Unsporting Conduct – Major FAQ Edition

Welcome back! If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read last week’s post on the changes to Unsporting Conduct – Major here. If not, I’d recommend it in order to put this FAQ in context. These are just some of the questions which have been flooding my inbox in the wake of these changes, but they are the most common and relevant ones. As of this writing, there’s also a nearly-300-comment thread on the USC-Major update over on Reddit, if you’re interested (I’m not a Redditor, but several diligent, selfless Judges of all levels are). With that background, let’s give these changes a bit more clarity by answering some of your questions:

Can’t my opponent just falsely accuse me of doing something horrible and win the match?

No. As with any infraction, the Judge investigates and comes to a reasoned conclusion as to what he or she believes happened. Yes, we’re human and we can get this wrong, but that’s nothing new. The same process has persisted with other far worse infractions (things that would get you DQ’d right away), and we really don’t have problems there either.

There is no “burden of proof.” The judge uses his or her judgement. Most often, an incident will be disruptive to a point that the TO or another judge will become involved somehow anyway. Rarely will such a decision be made in a vacuum.

When this does come down to a single person’s decision, though, that single person will be the one ultimately responsible for the event: the Head Judge. They’ve always been trusted with this authority. In that sense, this update changes nothing.

What about gender identity? Are transgender individuals included in this?

Of course gender identity is covered, but we will look into whether we need to make it more explicit in the future. There are certainly examples of harmful behavior toward transgender individuals in the past, and we should be clear: that behavior is not acceptable.

Some readers have expressed a concern about accidentally using the wrong pronoun in addressing a transgender person. Making this mistake is not UC-Major, nor is it UC-Minor. However, you should still make an effort to fix your error appropriately. The late, iconic transgender activist and writer Matt Kailey has some simple advice for this situation:

“Don’t make a big deal out of it. If you are alone with the person, apologize and drop it. If you are in a crowd, just move on. Don’t draw attention to your slip-up by making a face or groaning, falling all over yourself to apologize, or making excuses to others around you. It will just make things uncomfortable for everyone. Let it go and make sure that you use the correct name and pronoun the next chance you get.”

What do you mean by “malicious intent”? Isn’t any bullying or harassment malicious?

The main distinction here is that an accidental lapse can be corrected through education there in the moment and prevented in the future. The break the player gets with the rest of the round off gives him or her some time to digest this.

Conversely, a player who intends to harass or involuntarily control someone else with their actions, yet stops short of being outright aggressive or threatening (committing UC-Aggressive Behavior), is still actively choosing to harm someone. That player does not belong in a Magic event.

When a game changes rapidly or expectations fail dramatically, a player’s reaction can easily be emotional and unthinking, yet completely in line with our definition of UC-Major. That’s one of the most common ways Example A (directing a racial slur at an opponent) is likely to come up. I can also have completely non-harmful intent when acting in line with the other examples, or in another way that fits the definition of UC-Major.

Keep in mind that the examples do not expand or narrow the definition. They just illustrate some of the ways in which it can apply. As with any infraction, this relies on a Judge to investigate and make a determination as to what happened.

Why do these specific kinds of insults get penalized so strongly and not others?

The things we use as “protected classes” are integral characteristics of someone’s identity. When I attack that, I’m doing more than just insulting them, I’m expressing hostility toward their value as a human being. What I’m insulting isn’t a thing they did or a choice they made, it’s who they are at their core. That’s the sort of thing that breeds deeper, more severe conflict when it’s not addressed forcefully. This more severe penalty (more severe than the UC-Minor and stern warning a “You’re a [expletive] Magic player” would merit) is that force in our policy.

What if I lose my cool for just a moment and express something unhappy to my opponent, but avoid using really bad language like racial slurs?

What if I just use [racial slur] casually?

What if I say [insert specific words of generally mean but not identity-based insult]?

The answer to all three of these is that Unsporting Conduct – Minor still exists. Use it. The core of UC-Major is it’s about actions directed at people. Casual use of unacceptable language is still unacceptable, but it’s not UC-Major unless it’s directed at someone or repeated after a warning. Manage these interactions and intervene before they escalate to something more serious.

Should a Judge give out this penalty every time someone feels upset? Does this mean I have to be nice all the time?

No. An upset player may have been the victim of behavior which fits the definition of UC-Major or UC-Minor, but it’s also possible for someone to be upset without these definitions being met. Judges need to investigate and determine what happened and then decide if it meets the definition. Regardless, a Judge should express empathy and assist his or her players. I do hope players are nice to one another, but there is plenty of space between sporting and unsporting where competitive talk is still just as OK as it’s ever been.

How will you enforce the social media aspect of bullying? Are you watching what I say on Facebook now?

If we catch it in-event, we penalize it then and there. We aren’t monitoring social media for this (and won’t), but we are clarifying that this behavior doesn’t need to be face-to-face on the event floor to be considered UC-Major. This is not about expanding the scope of what Judges consider or “police” in the context of an event. We’re not going to ask for your phone to see what’s inside. We’re recognizing that the methods of communication in and around an event have changed and our policy has been slow to adapt.

There you have it. All done, right? Of course not. The discussion of how we manage our community when conflicts happen is obviously an ongoing one. If you’d like to discuss this further with me directly, my e-mail address is in my previous post. If you’d prefer to take it up in a public forum, there’s Reddit, and if you want to share your comments here, you’re welcome to below (I do moderate them myself, so if you’re going to troll, I highly recommend Reddit).

Between now and next time, I’ll be your Head Judge at Grand Prix Boston-Worcester this coming weekend. While I’ll be very busy with the tournament, I’m of course open to talking about this more when the time and opportunity are right.

– Sean

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One Response to Unsporting Conduct – Major FAQ Edition

  1. Raoul Mowatt says:

    Thanks for the FAQ! I have a follow-up question or two:

    You state that judges will not be policing social media. I take that you mean by that we won’t be going out “on patrol” to track down instances of social media that violate the policy. However, what should we do if we become aware of social media statements that do? For instance, a spectator brings it to our attention that someone says “I can’t believe I lost to that [insert racial slur here] on their Twitter feed.” Furthermore, what happens if we come across such a tweet/post after the tournament is over?

    When we are talking about something that could be “reasonably expected” to cause the feelings of being harassed, etc., is a judge supposed to consider this from his/her own perspective, from the perspective of someone in the shoes of the victim, or what? One judge’s perspective on what a reasonable expectation of what might cause a feeling of being harassed could vary greatly from another’s, especially when different things like gender, race, etc. are factored in.

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