When is something “too Important” for Rules?

The Olympics have shown that we now have an epidemic on our hands. No, not “gold Fever” but rather a sense that some things are more important than the rules. If you are at all comfortable with this statement it says much about how widespread the epidemic is. The Olympics are all about rules. It is the rules that ensure fair treatment of athletes, and fair play on the field of friendly strife. So how have we come so far, that we expect to see rules “suspended” or ignored, simply because we believe someone was treated unfairly?

In the Olympics we see discussions about whether the Korean gymnast should also be given the gold medal, since he was “wronged” by the judges. Of course, that glosses over the fact that the gymnast should have looked to see that his degree of difficulty was what he expected. It’s what the US team had done prior to the team all-around. Remember, the US team was upset that their high bar routines were downgraded, and that was before they ever mounted the device. Also the Korean coaches missed their opportunity to protest, instead protesting after the competition was final, and the medals awarded.

These rules are put in place with the intent of ensuring a fair, or even, opportunity for competition. Errors can be expected, since judges are also human, and thus other rules are put in place for protesting a decision. These rules are placed in recognition that one cannot wait to protest, because of the turmoil that will create.

Unfortunately, the Olympics are just the latest venue to face an assault on rules. If you remember the US elections in 2002, the Democratic Candidate for the US Senate seat for New Jersey withdrew from the race inside the window allowed by law to find a replacement candidate. Simple enough. In fact, one would think more simple a decision than sporting rules–just abide by the law. But that was too obvious a solution. Somewhere in our convoluted world, we decided that the “law” was too constricting. The Democrats went to court, not to challenge an illegal action by their opponent, but rather to seek justification for their desire to break the law.

This of course ignores another reason for laws: to provide a rational, reasoned response before a crisis, so that the “heat of the moment” doesn’t force an unfair decision. Unfortunately, even our courts are allowing the “heat of the moment” to hold sway. Decisions that should be clear and simple are twisted, distorted beyond recognition.

We even saw this mentality with the Clinton impeachment. When Senator after Senator stood up and said that what he did was wrong, and perhaps even a violation of the law, but could not bring themselves to vote for impeachment, they allowed the emotional tug of the moment to command the reason of the law.

Worse yet, defenders of Clinton were heard to say that, while what he did was bad, his “bad” was outweighed by his “good” and that we should give him a “pass” on any rules or laws he may have broken.

It’s not that the Law is wrong. It’s not that the rule is bad. It’s that “these circumstances” demand we suspend the law, or ignore the rule.

The most grievous example is found not in an instance of when the courts set aside the rule, but in the criticism when the courts abide by the rule of law. Commentators from the left continue to refer to President Bush as the “President Select” because of the decision of the US Supreme Court. Alas, if one steps past the emotions of the moment, what one finds is that all the Supreme Court said was “no, you cannot set aside the rule of law.” Since when is the Supreme Court “wrong” to uphold the law? When your side loses, apparently.

Which brings us back to the Olympics. Some venues followed the rules. In Breaststroke, Piersol believed another swimmer was executing an illegal turn in the event. He brought it to the attention of the judges, and the officials ruled that they could do nothing about it since they did not observe the infraction. Fair enough. He accepted that. When Piersol swam the backstroke a judge ruled that his turn was illegal. The US Coaches protested immediately, following the rules for the protest. The officials followed their protocols, and overturned the decision, on technicality some would say, but a correct decision none the less.

The rules, when followed, ensure fairness. The law provides structure. And the US Swimmers and Gymnasts proved that they are class acts. Perhaps they deserve gold fever.

Imagine: A Gold Medal for sportsmanship.



4 thoughts on “When is something “too Important” for Rules?

  1. I wish more people thought the way you do. It is a sad situation when people choose to follow the rules, only when they “fit.”

    Being a NJ Democrat myself, I was nothing short of embarrased by the events that led to what was an illegal insertion of a candidate.

  2. Thanks, Jay. Consistency in thought is important, especially if one wishes to demonstrate that they have a coherent world view, and are willing to tackle the big problems in a way that makes sense.

    I do hope you enjoyed reading through most of my commentaries. I do not expect people to agree, but certainly hope I challenge them to think.

    While I often hear the quote, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” I find a mind without consistency to be… well…jello.

    The quote, btw, is most usually taken out of context, anyway…

  3. I completely agree with you on this post Prof. I think when there are rules, they need to be followed and not adjusted to accomadate to the challenges one perceives one may face in trying to reach their goal. Be it a medal or avoiding prosecution.


    You will concur that the president must be censured and impeached for his breach of the FISA policy?

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