When we think about all the work different people have to do for a game to happen, it almost seems like a small miracle. General manager and team presidents have to put a team together out of whatever their owner gives them. Coaches on the team have to organize practices to better develop said players. Doctors, physicians and trainers have to keep athletes in shape and healthy for game time. The field crew has to prepare the field so playing conditions can be safe. Of course, the athletes themselves have to put in a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice in whatever game they’re about to play. It’s like a well run government for a thriving nation. And in that metaphor, the officials on the field are the IRS; no one likes them but they are necessary.
There’s no doubt there have been times when the game’s official has gotten some form of compliment, like a pat on the back from an athlete or coach. However, when something goes wrong in the game, or even when something goes right and the crowd just does not like it, the “zebras” tend to be the lightning rod for the anger of 50,000 screaming fanatics.
Now when a team is struggling, no one on the field is safe from hearing in 20 different, colorful ways why they don’t have the most alluring odor. But the warmth and love that good teams or, hell, average teams get from their fans is not given to most game officials. Game officials are Brett from “Pulp Fiction,” just trying not to make the wrong decision or say the wrong words to explode the anger of a deranged man with a gun to his head.
Instant replay and challenges help in proving yourself correct or fixing a missed call, but sometimes that does not stop the screams from home crowds. This is an average scene from a professional football game.
Official: “Fumble on the field, home team gets the ball.”
Away team’s Coach: “I throw the challenge flag.”
(Booth officials look at the play and see that the runner’s knee was down before the ball was fumbled, meaning that the play was dead. No fumble.
Official: “After further review, the runner’s knee hit the turf before the ball was fumbled. That means the play was dead and the away team retains possession of the football.”
By the time the words “the runner’s knee hit the turf,” the crowd has already started booing themselves black and blue, all directly at one man. The official who is overturning the call must be thinking, “I’m sorry, did the rules of this game change before we started the game to give all close calls to the home team?”
Basketball, hockey and soccer referees have to run/skate up and down the court with players who, many times, are young enough to be their children. Football officials have to watch 22 men on a field while wearing no padding to protect themselves from the Olympians. Honestly, the refs who play in the middle of the field directly behind the linebackers must have the best health insurance in the world. Baseball and softball umpires sit behind the plate in the blistering summer heat while pitchers, only sixty feet away, throw balls faster than cars are legally allowed to drive on highways. Boxing officials have to, at times, literally step between two people trying to punch each other to break them up. So every now and then, when you see players actually hitting officials when their not looking or referees being chased off the field because a home team wasn’t good enough to win a game and the fans and players have to blame someone, you realize that their jobs are at times, a no-win situation.
So as we celebrated Labor Day this past week by staying home and doing no labor, let’s take a work at the individuals who does some of the most important work in the world of sports and gain nothing but condemnation out of it: The referees, the umpires and the officials.