“You cheated!” Nancy chittered angrily.
“We did not!” Michelle chittered, flicking her tail in warning.
They’ve had their sibling arguments, as all kids do, and Mrs. Squirrel and I usually let them sort it out. Learning how to resolve trivial arguments is part of growing up, after all. But their tails were flicking with real anger this time, so Mrs. Squirrel and I had to step in.
The disagreement did seem trivial, once they explained it. Apparently they had played Capture the Nut at recess yesterday. It’s a common squirrel game. The class was split into two teams, each with a home branch on opposite sides of the school tree, each with a nut to guard. The object of the game was to sneak onto the other team’s branch and get to their nut. Apparently Michelle’s team won when one of her teammates crept out on a higher branch, then leaped down directly onto Nancy’s team’s nut.
The dispute was over whether leaping from a higher branch broke the rules. The teacher said that the point of the game is to teach young squirrels how to better navigate in trees, so jumping from one branch to another was fine. The teacher’s explanation made perfect sense, to Michelle. Nancy thought it was ridiculous.
I wasn’t surprised. I sometimes take a break from researching my thesis by reading websites that aren’t about 21st Century Political Nuttitude. Nancy and Michelle sounded a lot like Cowboys’ and Colts’ fans discussing Johnny Unitas’ tipped-pass touchdown to John Mackey back in Super Bowl V. Unitas threw the ball to Ed Hinton, but Hinton barely touched the ball with his fingertips. Mackey swooped in, caught the tipped ball, and ran for a touchdown. But one offensive player cannot tip the ball to another. The officials ruled that a Dallas defender had touched the ball after Hinton, thus Mackey’s catch and touchdown were legal. Forty-one years later, no Cowboy defender has ever admitted to touching the tipped pass, and Cowboys’ and Colts’ fans still argue about it. You can watch the pass here – the play starts 26 seconds into the video – and decide for yourself:
At least there we have a video record. And while Super Bowl games are important to players and fans, they aren’t a matter of life or death.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin last month was a matter of life or death. And a new Pew Research poll shows that Americans are starting to pick teams over the tragedy, with 56% of Republicans saying it has received too much news coverage while only 25% of Democrats agree. People are also choosing racial teams, with 58% of blacks saying they are following the case closely while only 24% of whites are doing so. And only 16% of blacks say the event has received too much coverage, compared to 43% of whites.
Unlike Super Bowl V, no cameras captured the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. If any witnesses recorded it, none has come forward. Forensic evidence and witness testimony might fill in some gaps, but others will always remain.
There is surveillance video of Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford police station and – like the tipped-pass touchdown footage – people will find evidence in that video that supports the team they’ve chosen. Zimmerman’s defenders claim a shadow on the crown of his head, visible in only a few frames, is the cut that proves Martin was pounding Zimmerman’s head against the sidewalk and thus that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. Martin’s defenders say the momentary shadow is only a shadow, noting the absence of a bandage, blood, or any evidence of the broken nose Zimmerman claims to have suffered. Martin’s defenders also note that Sanford police officers did not transport Zimmerman to the hospital, nor wear rubber gloves while touching him as they are trained to do when blood is present.
I can’t say whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense. I will say that the case should be decided court, with both the prosecution and defense presenting and examining all of the relevant evidence. If Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law makes it impossible to bring cases like this to court, that law must be changed.
I suppose that means I too have picked a team. I too will see evidence that supports my team, and discount evidence that goes the other way. It would be nice if human and squirrel brains were wired to seek truth, even when the truth does not favor us or our teams. We aren’t.
We can still try to overcome our impulses and make the effort to seek truth. Nancy and Michelle did calm down. They still don’t agree on the rule, but they’ve agreed not to fight about it. Cowboys’ and Colts’ fans may still argue about the tipped pass, but they no longer come to blows over it. If the girls and the fans never agree on those disputes, it won’t be a big deal.
But Trayvon Martin’s death is a big deal. Investigators continue their work of seeking the truth. So should we all.
Good day and good nuts.