Running Up the Score

Just to throw this out there, more as a curiosity than anything:

I love me some football. I even blog about it when I’m not dealing with political/cultural crap:

There are a number of reasons that sport specifically does it for me, but probably because of the intensity and violent contact made during play, it draws a lot of controversy.

Case in point: there has been some talk about football teams running up the score in games, usually high school games where the competition is clearly doomed.

Now, if we wanted to institute a mercy rule where, say, a lead by 50 points means the game gets called in favor of the leader, then that would be understandable. But the moral content of these kinds of complaints is the same as the moral content thrown out when people start talking about wealth redistribution. People talk like competition is the point, so we have to keep it close. Then they might drop a pro-competitive attitude and bring up hurt feelings, how such a beating can lower self-esteem for the losers. You never know.

But here’s a thing about keeping score. The reason we do it in sports is the same reason we do it with science, engineering, and money. Numbers are straightforward. Numbers give you honest feedback. Numbers don’t lie, don’t allow you to see what you want to see. Sometimes, the other team can kick your ass, and no matter what, the kids on the opposing teams knew it, through the score if nothing else.


In the case of high school ball, a mercy rule would be okay because that message is made. But in real sports, us Chiefs fans found out something recently: even if your team is way the fuck ahead, the other team can come back and kick your ass if they hit a streak. 28 points was enough that, if you were talking to a concerned parent in the stands, they might say the winner should back off, but what if the other team remembers where they put their motivation and digs it back up? Somewhere in the meaning of sport, full effort is implied. Sport is truth of ability and resilience brought up in competitive simulation; why do it if you’re just going to dick up the truth of it?

In economics and politics, it’s easy to loathe billionaires, officials, and tastemakers for trying too hard to get ever more power or solidify what they have. It seems obsessive and irrational, for them not to share. But “running up the score” always holds some value because there is never a zero chance of failure. Others want what you have, and you never know when your luck will run out. Particularly with capitalism, the scale of operations is huge these days: you have to have billions to start a major business and billions annually to run it, and there’s never so much money that it can’t be invested somewhere. Opportunity costs are everywhere, and “too much” has no meaning in that arena. We enjoy the benefits of increasing returns to that scale far too much to pretend we don’t like it with any credibility.

I know how difficult it is to empathize with overdogs, but understand that most of what human culture is about came from refining behavioral trends and establishing thought and ideas which existed for the sake of stabilizing a hierarchical group. Assholes in charge trying to stay in charge gave us much of what we have, and almost all the rest was created by people trying to take their power on some level. Everyone is insecure. That’s where their active energy comes from.

Even if losing is discouraging, alienating, depressing, humiliating, harsh, or even makes you feel like subjecting certain people to involuntary electroshock therapy, it’s better to stomach a tough loss than to promote the irrational idea that mercy without victory makes people moral. Mercy works to the benefit of the overdog after domination has been established. Then it boosts the esteem of the winner by reinforcing the declaration of victory and pulling the vanquished over to their side to complete an assimilating fusion. Mercy without victory is simply bad tactics in a legitimate fight, and it’s insulting to real competitors.


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