A couple of months ago, the Oklahoma Sooners football team lost a game against Oregon largely because a referee missed a call at the end of a game. That's the context for what is below (you can read more about it here). I did send this letter, and never heard from him.
September 22, 2006
Dear David Boren, President of Oklahoma University:
Earlier this week, you released a statement regarding an event in this way. “To describe [the incident] as constituting an outrageous injustice is an understatement.” One might speculate as to what would cause a university president to respond with such strong language. “Outrageous injustice?” Were you speaking of a hate crime of some kind? Was someone wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit? Perhaps a student had been wronged and you were defending her honor? Surely something truly egregious and tragic transpired to produce a statement like this. What were you referring to? A football game.
You were lamenting the fact that the referees blew a call at the end of your school’s football game at Oregon this weekend. You had a six point lead when Oregon tried an onside kick, which they recovered. But Oregon touched the ball illegally before they were allowed to, which should have meant that it was Oklahoma’s ball. Instead, Oregon marched down the field for the winning score, and your beloved Sooners lost. The refs even had the chance to watch the replay, and didn’t overturn it. Those referees were later suspended for one game for their mistake.
In the heat of the moment, these men made a mistake, which I’m sure they now realize. But you had a couple days to ponder this, to reflect on it in light of everything going on in the world around us, and you chose to label the blown call as “an outrageous injustice.”
In a climate where universities are already under fire for emphasizing athletics instead of learning, where winning at all costs is the greatest good, your statement does little to dispel that notion. Maybe it’s just that you weren’t thinking about the kind of injustice that people deal with every day, outside the arena of sports. For instance, millions of people are held illegally in indentured servitude throughout the world. This, President Boren, is an example of outrageous injustice, and it has nothing to do with sports.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a sports fan, too. And sure, I’ll yell at the screen when a ref’s mistake hurts my team. And it makes it even worse that they had a chance to get it right with instant reply, and still blew it. But as the president of your university, everyone is counting on you to keep a little perspective on things, realizing that even the best of people sometimes make mistakes. And not only did you call it an “outrageous injustice,” you said that term was an understatement. So how would you go about stating it appropriately, if “outrageous injustice” is understating it? Is it actually a crime against humanity? A reprehensible abomination? An offense against both God and man? It’s hard to imagine speaking more severely than “outrageous injustice,” but maybe you can think some more about it and see what you come up with.
Or maybe you just like hyperbole, and you’re given to saying things like “I’m so full; I literally ate my weight in chicken wings tonight” when you actually mean that you figuratively ate that much. The English language is rich and full of all sorts of words to fit the appropriate situation. And indeed, our language contains words for what happened on Saturday in Eugene. A bad call. A tough break. An unfortunate end to a great game. But an outrageous injustice? To use that term is itself an outrage to injustice everywhere.
Lake Bluff, IL