If you haven’t seen it by now, Toronto reversed the call on the ice in OT, costing the Islanders a win. In the aftermath, Thomas Vanek wondered aloud about whether the fact that it was the Islanders are it easier to change the call, and if Pittsburgh or other elite teams would get the benefit of the doubt.
It’s a common refrain among the less successful franchises or players in every sport, and it sounds like sour grapes, but is it really?
I don’t think it is, I think there is a very real bias in sports officiating. Not a conscious one though, it is a sort of confirmation bias that we all have. Let me explain where I came up with this theory.
There has long been a belief that certain players in the NBA will always “get the call”, while younger players haven’t earned that right yet. I don’t think NBA officials think that way, but they are also human. When they see Jordan, or LeBron now, drive to the hoop and miss, well surely there must have been a foul. Similarly, when they make an unbelievable play, they may have traveled, but the referee knows that they are great players capable of those types of feats, so they don’t question it as much as they would if some other player did it.
So really, the reputation creates a confirmation bias. Great players make great plays, no need to question it, unless they fail, when it must have been caused by the other team fouling.
Watching the Vanek goal, it’s impossible to see any distinct kicking motion. But if you watch it long enough, I can see where someone would talk themselves into it. He does move his skate and it does hit the puck. Granted, he moves his skate because Steen pushes him, but like I said, look at it long enough, and you could see anything you wanted to in it.
So is this a matter of Toronto deciding the Islanders shouldn’t be allowed to win the game? No, I highly doubt that. But it is a case of it being the Islanders, and therefore that bias causes the review officials to look at it long enough to start to see maybe some sort of intent on Vanek’s part. If this were a different team, maybe they don’t spend as much time looking at it. Sydney Crosby, Ovechkin, etc. are great players, capable of doing amazing things offensively, so when Toronto looks at review of one of their goals, well they see what they believe, goal scorers scoring goals.
If you don’t have that reputation, it’s not so much that the league is conspiring against you, as it is that they don’t expect you to do great things, so they take a longer look at plays and are more likely to “see” something than they are with other players they expect to do those things.
Or maybe I’m just a bitter Isles fan….