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Conflict can be good: While We’re Waiting

I have found myself pondering conflict more in 2017 than I have in any other year since God blessed me with life on this Earth. Everywhere conflict has reigned supreme whether it be in general news coverage, politics, or, yes, sports. A vast majority of the clashes have been received as a negative.

However, the optimist inside me cannot help but be reminded that humanity’s greatest achievements have been borne out of conflict as James 1:12 tells us aptly, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.” The greatest generation was dubbed as much due to their willingness and ability to sacrifice their own well-being for the good of the world. Many literally putting themselves in harm’s way to ensure moral sanctity had a chance at surviving in Europe and Asia. The Cold War created the Space Race, which helped push the technology of the world further ahead than could have even been imagined on the pages of the fantastical science fiction pages. Present day Silicon Valley is another sector thriving on conflict as the bloodbath to become the next Amazon or Facebook is a brutal game of survival.

Don’t incite, provide insight.

Humans just are not designed to live without some form of conflict. Our instinct is to band together in small (or large) groups who identify with each other and seek to “win” against the opponent. Agent Smith from the movie The Matrix had the most poignant quote that described human’s inability to be satisfied or happy for lengthy amounts of time in a utopia.

Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.

WFNY’s Andrew Schnitkey wondered on Tuesday about finding a place for sports in our life, and how sports are a needed escape from the harsh realities around us. Here’s the money snippet from his excellent article:

I think more than anything, I find myself mostly filled with sadness at the divide between us as humans. Whether those divides are along racial lines, political affiliations, religious beliefs, ideology, philosophy, gender, or social class, we do seem to struggle to find common ground in a way that I’m not sure has always been this bad. We like to believe that we are progressing as a society at large, but in many ways, we are becoming more divided than ever, and it’s disheartening.

My response was that sports have an opportunity to bind people together with a commonality they would not have been bound by otherwise. Sports can offer a starting point of discussion, which can progress outwards to other topics as we see on the WFNY comment pages. The only way these discussions can be productive though is for all of us to respect each other. Without that respect, the defensive instincts kick in as we go into combat mode. Rather than explaining our point of view in the context and nuance it deserves, the discussion becomes an argument to stir things up. Thus, the utmost importance needs to be placed on providing insight to discussions.

The opportunity is passed upon by far too many people with large platforms who prefer to incite a fight. As WFNY detailed recently, Tony Grossi has declared all-out war against football analytics, and he was even willing to throw preposterous allegations about the Cleveland Browns front office somehow out-sourcing decisions to ESPN writer Bill Barnwell as a grenade in his fight. Grossi also has taken to mocking both the NFL Draft, and those individuals who wish he double-checked his work. His mock draft 7.0 would have three duplicates on the initial published revision though it was edited so that only one player was selected by two teams.

Somehow, the answer was three duplicates.

STO’s Jensen Lewis has taken a similar course regarding the new Statcast metrics as curse words in his lexicon to only be used as an object of derision. WFNY has detailed how Exit Velocity and Launch Angle project the likelihood of success at the plate. Professional teams, players, and hitting instructors are utilizing this data to alter their approach to hitting.

Neither exit velocity or launch angle or any of the other data such as route efficiency offer any guarantees. A 20 mile per hour squibbler down the third base line can still be a hit if the batter runs it out well enough. What they do provide is additional insight into the game of baseball for why things are happening on the field. The idea is that someone whose job is to analyze the game of baseball could utilize these new tools.

Instead, here is a sampling of how Lewis treats both advanced metrics and his colleagues who use them.

Spurring conversation apparently

When Lewis says about Starling Marte’s drug suspension, “The whole lack of knowledge argument doesn’t play anymore. He should be embarrassed to the highest degree,” my initial response is to write back a snarky comment about how I agree with his statement and that it applies to advanced statistics. I have a deep human desire to do so, which will provide a sense of relief and satisfaction the moment the send button is hit. The end result though is counter-productive for what I truly wish to happen.

Whether it is a stubbornness of wanting the old ways to remain or a fear of being labelled inadequate with the wash of the new wave in both football and baseball, I want both Grossi and Lewis to overcome their hurdles to further the discussion rather than create more barriers for others. Conflict can be good. It is imperative to have individuals question the validity of new ideas, while also providing a bridge to those who prefer the ways of the past. Quite quickly, those bridges will demonstrate that there isn’t much new. After all, Exit Velocity and Launch Angle are just an added nuance to what baseball people have always referred to as ground balls, line drives, bloopers, fly balls, and pop flies.

As Schnitkey noted, there are far more important topics in the world to discuss other than sports, but starting to build a community through our professional teams to earn each others’ respect is a strong way to better our ability to debate those issues. Even as conflict rules the world and dichotomies appear to have created gulfs too large to overcome, there are plenty of examples of the good in humanity. The Cleveland community rallied behind the Aviles family when their daughter Adriana was diagnosed with cancer in ways that still can bring tears to the eye. Employees at an Erie Pennsylvania McDonald’s risked their lives to help catch the Facebook Killer.

Let’s attempt to remember conflict can be good and continue to find ways to make positive marks on each other’s lives.