Armchair Quarterbacks Are Jerks!
SUMMARY: I know. That title is not politically correct. It’s not even very Christian! I’m an idiot for calling someone else an idiot! Here’s the “but” you saw coming. But I chose it because it’s essentially the point I want to make about armchair quarterbacking (AQing). It’s often a clever yet ungodly way to let ourselves think and say what we never would otherwise. You’re right, some armchair quarterbacks (AQs) you know would just say what they think anyway. The rest, (only slightly) more refined, try to hide foolish pride if not unmerciful cruelty under the cover of AQing. AQing too often is a covert refuge for a sinful spirit that births sinful attitudes and words. And we come off as… idiots!
Here are the AQs blind spots, or the deficits that the “armchair” inflicts on its “quarterbacks!”
- Data Deficiency
The Following 2 Articles:
Proverbs 18:2 Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. (NLT)
Interested? If so, keep reading below.
By Kerry Krissel
DIG DEEPER: (Read the “SUMMARY” paragraph above first)
It‘s common to use armchair quarterbacking (AQing) to provide (perceived) cover much like we use humor. However, it’s not OK to use sarcasm, humor, or AQing to be cruel or slanderous. Unkindness is unkind no matter the context or delivery method. And “no,” those of you who quote scripture to defend your brutality, it’s not love if we speak the truth unkindly (Ephesians 4:15). Why is that not obvious!? If I had a dollar for every time I heard a Christ-follower say something like, “I just tell it like it is, the whole truth, no sugar coating, if they can’t take it, that’s not my problem.” That is wrong on so many levels! You may not have thought about AQing that way before, but that’s why I give you this blog!
What do I mean by the noun “armchair quarterbacks” (AQs) and the verb “armchair quarterbacking?” In case you live in a cave (or have no helpful experience whatsoever), this is sports jargon for a know-it-all critic who, with an (undeserved) air of authority, acts like they have all the answers. Their great wisdom comes wrapped in bombast and hindsight even though they don’t have the experience or specifics (or both) to know what they are talking about. Either they don’t have the job description to back their certainty, or they lack the real-time data that the ref or coach has. They may have neither even though the blowhard expounds as if they do.
The “armchair quarterback” label is sports jargon for a know-it-all critic who doesn’t know-it-all!
It’s astounding how often they literally believe they’re right even though their lack can be easily seen, sitting there in their “armchair” a thousand miles and lives away from the action. The AQ assumes that if what they call into question is not the results they wanted, then the decision was stupid, and the decision-maker an idiot. A good number of these AQs have as much disdain for the decision and its maker as they do arrogance, making them angry, harsh, and unmerciful.
Seriously, getting a little too into a game and becoming so excited that you yell at the screen in a well-mannered and playful way is not what I’m talking about. Have fun with it. Passionately debate (with a smile on your face or tongue in your cheek) with your sibling or friend over the wisdom of a ref’s call or coach’s choice of plays. Or your rival’s choice of teams! Lovingly provoke them with friendly banter. Compete by cheering for your team over theirs. Life is too short to get so angry that we divide a relationship due to a (football) game. So, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for some controlled and friendly rivalry any more than I’m saying that all peaceable AQing should be done away with.
I’m addressing something that’s regretfully, more common. There are three things that I’d like to call your attention to. I’ll unpack them from within the sports metaphor and then take my concern beyond the scope of the game.
1. Data Deficits
The first is opinion-making without having all the facts that being physically present at the moment provides. Only the coach knows what went into what appears to be a momentary decision on the field of play. It usually is anything but a choice based solely on the visible facts or even on football facts alone. Tidbits and details and data gathered days before from people and facts from films watched are a few of the variables they‘re drawing from in the moment, in addition to the immediate game data. Strategy pertinent to the game that only a coach will understand but that was laid out before it ever started, comes into play.
There’s no way that we, from the safety and uninformed distance of our armchair, could have all the data the decision-maker has. The very idea of an “armchair” quarterback is that you’re not there, in the moment, on the field (or even the sideline), with real skin in the game. That is unless you’re betting on the game, in which case we need to have a whole other chat!
Just the Facts Mam!
Even if we have experience with the game, either as a player or coach, what we do not have is live intelligence. We don’t have all the facts because we’re not there in the moment. More than that, we have not been there over time. Many decisions we do not understand are not made purely on the immediate data at hand. The decision-maker is using bits of information pulled from sources and experiences and conversations and strategy meetings we have no knowledge of.
There is no way that we, from the safety and uninformed distance of our armchair, could have all the data the decision-maker has.
We can sound smart and informed but that doesn’t necessarily make us any more capable of making an accurate judgment. We’re missing vital, need-to-know information. It does however qualify us to suck others into our anger and arrogance because we know enough to sound like we know much more than we do. And we like it that way. Some of us even fool ourselves. Because we have some expertise, we get thinking we have all the data we need to qualify us to render our vaulted opinion.
Are You Sure?
“You don’t need a bunch of data to know that was a boneheaded decision.” Can you see that this is a backhanded way of saying that you make decisions without considering all the facts! “Well, that coach made a call that any moron would know wasn’t going to work.” And you can prove that? You think that because one play went bad it wasn’t part of a bigger plan? Or that the overall game strategy can’t still be accomplished? You know you’re right and they’re wrong? You can prove your strategy would have worked… and advanced the larger strategy… that you don‘t have a clue about… because you aren’t there? No, you can’t. It’s just arrogant to think and talk like you can know what you claim to know.
Some of you out there are still arguing even though needing to be right is a good point to make but not the point I’m trying to bring you to, which you’ll see in a moment, but should not need anyone to point out. Even if you’re correct, why the contempt and anger and disgust and nastiness? Then you sit there dejected and disgusted, even offended, the rest of your day is ruined, and you’re still cross the next morning spewing your unadmirable character flaws on everyone you meet. Why? Many AQ’s brag about how much smarter they are the next day, rehearsing the boneheaded decision and how much smarter their choice would have been, going out of their way to prove they have not a clue just how much of a troublemaking know-it-all they are.
…The rest of your day is ruined, and you’re still cross the next morning, spewing your unadmirable character flaws on everyone you meet.
I hear commentators do this all the time. So-and-so was thinking this was going to happen or has a bad attitude or is faking or is selfish or needs to be replaced or traded or is clearly in the wrong position. OK, that’s your opinion, you’re free to speak your mind. But they speak as if they know better than everyone else down on the field in the trenches trying to pull out a win. Maybe they feel they need to prove they have what it takes since they are calling the game. Or they commend someone for aggression or boisterous, arrogant, confidence that’s really self-aggrandizing and poor sportsmanship. Comment away, that’s your job. But watch that you don’t speak as if you’re God and have infallible wisdom and flawless logic. Be careful not to conflate what’s admirable with what’s abominable. Be careful that you don’t, from your imagined seat on high, get to call down verdicts as if you know it all. This leads me to a more theological problem than AQing.
From a more doctrinal point of view, AQs are prone to go on like they’re omniscient. God knows all things, there’s nothing that escapes him, nothing hidden from him. It’s audacious to talk like you have the power of God and know outcomes based on multiple and changing variables. Your fantasy team may be performing well, but don’t let that puff you up and leave you sounding like you sit on the Almighty’s throne in splendor and glory! Really, this is something we do more often than we may realize. We don’t just think we know better, we aren’t above the belief that we know better than God. Pay attention to your speech, it betrays your belief.
This first problem, data deficiency (and/or tactical blindness) happens more often when it comes to leadership calls that affect us. I remember having this discussion years ago with one of my children. They came home from a church event complaining about a decision a youth leader made. Since I was also a leader in the church, I sat them down and talked about what it’s like to be in a leadership role. I encouraged them to resist stirring the pot by agreeing with all their friends and against the leader. When all the facts were known, they ended up looking wise at a young age for speaking in defense of that leader. There indeed was more to the issue than was known at first. The leader was operating off a different set of data than those teens had to work with. The leader was vindicated and my child along with them!
Bring in politics or work or doctors or judges or just about any authority figure. Most are far too inclined to call into question what they don’t understand. This isn’t so bad until we come off as if we know better when we know little or nothing about the subject, or more pointedly, about what went into the decision.
And here’s the peculiar thing about that. When it comes to God, I want a God who knows more than I do. I want a God who, because of his position, sees what I don’t see and knows what I don’t know. I want a God that can make decisions on the largest set of data possible. I want a God I cannot understand. Anything else would not be a God worthy of my allegiance.
I want a boss or leader who because of his position and experience and gifts can make informed decisions that affect me. I want them to know more than I do. But when I don’t like their decision, I act like I have more wisdom and the right to make a better call. And we often do it without taking the time and doing the work to gather the same level of information from which they were working. I sit there in my limiting valley and call out those far above me with the perspective I can’t possibly—with a straight face and in my right mind—think I have.
Bring It Home!
Obviously, I’m making a case for patience when it comes to opinion-making. More precisely, given our topic, patience over how quickly we announce it to the world. Gather data before you come to a hard and fast opinion. Gather data before you try to show how smart you are. Gather data before you pass judgment on another. If we’re talking about a simple football game, the caution here is how we speak when the judgment calls come fast and furious. There’s not a lot of time for data collection. So, how much certainty do we proclaim our opinion with and how critical are we toward the one we feel has made an error? (More about the latter—how we as AQs are to others—in the third installment.)
But I’m not finished yet… aaannnddd that’s all the time we have today!
In the second of three blogs on AQs, we’ll continue our discussion by addressing the strategic deficit that makes AQing problematic, especially for Christians. (Link to part 2)
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