On The Ball -- Taking a Dive and Flippity-flops
Ever since I was a young kid, soccer has always been a part of my life. Unfortunately, over the years, though, the sport has picked up an unhealthy reputation for players taking dives — faux falls, pseudo spills, trumped-up trips — in order to get a free kick.
After all, the game is played primarily with the feet. Before long, someone’s going to get stepped on, accidentally kicked or tripped up in an effort to gain possession. Throughout much of my teenage years, I, for some reason or another, opted to kick off my youthful employment as a soccer referee, and the dives became even more apparent.
An innocuous bump in a penalty box would be blown out of proportion with an exaggerated tumble. Mandatory refresher clinics would often focus on these instances, educating officials and referees to recognize the tell-tale signs of a dive — flailing arms, possible audible outbursts, rolling around on the ground, aimlessly, and (here’s the kicker) feet dragging near the ground. Some players will opt to kick their legs back behind them when taking the fall, in what’s recognized as the “Archer’s Pose,” hoping sell the implied infraction.
A 2008 study even went so far as to name recognizable traits as components of a dive, like separation in time between the impact and the simulation, a lack of ballistic continuity (when a player moves further than expected from the momentum of said infraction) and lack of contact consistency, such as a player nursing a body part other than where impact occurred).
With more and more of these occurrences, though, referees have found a simple way to combat it - punish the “diver,” as it feigns injury and impedes the pace of play. Free kicks and even yellow and red cards are justifiably issued against the diver. Case-in-point, earlier this week, I was watching the Philadelphia Union take on the New York Red Bulls when Philly midfielder Freddy Adu, one of the biggest names to step into the MLS in the past decade, cut through the penalty area with the ball on his way towards the goal.
When confronted by two defenders before he could get a shot off, Adu hit the ground. Now, I admit, in real-time, it sometimes takes a well-trained eye to spot a dive, and, personally, I enjoy watching Adu’s footwork, but this was, by all means, a dive. Upon further review of the call, once the play was slowed down, it was obvious that Adu was barely touched before he put his acting skills to the test. Adu was issued a yellow card and the Red Bulls got the ball back.
Upon contesting the call and pleading the case, Adu was given his second yellow, resulting in a red card and dismissal from the game. For each red card issued, that player is ejected for the duration of the match and his team is forced to play the remainder of the game with one less player on the field, i.e. you can’t just swap out your red-card offender with another, as you can with an athlete who fouls out in a basketball game. The Red Bulls, holding a one-player advantage over the Union, were able to overcome Philadelphia’s early control of the game, and walked away with a 3-2 win.
Which brings us back to the hardwood. Recently, the “dive” has made its way onto the basketball courts in what players, coaches, analysts and referees refer to as “flopping.” The name may be a little different, but the concept is the same - someone, either on offense or defense, is exaggerating an implied foul in hopes of gaining an advantage like awarding an opponent a foul or earning shots form the free-throw line. As in soccer, when a referee recognizes a flop, it’s the “flopper” who is penalized, be it a change of possession, a personal or technical foul, and even fines.
With the NBA playoffs in full steam, tempers are flaring and more players and coaches are speaking their mind on the topic. Just before the Indiana Pacers were to take on the Miami Heat in the Eastern conference semifinals, Pacers’ head coach Frank Vogel criticized his opponents for their flopping ways, stating, “[The Heat] are the biggest flopping team in the NBA. It’ll be very interesting [to see] how the referees officiate the series and how much flopping they reward.” His remarks earned him a $15,000 fine by the league.
LeBron James, the Heat’s standout forward, and recent recipient of a third career league MVP award earlier this week, is often at the center of “flop” debates around the league. Los Angeles Clippers dunk-star Blake Griffin is another arguable culprit, while his teammate Chris Paul was singled out by Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins who said, on national television, “Chris [Paul] does a good job of flopping.”
Some players have sounded off, admitting that a flop can sell a call, though no one wants to be on the butt-end of a flop accusation.
All the talk has even prompted NBA commissioner to speak up this season, saying, “I think it’s time to look at [flopping] in a more serious way, because it’s only designed to fool the referee. It’s not a legitimate play in my judgement. I recognize if there’s contact [you] move a little bit, but some of this is acting. We should give out Oscars rather than MVP trophies.”
Good on you, Stern. At least the guy at the top is recognizing that a selfish act is pulling away from the integrity of the game.
It’d be nice to get back to watching sports without waiting for a panel of judges to hold up scores for a dive, or waiting for a play to start back up because a player who claims he was “fouled” is throwing his hands in the air towards a ref, begging for a call. Players are paid to play. Actors are paid to act. Let’s not blur the line.