Nov 5, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett talks to the refs during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Cowboys 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Fans: Stop Picking on Referees and Officials

Poor referees. They couldn’t pay me to be a ref. I suppose they could technically pay me—all souls have a price—but I’d labor over the decision. Facing the wrath of fans that want nothing more than to see you thrown into a sarlacc pit would be horrible. It’s one of those thankless jobs where, if you perform optimally, you won’t be noticed, like being a covert agent or a voyeur. It’s a challenging occupation, yet you won’t find a lot of sympathy for refs or their meager salaries amongst sports fans. It’s too bad, and indicative of an attitude that is both troubling in the present and problematic when extrapolated towards the future.

Now, I understand the impetus to hate all officials and to blame their calls for your team losing The Big Game; I’m completely sympathetic towards the lifestyle choice of displacing all your emotional suffering onto others. Of course that one call at the end of the fourth quarter cost you guys the game. The outcome obviously had nothing to do with your team only gaining forty-five rushing yards in the first half and incurring twelve penalties. Nope, it’s the referee’s fault! You might as well break out the ricin and the anthrax and start taking advantage of your (still available!) Saturday mail service to threaten those zebra-striped morons.

See? See what the terrible way that is to look at sports? It’s juvenile. If you’re a man in your thirties who is harassing an official from your overpriced seats, feeling especially frisky from tossing back a few overpriced Miller Lites, I seriously hope you have not or will not propagate in the gene pool. I mean, I guess you could give the kid up for adoption or something because I don’t think being a petulant jackass is an epigenetic phenomenon, but still: don’t spawn. People that pick on refs are pathetic. I’d call them “scum” but that’s an insult to bacteria.

To begin with, being a referee is incredibly difficult. I’ve heard some people say officials are like the school janitors of the sports world.

Okay, that’s a passable analogy, but imagine being a janitor at a school where the kids puked up fish sticks and chicken patties literally every second. That’s what being a ref is like. Yeah, they’re going to blow some major calls; nobody is denying that mistakes, even ghastly and almost inexcusable ones, occur. However, I’d like to see anyone that heckles referees stand their ground and focus on, say, an offensive lineman’s hands as bellicose behemoths charge all around, bloodthirsty for touchdowns and unaware of your frail, black-and-white-striped body. It’s a stressful environment not conducive to focusing. Imagine being berated constantly as you try to function at your job while simultaneously attempting to avoid being squashed by a person roughly the weight of a monster truck. If you’re a masochist aroused by verbal abuse and physical danger (and who isn’t, really?), I suppose you’d thrive. Otherwise, my guess is you’d struggle filing those TPS reports or cleaning those gutters or whatever it is that you do.

See, normally we live in a society where demanding and mentally taxing jobs are lauded. That’s why hardworking Fortune 500 CEOs make millions of dollars a year to sit in a comfortable leather chairs and sexually harass secretaries. Unfortunately, being a professional referee won’t get your name in the paper unless you royally screw up. It’s one of those jobs that, if done well, you’re rendered invisible (Susan Storm Richards can commiserate).

No matter what you do, there is no glory and nobody considers you impressive. You’re like Jarobi in A Tribe Called Quest. The only referees that anybody knows are those two dudes who said, on separate occasions, “Givin’ him the business.” That’s it. Nobody even knows their names; they’re just referred to by their single, semi-memorable moment of relevancy, just like Ben Savage. Anonymity is cool if you’re Banksy, but it is probably disheartening when the whole point of your career is to remain incognito.

To top it all off, not only are officials socially unappreciated for their arduous job, but they don’t make enough money to make it rain the face of haterz (the ultimate retort to anyone that challenges your career choice). Seriously, in terms of being underpaid, referees are right up there with public school teachers, construction workers, nurses, TV show writers, and those people who hold up advertisement signs on street corners (hey, it takes a lot more forearm strength than you realize).

No wonder people like Tim Donaghy rigged games. Some fans cite the higher power that is Sports Ethics and say that is “cheating,” whereas I cite the higher power that is Cassidy and call it “hustling.” Referees aren’t paid enough to endure being intimidated by gargantuan athletes and pestered by lunatic fans; no wonder they seek a little money on the side. Of course, they could try to organize and renegotiate their contracts with the executives of the professional leagues they work for, but we all know how that normally turns out. When it comes to officials and organized labor, it appears owners, team presidents, and even average fans hate unions more than Stonewall Jackson.

So next time you’re itching to let the expletives fly because of a missed holding call, consider how hard it is being a referee. It’s a job even too dirty for Mike Rowe. You can disagree with them all you want, just don’t act like a puerile jerk. It reflects poorly on your character. Also, to all those that just want to eliminate refs and move more towards relying on cameras and instant replay…have none of you seen The Matrix?

We already have automated self-checkout aisles at grocery stores and “smart” phones that will one day become sentient and revolt against us. I, for one, would rather have a couple blown calls than Skynet.

Referees may be one of those undesirable aspects of sports you just have to endure, like incessant Chevy commercials and Chris Broussard, but I’ll take them over computer overlords any day. Being a ref is not a job I’d want, but it’s a job I’m glad some brave souls are willing to do.

Tags: Ben Savage Cassidy NFL Referees

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