Unsporting Conduct – Major underwent a significant update in the latest Magic 2015 iteration of the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide. Rather than illustrate it with a whole bunch of saucy stories about players and spectators and judges being jerks to one another, I want to take this opportunity to talk about the policy itself in more depth. Next time will be story time, I promise.
Let’s start with the definition:
A player takes action towards one or more individuals that could reasonably be expected to create a feeling of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. This may include insults based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Threats of physical violence should be treated as Unsporting Conduct – Aggressive Behavior.
It is possible for an offender to commit this infraction without intending malice or harm to the subject of the harassment.
A couple things should jump out at the careful reader here:
1. We’re looking at the cause, not the effect. “Did someone feel uncomfortable?” is not an effective way to determine whether this infraction applies. Though many instances of Unsporting Conduct – Major will start with a complaint from a player, we don’t rely solely on a victim taking the sometimes extraordinary effort to speak up. When we see something awkward or suspicious, we need to act.
2. You can commit this infraction without intending to harm someone. My guess is that many times when this comes up, the person committing it won’t actually understand how they’ve created a toxic environment or why they’ve caused someone else harm. Our position and our remedy allow us to educate here, but the damage is done and the infraction should stand.
So why is it a match loss now?
Under the previous system, we relied on organizers to step up and remove players who created a severely unwelcoming atmosphere and ending those toxic interactions, but leaving that up to organizers created a hole in policy.
In theory, I could sit down across from my opponent, tilt him or her with a racist or sexist insult and be awarded with a game loss for the first game of my match. My opponent would then still need to sit across from me and play at least one game with me. There would even still be a chance that I could beat him or her, driving home the insult. When it does come up now, the interactions are simply ended. Both players have a round to cool down and perhaps apologize or un-tilt.
Obviously, this is a strange corner to get to, and many organizers would simply ask the player to leave the venue. But this change makes the responsibility for a safe, welcoming environment more clearly “because it’s a Magic event” and not just “because this store owner wants to create a safe environment.”
This is also characteristically different from other things which can earn game losses. If I draw an extra card in a moment of absent-mindedness or forget to list one of my cards on my decklist, losing the game resets the impaired state and penalizes me in a way that’s on par with the disruption. Unsporting Conduct – Major is clearly a step above those in disruption and a step beyond them in scope. Behavior that enables a toxic environment often impacts others well beyond the one player I’m paired against, and the penalty’s severity reflects that now.
Next, let’s break down the examples a little bit:
A. A player uses a racial slur against his opponent.
Nothing new here. It’s simple and direct, unlikely to change.
B. A player takes inappropriate photos of another player without express permission.
Yes, there’s an obvious case here some people will point to where the monumental efforts of hundreds of Judges and thousands of players were reduced to a series of embarrassing photos. And no, we are not going to start asking for your phones to inspect the photos contained therein. Just no. However, this behavior impairs the comfort of our players and the safe, welcoming environment we are responsible for creating and promoting, and it bears being called out specifically.
C. A player asks a spectator for a date, is denied, and continues to press the issue.
D. A player purposefully obstructs another player with the intent of inducing physical contact.
Sexual harassment has many forms, and these are just a couple examples. We have a responsibility to create safe event environments for everyone who might be interested in this game. (I hope you’re sensing a theme here.)
The first example might even seem tame to some of you reading this, or somehow not deserving of such a strong penalty. If this is how you feel, let’s talk about it. Really. Send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let’s talk. There’s a lot that needs to be said here on male privilege and other kinds of privilege and culture, but that’s really less about this policy and more about the environment we create, so I’ll save that broader discussion for another time.
Note that we don’t identify the genders of the offender or victim here, though. These examples don’t just pertain to men and women interacting, they are meant to illustrate unacceptable behavior between any two people.
E. A spectator uses social media to bully another player.
This is fairly straightforward, but it needed to be said more directly than it had been in the past. Competitive, not-quite-sporting behavior is still totally fine, but when it’s goes beyond competition and into actually intimidating another participant, it crosses a line.
Keep in mind that these are examples only. As with the other examples elsewhere in the IPG, they illustrate the infraction in action, but they are absolutely not a definitive, complete list of actions which are deserving of this infraction.
OK, with examples out of the way let’s move on to philosophy!
A safe environment is a basic expectation of any tournament attendee. Harassment undermines the safety and integrity of a tournament. Players who purposefully create harmful or unwelcoming situations in an event are expected to immediately correct the behavior and demonstrate remorse or be removed.
Well, this seems rather obvious: Safety first. Fix it or get out.
Because of the confrontational nature of this infraction, judges need to end any match in progress and separate the players. Care should be taken not to escalate the situation if at all possible. The offender will be removed from the area to receive the penalty, and education about why the behavior is unacceptable regardless of excuse. They may need a few moments to cool down afterwards. Apologizing is encouraged, but the desire of the other individuals to not interact with their harasser must be respected.
As we discussed already, we simply want to end the interaction and give everyone some space to breathe. Use your conflict resolution techniques (like the ones I discuss here!) The last bit here is important, too. If I’ve been harassed, it’s very likely that the last person I want to hear from is my harasser, however remorseful he or she might be, and we accommodate that interest.
Officials must investigate these matters as soon as they are brought to their attention. If they determine that the infraction does not meet the criteria for Unsporting Conduct – Major, it is still recommended that the players be talked to to avoid future misunderstandings.
This should also be fairly obvious but it also bears stating. “Boys will be boys” or a similar dismissal is not an adequate investigation here. We have a responsibility and we need to uphold it.
And now let’s move on to the additional remedy at last:
The player must correct the behavior immediately. If the offense was committed with malicious intent, the player displays no remorse, or the offense is repeated at a later time, the penalty is upgraded to Disqualification and removal from the venue.
The short version here is, “No, really, fix it or get out. Oh, we told you already? OK, just get out.”
If the offense occurs at the end of a match, it is acceptable for the judge to apply the penalty to the next match instead.
This is simply practical. I don’t get a free chance to commit this if I’m about to lose the match anyway. We apply the penalty in a way that matters.
So, what about examples B & C in the old version?
Unsporting Conduct – Major was edited in the Journey into Nyx update in May, too, when we moved failing to follow a direct instruction from a tournament official over to Minor. This left us with just three examples in Major:
A. A player uses a racial slur against his opponent.
B. After losing a match, a player throws his cards onto the table and knocks his chair over in anger.
C. A player picks up one of his tokens that has been exiled and tosses it across the room.
Example A is still with us, for reasons we’ve discussed above. Examples B and C, though, aren’t. The refreshed examples represent a modest re-framing of this infraction. Unsporting conduct is about interactions between people. Our former examples B and C were about objects.
Removing the old Examples B and C was admittedly tough. They have a good, simple “I know what this is and what it looks like” feel. But they’re more outcome-oriented than action-oriented. To understand what I mean, compare them to these examples in Aggressive Behavior:
A. A player threatens to hit another player who won’t concede to him.
B. A player pulls a chair out from under another player, causing her to fall to the ground.
C. A player makes threats against a judge after receiving a ruling.
D. A player tears up a card belonging to another player.
E. A player intentionally turns over a table.
The main difference between Major under the old B and C examples and these in Aggressive is outcome. In all of these, the offender takes physical actions with a degree of violence which jeopardize the safe environment of the event, and the dividing line is “Did my actions actually harm someone?” (Aggressive) vs “Did my actions merely risk harming someone?” (Major). This put us in a strange position. If two offenders behave in identical and inappropriate ways we want to sanction them comparably, not based on whether the aerodynamic qualities of a chair in motion lead it to strike a person or a wall before coming to rest.
Keep in mind, too, that these are just examples. We can’t capture every interaction between people, so we don’t. We pick scenarios which illustrate the definition and philosophy in terms someone reading the document can easily understand.
If you really need a box in which to put all your careless card throwing and chair pushing incidents, try putting yourself or someone you care about in the position of the person being affected and watching the scene unfold. Is it physically threatening, directed at someone? Aggressive. Does it feel like it generally makes the event unsafe but isn’t threatening to anyone specific? Major. No, just disruptive? Minor.
The team who helped with these changes to UC-Major included:
- Cristiana Dionisio
- Toby Elliott
- Kim Warren
- Tasha Jamison
- Eric Shukan
Everyone on this team provided an important perspective, and their efforts represent a significant step toward promoting safer environments at competitive Magic events, and setting examples and expectations for everyone in our community.