Football and Torture

by Bryan

There have been two relatively high-profile rule changes in the NFL this year. The first rule is that there are no more “incidental” facemask grapping penalties, which used to be 5 yards; all facemask penalites are now 15-yard personal fouls. The second rule is that a player can no longer be judged to have been “forced out” of bounds when trying to get his feet in the playing field while making a catch. The refs could previously judge whether or not the player “would have” gotten his feet down if he is knocked out of bounds while in air, but the NFL removed that rule this year. The rules changes have one thing in common: it takes a subjective judgment out of the refs’ hands. The goal of the rules is to reduce the number of qualitative judgments that are necessary on the field in favor of the number of quantitative judgments. It is a good system.

I have been thinking about the NFL and its constant rules-tinkering as I’ve been reading about America’s torture laws, and how John Yoo and others won’t be face penalties for writing briefs that permitted the U.S. to torture people while George W. Bush was in office. While a panel found that Yoo used “poor judgment” in creating his briefs, it found that he did not act outside of the purview of the law; he had not, then, extended executive power beyond its actual borders. This is a load of horseshit, the equivalent of ignoring what was once a five-yard facemask penalty on Yoo and excusing the harsher penalty because the intent was not believed to be bad enough. There is no room for question of intent here. It is illegal to torture. A law was broken, and the penalty must be paid, the same way NFL coaches do not get to unilaterally decree that certain rules do not apply to them. When rules are broken, people must be held accountable, otherwise the rules were not really broken.

I am flabbergasted that a judgment of “poor judgment” itself can even be rendered here. While our President strives to overturn the binary nature of our politics, this is a situation where it actually exists for our own good. What has happened here is an epic failure of our legal system, and should shake our nation to its core.

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