Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How to read

Whenever I write predictions or analysis of future games, I am usually careful to couch it in terms of what could happen or what will probably happen. I do this intentionally because I am a firm believer in the concept that the future is not predetermined, especially in sports, and even if it is predetermined, the future is not knowable with certainty.

Sometimes, though, when I write a pessimistic post either here or somewhere else about what might happen, someone inevitably misreads it. They may read a statement to the effect of, "I think we have to be worried about our quarterback play because we don't know how Matt Flynn will handle the full-time starter job," and somehow misread this as, "Matt Flynn sucks. We are doomed."

They may read a statement to the effect of, "South Carolina is better than a lot of people think," and somehow misread this as, "South Carolina will beat us by 40."

Does everyone see the differences between the statements in those examples? In the first, I am presenting QB play as a potential problem while people interpret that to say that our quarterback will be terrible. It's the difference between might and will. In the second, I am saying that South Carolina is a good team, while people are reading into it that I think South Carolina is a much better team than us. My statement is about South Carolina. The interpretation is about both South Carolina and LSU. The leap is unwarranted.

It always amazes me when people don't get that. I can't tell you how many times I've said something to the effect of, "It wouldn't shock me if [some generally unexpected event occurred]," only to have to defend my statement against angry people who insist on arguing as if I said, "You are foolish if you don't think [some generally unexpected event] will definitely happen."

Is it because of the dumbing down of the American school system? Is it because of some kind of hyper-confrontational streak in Americans these days? Is it because my legal training emphasized precise wording that I unreasonably expect others to respond only to what I say rather than what they think I say?

What bothers me is that I am so careful about what I say when I make predictions or analyze teams and players. I deliberately avoid making definitive predictions about things like that, and I don't like when other analysts do it. Why am I expected to have a definitive answer to the question of who will win a key matchup? I especially dislike that this has become such an important and big part of morning preview shows like GameDay. Analysts substitute predictions for useful analysis, and trash talking for insight. I don't find it entertaining, and as a result I stopped watching GameDay entirely before last season started. I don't miss it one bit.

I guess this analyzing style has become so ubiquitous that fans don't know how to process something different, and that's why I get treated like Lee Corso sometimes.

So, I encourage you to read and hear only what is actually said, and when I say something that sits wrong with you, relax and read it again. I may have said something entirely different from what you think.

No comments: