slow and it would be a better sport if a walk was two balls and a strikeout was one strike?

        2. It’s also easy to decide that a weak spot in a game is fatal to its enjoyment, while giving a sport you grew up with a pass. Soccer-bashing is somewhat correlated to American football-loving. I love American football too, but is there a sport with a more ornate, fussier ruleset? Not one fan in a thousand could successfully officiate the rules on holding or illegal contact on a receiver. And it’s not infrequent that a game turns on whether contact is or is not pass interference (see the Seattle-Pittsburgh Super Bowl). That’s deeply unsatisfying to passionate fans–imagine what it’s like to casual foreigners.

        • Richard Aronson says:

          I completely agree. I have seen football players, who are desperately trying to reach the end zone, tackled/tripped by a relatively light touch on the ankle. We’ll never know whether Robben would have gone down on his own, but it’s plausible. Unfortunately, the rules and practice of soccer benefit players who fall down instead of those who stay on their feet.

        • NevadaMark says:

          Well said, Steve.

        • Darrel says:

          Not a soccer fan. I find it excruciating to watch. One of the main reasons is the offside rule. I know the quick fix that you mentioned is insulting to soccer fans but the sight of defenders actually running away from the goal, the ball, and other attackers to try and ensure an offside seems anti-competitive. I also don’t see why soccer fans can’t admit that perhaps a few more goals and chances might make the game more exciting.
          As a huge hockey fan I found the game nearly unwatchable as the devil’s trapped and hooked and held their way to 2-1 wins and Stanley Cups. So the NHL tweaked the rules and it’s better. Soccer should not be so obstinate to the point that even a great game can be made better.

        • bullman says:

          Not a casual fan and not opposed to rule changes that impact weak spots in other sports, then I am okay to comment on a soccer rule change, right?

      • Scott P. says:

        Both legs contactes the Mexican player. Once both legs lost contact with the ground, all he could do is flail them about trying to regain his footing, which is what happened.

  8. Growing up in Venezuela means I’ve watched a lot of international futbol for a very long time, and for a very long time I’ve disliked and criticized the difficult positions that referees are put in. One guy running up and down cannot possibly keep up with everything that’s happening in front and behind him.

    This has caused, in my opinion, the flopping, which on this World Cup seems to have reach it highest point ever. I can’t remember seeing so much diving with our without the ball. Robben dove while making a play with the ball, multiple players have gone to the ground with their stupid hands on their face, hopping that the ref that didn’t see the alleged hit will probably draw a red card on the near by opposing player.

    And this is one of the biggest dichotomy of the sport: These guys will tell you that they (futbol players) are the toughest athletes of every sport. Yes, they are very tough, no doubt about this, but then they have no problem going on the ground with their stupid hands on their face, or almost dying of leg pain. One reason it bugs me is that the new fans will not watch a sport where something like this is the norm.

    FIFA has been after the American market for years, it just like the promise of “El Dorado”, too much money here. The rest of the world was pretty upset when the US got the Cup in ’94. Being the host of the World Cup is the highest honor a country can have and that the US got it without even liking the sport upset a lot of people. But FIFA wanted the huge American TV market and I guess that’s a price they were willing to pay. In any case, a lot of Americans are watching the Cup now, including a lot of sport writers, and I really hope they write about the obvious and biggest flaws of the sport. It is embarrassing having to explain these incidents to the new/casual American fan.

    This, however, can be easily fixed:

    1.- Have a referee stand behind each goal line that will also run to the midfield line when the ball is on the other side; pretty much like the NBA
    2.- Have an official watch the games and issue fines for diving, or for any type of fault; again, pretty much like the NBA.

    Bottom line, add more referees and issue retroactive fines. The bigger the effect on the result of a game, the bigger the fine. It is infuriating how the players mob the referee and how he has to back off and evade them, this is the only sport where something like this happens. It is also infuriating how the ref runs around with players on the ground and having no clue about what really happened.

    It is a great sport that just needs a couple of minor tweaks.

    • PhilM says:

      Thank you for illuminating what I’ve always suspected (as a casual observer) — one referee is not enough. He can’t see everything, which encourages flopping whenever there is a foul, to make him notice. It’s like the earliest days of baseball, when runners would skip second base if the umpire wasn’t watching — adding a few more officials fixed that in a hurry. Sad to see the world’s favorite sport still so backward regarding officiating.

    • len says:

      In soccer, there is no such thing as a foul away from the ball. If one player on the other side of the field from the ball kicks another, there is no foul. All the ref can do is remove the player from the game for unsportsmanlike contact. Players are not expected to behave as such when the play of the game is not effected, or away from the ball. A single ref can most certainly handle a soccer game efficiently. Also, much of soccer’s rules are not exact. Much like the strike zone in baseball. soccer players must adapt to the ref like baseball players must adapt to the umpire’s strike zone. Imagine two umpires deciding balls and strikes at once. Nightmare scenario. Two refs in soccer would not help the situation at all, would only make it worse in my opinion. (I’ve been umpiring and refing youth sports for many years.)

      Also, something Joe Pos may not be aware of or have considered is that soccer is too supposed to be a gentleman’s sport. Players kicking the ball out of bounds for an injured opponent is the obvious example but this quality is part of the culture of soccer and is reflected in the laws of the game. (And at least in American youth soccer, the ref is expected to be treated with respect. A ref can remove a player, coach or parent for disrespectful behavior. An umpire is expected to take the abuse from the stands and is prohibited from even acting upon it.) This makes flopping in soccer that much more egregious. Fines do not matter to highly paid professional athletes. Red cards and after-the-fact suspensions are the way to go.

      • Doing the same expecting different results does not work, for soccer and anything else. This practice is actually called some sort of mental issue but I can’t remember the name.

        Red cards ruin the game which is why referees are very gun shy about them. Retroactive fines and suspensions will take care of the issue; we just saw it with Luis Suarez, and we also saw it on the NBA, as soon as players realize they’ll get fine and suspended by somebody watching video then they’ll change their behavior. They currently try to fool the ref because there aren’t any consequences.

        And giving away the ball back or kicking it out of bounds isn’t a good argument to confirm that sportsmanship and anti-cheating culture in soccer. This doesn’t even happen on every game.

        For years the British Premier League had a great reputation for players not faking, and actually some agreed to go there for less money because of it. What I mean is that flopping and faking is an issue with international futbol, and even some players don’t like it.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      Agreed. The futbol pitch is way too large for one man without benefit of instant replay. Baseball, for example, adds extra umpires for their biggest games, and now has instant replay. Soccer should do the same.

  9. nycgeoff says:

    Actually, Howard Webb called an Italian player for handball in just this situation in the 2010 World Cup match vs. New Zealand. No international incident, unlike his non-call in the final…

  10. Cathead says:

    In a game on Saturday, Nate McLouth of the Nationals faked getting hit by the pitch and got a call from the ump. Cubs, for some reason, did not challenge. It set up a rally for three insurance runs in what would be a 7-2 Nats win.

  11. I don’t know anything about soccer, but Joe’s comments about flopping in basketball and exaggerating the impact of a “hold” in American football made me think it has gone even farther than Joe implies – not only will a defensive center in basketball fall over if backed into by the offensive center to get a foul, he will almost certainly NEVER get a foul unless he DOES fall over. For some calls, the referees FORCE you to exaggerate to get a call.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      You’ve hit on what I think is a big part of the problem. If you’re fouled and you don’t go down, you never get the call. I can’t remember the last time I saw a PK awarded for a foul in which the offensive player remained on his feet. Thus, in order to get the call, the player literally must dive.

      So while I’m a big proponent of after-the-fact suspensions (I thought Fred should’ve been banned from the next game for that flop in the opener) diving would become less necessary if refs would ever award PKs on fouls where the offensive player managed to keep his feet.

      Also, I think there should be two refs. One for each half of the field. Just cut the amount of territory a ref is responsible for in half and flopping to make sure you get the ref’s attention will be less necessary. And in general, refs will be much more likely to be in good position to make the right call if they have less ground to cover.

  12. bigcatdaddie says:

    For American sports fans used to seeing athletes take their blows in football, hockey and MMA to name three, seeing shameful flopping like what Robben engages in, only solidifies why many Americans think soccer is a sport for pussies. Add that on top of ninety minutes of low or no scoring and games ending in ties, and you can see why soccer will never be America’s pasttime. Now if soccer had enforcers to keep the floppers in line, I’d watch that.

  13. chazzykc says:

    The “beautiful game” is clearly the most flawed of all pro/international sports and easily the most corrupt and egregiously managed sport in the world.The Mexico/Netherlands game simply magnified one of the greatest of its flaws (too high a % of games decided by one questionable officials call). I can point out many more…..but the truth is that until FIFA comes out of the 19th century and becomes far more transparent, most Americans will continue our marginal acceptance of the sport as “major.”

    • Seriously? You can’t come up with ONE name of a corrupt and egregious organization that’s all about money, lacks transparency and answers to nobody but we (Americans) have no problem following?

      I’ll give you a hint, it’s in YOUR OWN freaking backyard. Still nothing?

      How about the NCAA? Just change the country names and replace them with institutes of higher education and it fits perfectly.

      • chazzykc says:

        No argument Floyd….the NCAA is grossly flawed as well……but it IS ingrained in our sports culture……Soccer is 4 to 6 generations behind. The new kid on the block in US sports culture appears laughably obtuse when they award their flagship event (a month long World Cup) to Qatar, a country the size of Connecticut with 2 million residents and half as many citizens. It’s the equivalent of the NCAA awarding all 63 games of the big dance to Fargo…..except I doubt that enough money exists in the Dakotas to pay for the bribe.

    • Doug says:

      FIFA is abjectly terrible, but being managed by a laughably corrupt and opaque organization doesn’t seem to stop Americans from following the Olympics, or indeed college sports. Similarly, the idea that questionable calls by officials will prevent Americans from enjoying a sport seems strange to me, given the massive popularity of the NBA and NFL in America.

      Soccer will be popular if Americans like watching it. Clearly, they’re at least comfortable watching it in certain circumstances. Obviously the flow of the game wrt flopping and refs and stuff is a serious issue for some, but people are willing to watch it and to be honest I have to assume that as people get more familiar with and more comfortable with the game, those objections will fade away for a lot of people. Not for everyone – not everyone likes all sports – but, you know, for a lot of people.

  14. bl says:

    I don’t watch soccer enough to always know when someone’s taking a dive or when the foul is legit. But during this world cup I can tell you the diving has really decreased my enjoyment of watching. Not because of the play on the field but because of the reactions of the announcers. The ESPN announcers seem contemptuous of the players and generally mock them every time they fall down. Even if it appears there was legitimate injury – as they originally mocked the Uruguayan player who had a concussion. In the Brazil game they mocked a player for writhing on the ground when the replay showed he took a pretty serious smack to the back of his head when he hit the ground. It’s hard to watch a game when the announcers seem to hate all of the participants and don’t feel there is any such thing as a legitimate injury. Of course, the players bring this on themselves by diving so much; but the announcers should show more restraint and be more discerning when openly criticizing the players who may be hurt.

    • Oh, but please don’t blame them. I’d do the same, we are all tired of seeing the players roll in the grass like they’ll lose the leg and you see them walking and running, without even a limp mind you, 1 minute later.

      Players should be shamed for faking, and to the two suggestions I had on my first comment I’ll add that if a trainer of physician comes into the field to check on a player, such player must leave the field and cannot return to play for at least 5 minutes.

      • bl says:

        It’s not the announcers job to shame the players. It’s their job to enhance the broadcast for the viewers. And in an event like this, it is especially their job to enhance the enjoyment of fringe viewers. Mocking injured players is an announcer fail. Frankly the constant talk of diving is much more annoying than the diving. Since most dives barely cause any break in the game while the talk goes on long afterwards.

        But if the announcers must mock, let them do it when the player is up walking without the limp, not while they’re still on the ground. Not when the replay shows a major impact to the head.

        • [citation needed] fka COPO says:

          “And in an event like this, it is especially their job to enhance the enjoyment of fringe viewers. ”

          And this is where I’ll politely disagree. I can’t stand this about the major sports in the US. I don’t need/want to be pandered to by the announcers. I don’t want to hear inane ramblings like Harold Reynolds saying “If Ted Williams knew about OPS, he would have tried harder to lead the league in it”. Never mind that he did lead the league in it 10 out of his 19 years. You have a color analyst and a PBP guy. I don’t need the “nostalgic storyteller who is giving a lesson on something that has nothing to do with the game” guy.

          The ESPN Analysts for the WC rightly criticize people when they should, and that includes diving. It disgusts everyone, hardcore fan to the casual one, so why should they feign concern when they know the guy is most likely fine?

          • bl says:

            I think there’s a difference between the two things we’re talking about. Incompetence as displayed by Harold Reynolds doesn’t enhance anybody’s viewing experience. I’m saying that if you have a sport where you know a lot of people are watching perhaps for the first time, you may not want to consistently denigrate the product by constantly calling all of your best players cheaters. As an avid baseball fan I would put announcers like Harold Reynolds into this same category – do you want an announcer who tells people that the batter should expand the strike zone to get an RBI instead of waiting for a pitch to hit. That doesn’t help people understand or enjoy the game. A lot of people want to get on the baseball is dying bandwagon. Some of the blame for that would be because there was a period of time when announcers didn’t stop talking about how every player was suspected of using PEDs, how Barry Bonds was not a great player but a cheater. That hurts the game, drives people away. I’m not suggesting that the conversations shouldn’t be had, but it’s lazy announcing to whine about it all game long.

            And I certainly don’t see any harm in at least waiting until the player is up and walking before you start complaining about the dive.

          • Or not saying anything “negative” could turn viewers off. I believe somebody said already, don’t treat me like I’m an idiot. I know what I’m watching.

            But let’s say that I concede the point and the broadcasters should not criticize the players. So what? Is that the biggest issue you find with FIFA?

          • bl says:

            to mrpinkfloyd, (couldn’t reply somehow to your post). I think my posts are misunderstood. So let me clarify in point form.

            1) diving is annoying
            2) announcers constantly whining about diving is more annoying to me, and makes watching the game less fun. (this is a byproduct of their being a diving problem.)
            3) announcers mocking players that actually are injured is inappropriate. People accept it because so many players dive, but an announcer should be better than that. Especially as we learn more about concussions, it’s inexcusable for an announcer to mock a player who could have a head injury.
            4) I didn’t say they should not criticize players, I said wait until you know they’re healthy. I also said it’s okay to discuss the topic, but it is lazy to just whine about it all game. (I feel like I’m watching a game with someone who whines about the refs all game because they don’t think their team ever commits a foul.) I didn’t say anything about about criticizing the quality of players play.
            5) I don’t think the announcers are a function of FIFA. I haven’t expressed any thoughts one way or the other on issues with FIFA. I have stated I am only a casual viewer so I don’t really have much of an opinion on FIFA. People like to complain that FIFA is corrupt, I generally shrug to those thoughts because pretty much all the sports leagues are corrupt. This does not make my viewing experience invalid, just makes it different than yours.

            6) Ultimately the crux of my point – which I didn’t state – was I wish they would do something about the diving so I didn’t have to hear the announcers talk about it so much and I could hear more about the players skill than about how they try to cheat.

          • bl,
            Somehow I can’t reply to your comments either. In any case, it looks like we agree on the most important items. Thanks for clarifying.

          • Thile says:

            We can all agree that harold reynolds sucks, tho, right?

        • Richard Aronson says:

          Soccer announcers should take lessons from Vin Scully. The worst I’ve ever heard him say is “I’m not certain about that” or “That was a very close call”. Remind fans of dives (even if they aren’t dives) and you’re just hurting your own audience.

  15. Mark Daniel says:

    The ramifications of a penalty kick on a soccer game are gigantic. The comparison between similar cheating in other US sports is not perfect because of this.

  16. Ed Fett says:

    Soccer fans: What would happen if they legalized any leg-to-leg contact below the knee? Would scoring immediately drop to nothing?

  17. Serge Blanco says:

    Flopping was the one thing that turned me off the most to soccer at the World Cup level. But, from what I’ve seen this year, it seems like the refs are letting more things go. I’ve seen a lot of “play ons” when a player falls down. Sure, it’s still there, but it seems like there’s less of it and the refs have gotten better about detecting legitimate fouls versus false ones.

    The bigger issue is letting a situation that basically never occurs in a game be the deciding factor of such an important match. Rarely do players have a one on one shot against the goalie with no one else standing the line of sight, etc. So, you allow an unnatural process to determine the biggest event in the sport. (It would be like letting a batter hit by a pitch to then take a swing on a ball on tee and the result would be part of the game.) That’s the greater dissatisfaction to me.

    • JimV says:

      So what is your suggestion. If a foul occurs, a free-kick is awarded. Since the defense must be more than 10 yards off the ball, it is the same as a penalty (and in the case of where the Robben foul happened he is only 3 yards from the net). If you aren’t going to award a free-kick, what is the punishment for the foul to be?

    • Richard Aronson says:

      Add instant replay. If the contact can’t be seen, yellow card and defender’s ball. It would slow the game down some, but cut down on dives and, most importantly, cut down on arguments that some team won because of a dive.

  18. Brent says:

    Serbe, it would be like giving uncontested dunks to basketball players when they are fouled in the paint, rather than free throws.

  19. Brent says:

    So it seems to me that sometimes the penalty kick is too fair to the defense, changing what was a certain goal into a 90% probability (think Urugay’s intentional hand ball of a ball certainly going in against Ghana 4 years ago) and sometimes it seems the penalty kick is too fair to the offense (when the foul occurs in the box either further away from the penalty kick spot or at a more extreme angle). Why not simply make all fouls spot fouls? Wouldn’t that be more fair in more situations.

  20. Steve says:

    The NFL actually does have a penalty that’s about as harsh as the penalty kick: the long pass interference. If it’s in the end zone it’s 1st and goal from the one. Without knowing the exact numbers, that’s got to be converted into a TD as often as a PK is converted in soccer.

    Some plays are specifically geared more toward drawing PI than completing the pass. It’s the kind of thing that would be thought of as “why Americans will never go for gridiron football” if it were a new sport trying to get attention. Along with the FG–you get half the points for failing but sort of coming close? Go sell that in Paris, Pierre.

    • David says:

      This is a really good comment. I’ve felt like the actions of forwards during a run to the goal are very similar to NFL wide receivers. The NFL receiver will almost always fall down if there’s contact with a DB and then, just like the soccer players, hold up their arms and look around for the penalty call.

      The only difference I can think of is that NFL officials are less likely to make the pass interference call in crunch time and the Mexico-Ned. official had no problem making the call. I’m reminded of the end of the 49ers-Ravens Superbowl when there was a lot of contact in the end zone with Crabtree. In both football or soccer contact leads into a grey area where it’s hard for the official to know if they are correct.

      In Statistics classes, students learn about Type I errors and Type 2 errors. In a situation where the truth is unknowable (such as determining if the contact merits a penalty) there’s two types of mistakes that could be made. Everyone has their own tolerance for which type of mistake would be worse- letting the play stand even if there was a penalty, or calling a penalty when there was none. I think American sports fans generally believe it is better to miss a penalty, than call one incorrectly. I expect that the referees who are trying to make these decisions within seconds must develop their own feel for which type of error is worse over years of experience.

      All I ask for is that individual referees stay consistent throughout the game.

    • Darrel says:

      not a perfect analogy due to the rare nature of a goal in soccer as compared to a TD in football. 1-0 lead in soccer virtually guarantees a draw due to lack of scoring but a 1st quarter TD against is commonly overcome in football. Context is important.

    • Michael says:

      Great comment. Let’s not forget how often we see four enormous men simultaneously jump up pointing and screaming for a penalty, simply because another player fidgeted by an amount that can barely be seen, a few seconds before he’s supposed too. Or how about a team lining up on fourth and short with absolutely no intention of running a play, just seeing if their opponent will jump offsides and give them a first down. If I was just learning about football, I’m not sure how I would square these with all the talk and emphasis on toughness and determination.

  21. Cuban X Senators says:

    Part of soccer (as well as basketball, but certainly not golf) is putting your opponent in a situation where he may (“have to”) foul. Sometimes, once an offensive player is there, he’ll want to play through or avoid the foul; sometimes he’ll want to take the foul. If a basketball player has head-faked his defender up in the air, he will often leap into him and take the foul in a manner in which there is no way to shoot. The foul and the way the would-be shooter sells it are both real.

    Roberto Martinez is right that Robben put the ref in a situation where the ref had to make a choice. So did Marquez (as I believe Martinez acknowledged as well). Robben’s low-end outcome was a yellow-card; Marquez’ high-end outcome was whatever the marginal difference was in him ticking the ball away versus Robben going by him and dealing with the two defenders behind him. Marquez likely felt that he had some leeway due to the spacial and temporal severity in any punishment being meted out there. Marquez bet the house; Robben bet a penny on a quarter-final.

    What I hadn’t thought about until yesterday (and I’m a watcher from before Pele arrived on these shores) is how much this build-up to foul, and the interstice that a foul injects into the action runs counter to the narrative that “in ‘real’ football we don’t stop/it’s all free-flowing action”. It really does show the vestige of the connection to rugby — run, advance, pass, foul, stop, line up, start again. Replace “foul” with “tackle” (in the American football sense), and it’s very similar (though not as staccato).

  22. nightfly says:

    I’m certain that soccer has such a huge amount of flopping to sell calls that might be difficult or impossible to catch at full-speed by a single ref who may be several yards behind the play and running all-out to boot.

    That being said, stopping your legs and arching back, arms flailing, is a dead giveaway. I’d say splitting the difference could help in this situation – penalty kick to the Dutch for the foul, and a yellow card to Robben for his Swan Lake moment. IIRC yellows in back-to-back games result in being sent off, so it would have deterrent value.

  23. Will3pin says:

    Mike (3 boys of his own) Brady could swing the sticks a bit. And lets not forget that he was the victim of some unfortunate bad luck on the links too.

    Recall the time that he and Greg were supposed to team up to play against Mike’s boss and son. Greg, who had his designs on a groovy chick, completely forgot about the match and instead made a surf date leaving Mike stuck without a partner!

    Mike rolled with it of course, letting Greg off the hook to go teach the head-chearleader prospect how to surf even though it might cost him favor with his boss Sam Murdoch. And he even considered having Carol be his partner instead – WoW!

    I like to think he was paying homage to Mike “King” Brady’s gesture at the 1919 PGA. Certainly an impressive display of sportsmanship, and parenting.

  24. Jeremy Jolley says:

    “But it goes even beyond that. It becomes acceptable for the player to try and FOOL the official. It becomes more than acceptable. It becomes part of the game.”

    I hate how so many of Joe’s posts lead to steroid comments but I can’t help myself…

    I’ve seen people argue that there has always been cheating in baseball and steroid use is no different. I think this article is the difference. Spit balls, scuffed balls, corked bats, etc. are all ways that players try to fool the umpire and as Joe says, it has become part of the game. While steroid use may be cheating, it is way beyond just fooling the umpire and that’s why so many people have a hard time accepting it as part of the game.

    • gogiggs says:

      Wow, not sure I could disagree more.
      Steroid users may have taken a substance that let them work out harder and enhanced their physical abilities, but once on the field, Barry Bonds was actually hitting those home runs, with, presumably, a legal bat.
      Spitballs and scuffed balls aren’t intended to fool the umpire, they’re intended to make the ball move in ways it wouldn’t normally, to fool the batter.

      • Jeremy Jolley says:

        I’m not sure how you disagree because I agree with what you said. A spitball is obviously intended to fool the batter, but to get away with it, the pitcher has to fool the umpire too. Steroids are fooling everyone and there’s nothing the umpire can do about it. In other words, players are always trying to skirt the rules on the field at the risk of being caught by the umpire. There are clear ramifications to their actions. There are no on field ramifications to steroid use and that’s why it is worse to me (and I assume to others too).

  25. ed says:

    The key difference, of course, is that golf is not a sport.
    Not a sport.

  26. Anon says:

    Mike Brady may have been the last to lose a 5 shot leading entering the final round of the US Open but he’s not the last to lose a 5 shot lead the last day and certainly not the last at a major – Arnold Palmer famously lost a 7 shot lead with 9 to play in 1966 at Olympic and lost the playoff to Billy Casper. IN other majors, most famously Greg Norman lost a 6 shot lead entering the final round and not only lost but finished 5 shots back.

  27. It was obviously a flop. He could have stayed up by simply bringing his right foot down and continuing to run. I assume contact with the foot is not, standing alone, a foul? The player needs to actually trip? If so, then no foul. And even if contact alone is sufficient for a foul, it should have been a no call.

  28. Steve says:

    Joe, you should look up ultimate frisbee’s self-officiating ethos. It’s pretty interesting.

  29. Scott Shanks says:

    Marquez knew he committed the foul. He immediately threw up his hands as if to say “I didn’t really stick my foot out, made no contact with the ball whatsoever, and stepped on Robben’s foot”. Any player that immediately throws their hands up like that knows they are gulity – just like the cornerback in football who commits pass interference or the blocker on a punt return who blocks someone from behind. The poor decision was Marquez’s – not the official’s.

  30. likedoohan says:

    It’s not the attempts to draw calls which bug me, but the faking on injuries and the fact that soccer players lie on the ground holding an uninjured body part, surreptitiously looking at the ref, while plays goes on around them. Then, they get up and miraculously show no sign of injury. I can see trying to draw call, it happens in all sports. Faking injury, then lying on the ground while your opponent tries to score, the begrudgingly getting to your feet with no sign of harm, makes this a joke.

  31. The flopping in soccer is a huge drawback to the game, as it can also be in basketball. They do need to address the flopping strongly to avoid the appearance that the sport is full of a bunch of flopping pansies. However, in this case, embellishment or not, it was a foul. Even if it was a light foul, it caused Robben to lose close contact with the ball, which he would have needed to shoot or cross the ball effectively. Having lost that ability, because of the foul, the scoring opportunity was lost. To me, this is the essense of a penalty area foul & the reason why a PK is awarded. Fouls in the box eliminate good scoring opportunities.

  32. Pat says:

    “We admire NFL coaches who teach their players how to get away with holding. We nod at the craftiness of NBA players who draw a tiny bit of contact on three-point shots so they can get three free throws.”

    Who’s “we,” kemosabe?

  33. Jonathan says:

    Like Steve above, I urge you to take a look at ultimate frisbee background and rules about self officiating. It’s now a pro sports, for three years running in the US and there is still this spirit of the game (although there are now officials).

  34. edfromyumaaz says:

    Again, an interesting post. I don’t really mind the flopping. It’s what it is, and I no longer automatically worry about the health of a player writhing on the ground gripping some leg joint or another.

    But the post reminded me of how accepting we can be toward casual cheating in our sports. In the 6th grade, I was taught how to throw a cross body block and use my elbow behind the other players’ knees, which was clearly holding but largely invisible to the refs. Our great high school team would have players flop when they needed the clock stopped toward the end of home games. The poor guy’d lie on the grass moaning for a couple of minutes, and then limp off the field only to reappear on the next play perfectly regenerated.

  35. Scott says:

    I can’t help but wonder if these same rules might apply to Joe’s Hall of Fame survey. If an offensive lineman holds and the offense is assessed 10 yards we don’t consider that player a cheater and say they can never be a hall of famer. So why are steroids different? A player breaks the rules and is assigned a penalty. It is a more severe offense, so there is a more severe penalty, but is that any different than assigning a larger penalty for pass interference than for offsides?

    If “ALL the responsibility of keeping a game fair with the umpire, referee, official” and “the players … [have] no culpability whatsoever for keeping the game fair” shouldn’t we really be blaming MLB for the steroids era? Can you really blame the player’s who took steroids?

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