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February 4, 2013 / Tom Liberman

Super Bowl – Breaking Rules to Win

Holding on SafetyThere was an interesting incident at the Super Bowl this year when the Baltimore Ravens intentionally broke a rule to help them win the game.

In this case the Ravens were winning by five points with eleven seconds left in the game. They decided to run a play in which the punter just moved around in the end zone running as much clock as possible and then taking a safety which is worth two points. The idea here was that if they punted there was a chance of a punt return or a punt block but that’s not where the rule breaking comes in. On the play the Ravens players blatantly held the 49er players which is normally a ten yard penalty and a repeat of the down. Well, a repeat of the down would have meant that Baltimore could have done the exact same thing but this time run the clock to zero. So, by blatantly holding the players for the other team they were allowed to dither more time from the clock, essentially, they gained a competitive advantage by breaking the rules.

My plan isn’t to talk about this particular rule or how it was broken to gain an advantage but the incident just got me thinking about the point of rules and the point of laws in general. It goes to an Ayn Rand’s quotes of which I’m quite fond; The  only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well,  when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things  to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking  laws.

Let me give an example of what I’m trying to suggest here by using the Socratic Method.

What is the purpose of laws against driving your car too fast?

The obvious answer is that the law is to protect innocents from out of control drivers crashing into them. At first glance this seems readily apparent and true. But, let me offer another option, the law is designed to generate money for the police force. Which one do you think is true? In my opinion both are true but only one should be true. We have so many laws that are designed not for the safety of the general public but to enforce ethical codes, to generate revenue, to punish those we dislike, and on and on. A law or a rule should be designed so that it serves the purpose of society or the game.

In the case of the Super Bowl the rule is fundamentally flawed because it was broken to gain an advantage. I’m not saying it’s an intentionally bad rule, I’m just staying that it’s flawed and doesn’t serve the purpose for which it was designed. This happens not infrequently. When a law doesn’t serve society or a rule doesn’t serve the game then it should be altered or eliminated.

Does regulating individual’s use of marijuana serve society? Does regulating sexual behavior serve society? Does restricting gun ownership serve society? I’m for an open and critical examination of all the laws that we have, this ever-growing prison population, this revenue driven police force, this moral self-righteousness. I think we need to purge the system of many, many laws but I’m willing to listen to those who think otherwise.

The NFL will address their rule. Can we as a society apply the same logic to our laws? Can we discuss them rationally with one another and listen to arguments on both sides? I’d like to think so.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

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