Saturday, September 02, 2017

Rules of Evidence

I have been listening to sportsguys talking about Ezekiel Elliot's suspension.

By the way, sportsguys these days tend to be liberals, and the kind who want to a) turn the conversation to political things whenever possible, and b) throw political comments in to neutral conversations gratuitously. How are placekickers affected in the Age of Trump?

It's not just ESPN, either. I heard another rant today about getting serious, and putting the hammer down about domestic violence, suggesting that people who think Ezekiel Elliot is getting the shaft just don't take this seriously.  And furthermore, leagues and franchises have a brand to protect, so they should hold their players to higher standards - referencing Goodell's declaration about it being a privilege to play in the NFL, etc.

Except...what if the player isn't guilty? I don't consider it raising the standard of the league when they are lowering the standards for evidence. Elliot had some incident, caught on film, of pulling a woman's shirt up, or shirt down, or whatever.  If the NFL wants to suspend him for that, fine. Be as strict as you want, it's your circus. I get it that's it's not always clean, either.  Someone might be pretty obviously guilty even though you couldn't necessarily convict him in a court of law for some reason.  That takes judgement and wisdom for a league to process.

I haven't looked at word one of the evidence in Elliot's case.  If he really did multiply abuse some woman, I think six games might be too little. Maybe it actually is pretty easy to tell he did some bad things, and the level of doubt is very low.  Yet how low is low enough?

It can be fairly easy to raise suspicion about someone and get a whole bandwagon going that they should be strung up, tarring and feathering is too good for them. It happens in politics all the time. I don't think it would be that hard to subject someone to series of accusations. Here's another way in which it could get ugly - when a league or a team or a college is trying to protect its brand, then the value of the victim starts to creep in quietly as part of the discussion. Pretty girls will be more tragic than homeless men.

Let's say Smith is accused of ending the life of Jones. Jones was well-liked, but on the other hand, the story is that there was something unlucky, accidental, unfortunate about the whole incident.  The factions divide between those who want the courts to go easy on Smith, and those who want to make an example out of him.  The positions harden down to those who want him charged with Involuntary Manslaughter and those who want Smith executed. All sorts of historical information, some of it true, most not, begins to circulate about other things Smith has done. People call the radio, people write letters to the editor, people get into arguments at work, at church, in families.

Suddenly Jones lands at the airport after having been vacationing at Machu Picchu the last three weeks.  He quickly finds out what is happening and calls a press conference. "Hi.  Here I am.  Not dead. Not even a little bit.  Going over to have dinner with my friend Smith tonight."

If you think that settles the whole affair, and everyone sheepishly apologises to each other and resolves to do better next time, you haven't been paying attention.  The craziness is just beginning. How can Jones take a risk like that, going over to Smith's house so soon after he tried to kill him? Maybe that's not really Jones. And what about those other crimes that Smith was never convicted of?  The whole thing smells fishy. It just goes to show how little evidence it takes to accuse a black/white man. The police were trying to set him up because he's got something on them. Jones used to date Smith's ex-wife, she's in this somehow, I never trusted her.

CS Lewis used an example of a disease being diagnosed when no symptoms were present.  The doctor hypothesises about how the illness came to be  "You may be sure he caught it on one of those trains," but never identifies what the illness is.

It happens to groups as well: frat boys, police, races, Democrats - they get accused in contexts that a lot of people will believe carefully selected crimes with no evidence whatsoever. The public may not believe they have a torture chamber for their opponents, but will readily sign on to something that fits what they already believe about them.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

When I was in the service, we referred to this condition as "Spring-loaded to the pissed-off position."