October 30, 2002

Calling Problems

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Something really weird happened this week. For the past few days, I have been trying to think of a column idea, and I could think of — nothing. I asked friends, one wanted to know if it had to be about sports; I asked family members, I even asked random people on the street. O.K. maybe that part’s not true, but I tried to use every resource humanly possible. And still nothing.

Then all at once I had more ideas than I could handle. There was the newspaper clip from my mom (yes, she has now joined the mailing bandwagon) about the dismal graduation rates of NCAA basketball tournament participants. Basically there is an earn-a-ring-lose-a-diploma type of mentality at these schools. Don’t worry, that topic just might still show up some week.

Then of course then there was my tennis-obsessed friend who, with all of his inside connections, has been telling me to write about the possible end to Pete Sampras’ career.

Finally, and this one might appear somewhere down the line too, the column about what it feels like to get hate mail. All right maybe it wasn’t hate mail, but I guess fellow writer Owen Bochner and my coverage of soccer has been very “Pollyannaesque,” yeah I don’t know either.

However, with so many ideas bouncing around, I made the difficult decision to write about the one thing that can anger and unite fans across the world all at the same time: a distinct hatred for the man in stripes.

Yes, the official, referee, umpire, judge, zebra, idiot, stupid, and the many other names that have been given to the person who makes the calls game in and game out.

Having a father as a referee has always put me in an interesting position, so this column may sound slightly biased because I have always had a certain respect for the refs.

In reality, they do have a tough job; I remember my dad telling me that he would never ref a Syosset game because he didn’t want my brother or I to get hassled in school on Monday by players who didn’t agree with a call.

Truth be told, if you saw some of our fans yell at the refs, I wouldn’t want to work a Syosset game either; all talk but no production on the field.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I have seen some bad officiating, and I have questioned some calls the pin stripes have made. It’s the nature of being an athlete and a fan.

This year, this fall even, the referee controversy has gotten out of control. Most notably was the officiating at the Penn State-Ohio State game. Joe Paterno, whether you love the man or hate the man, may have had a point when he said the refs sucked.

Countless times this season games have been decided on poor calls. ESPN.com goes on and on about the Sunday mishaps, starting with the Penn State loss. Subsequently, that official crew was suspended for more bad calls a few games later.

Football, however, is not the only sport that has had controversial moments. Take baseball for example. How many times has a manager gotten kicked out off a game for arguing with an ump? Or what about basketball? There is a reason Bobby Knight has been called a lunatic, aside from his practice antics of course. What about controversial calls at the 2002 World Cup?

Finally, what about tennis, the so-called gentleman’s sport? Maybe not so gentlemanly. My fondest memories of this year’s U.S. Open was Andy Roddick. I love the guy, but his U.S. Open tantrum about some questionable calls was one of a kind.

Then there was the now infamous Lleyton Hewitt racial criticism of the official. The list could go on and on. In fact there has even been a Referees Anonymo

ebsite. Although just put up on the web, I’m interested to see what it turns into.

“Hi, my name is Bob, I made a bad call this weekend…”

And a flicker of IM’s replied, “Hi Bob.”

A true fear about backlashes, however, may be reverberating throughout the referee world. In August the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) released a statement demanding, “That effective security be provided to protect sports officials from physical assaults, unseemly verbal abuse and the loss of, or damage to personal property, from the time of arrival at the game site through the time of departure.”

Obviously things are getting out of hand, but what to do about them?

Truth be told, I don’t have the answer. What I do think is that there needs to be a retraining and testing of officials every few years, and tighter scrutiny needs to be taken when officials continue to make bad calls.

All the blame should not lie on the officials, however. Although it is fun to taunt and yell at the men in black, remember that they are humans too. So next time you are in Lynah remember to respect the officials, good calls and bad, because as the NASO reminds us, “It takes a special person to be an official.”

Archived article by Kristen Haunss