Periscope Depth

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A coworker came by my desk waving a sheet of paper. “We’re doing betting squares for the game this weekend. You want in?”

“No thanks,” I said.

“Come on. Only five bucks!”

“Thanks anyway; I’ve got better things to spend my five bucks on.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know … lunch? Movie tickets? Beer?”

“You won’t miss the five bucks,” he insisted. “And you get to play along with the other folks in the office.”

“Really, I’m just going to keep my money.”

“Don’t you like football?”

I stared at him funny. “I love football.”

“Then why don’t you want to gamble on it?”

“That question doesn’t make any sense. There’s more to football than gambling.”

“Like what?”

I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation, but he looked serious. “Like watching the game? Cheering on your team? Wearing the team colors? Following team news? You know, all that?”

“Sure, sure, that’s cool, and I’m sure it makes a difference. But gambling’s what makes it a sport, instead of just something silly.”

“You’re not going to put me on the defensive. I can be a perfectly good football fan without gambling, and that’s that. Give me one good reason why I should bet on a football game.”

“Because everyone else is doing it!”

Another coworker, older and somewhat smarter, wandered by during this conversation; I shot him a pleading look while I answered the first guy’s riposte. “That’s not a valid argument and I think you know it.”

“The reason why you should gamble on football games,” interjected the older coworker, “is because it sends a message.”

I’d never heard an answer so bizarre, so I was at a loss for words.

He took this as a sign to continue. “The players in the game on Sunday know what the Vegas line is. They know that they’re six-point underdogs. That’s bound to discourage them. However, if there’s a lot of betting, Vegas will raise the line to make it a closer bet. They’ll do this to encourage more people to gamble. This will, in turn, encourage the players, since the game no longer looks like such a long shot. That’ll make them play better, and make them more likely to win.”

“Exactly!”, said the first coworker. He had never devoted that much thought to the question of Whether Or Not To Bet On Football. He’d been taught in sixth grade that betting was just Something All Good Football Fans Did. You weren’t really a good football fan if you didn’t bet. The notion of a football fan who didn’t bet on football baffled him.

“So you’re saying,” I said, gesturing with my hands as I struggled to line up concepts, “that if I bet on this Sunday’s game …”

“Right.”

“… and if thousands of other people bet the same way I do …”

“Uh-huh.”

“… that’ll encourage the bookies in Vegas to change the line …”

“Yup.”

“… which will encourage the players to play better …”

“You got it.”

“… which will hopefully make them win?”

“That’s it!” He beamed, proud of his tortured chain of reasoning.

“That’s the weirdest rationalization I’ve ever heard. Why wouldn’t I just go to the game and cheer for the players directly? That’s bound to have a greater effect on their playing than betting on them.”

“Well, sure, you can go to the game and cheer,” the older coworker said dismissively. “But there’s no reason you can’t do that and place a bet.”

“Unless I want to keep my five bucks!”

“Look,” the first coworker interrupted, “don’t you realize how lucky you are, living in a country where you can gamble on professional football? If you lived in the Soviet Union, or Saudi Arabia, or China, you wouldn’t have that privilege. It’s your right – hell, it’s your duty to put five bucks down on this Sunday’s game!”

“Now you’re being ridiculous,” I said.

“Don’t you want our team to win?”

“Of course I do.”

“Don’t you like living in a city that has a championship team?”

“I love it.”

“Then why won’t you fill out this betting square?”

I threw my hands up. “You’re not making ounce one of sense here.”

“I give up,” said the first coworker, snatching up the half-filled betting sheet and walking off. “I don’t know how you can say you want our team to win if you’re not willing to wager money on them.”

The older coworker smiled – one of those patronizing smiles that distances one from a louder party, while still trying to draw in the reluctant sale – and leaned in. “Look, it’s not that much money. Is there any reason why you won’t chip in five bucks? Play along with the rest of us?”

“I’m not going to bet on this Sunday’s game,” I answered, “because I don’t want to. It’s my five bucks, to spend however I like, and I choose not to spend it on this. I won’t want to spend it until I hear a sufficient argument for why I should. And so far, I have yet to hear anything that even sounds like an argument, much less a persuasive one.”

He shrugged sadly. “All right. I gave it my best. Sorry to bug you.”

“No problem; I have this conversation every four years or so.”

“See you at the tailgate this Sunday?”

“You know it. I’ll bring the ribs.”