EDITOR’S NOTE: Opinions in this column do not reflect an official viewpoint of CHSAA. Warning: This column contains obscene language.
Do you want to be an official?
No? Why not?
Maybe you don’t have enough time. Maybe you don’t think you’re qualified.
Or maybe you don’t want to put up with the regular abuse you’ll have to endure on seemingly a game-to-game basis.
I don’t know what it is about sporting events, but they have an enduring tendency to turn its participants, coaches and fans — often grown adults — into toddlers, willing to throw a fit and curse at strangers, and sometimes threaten physical attack because they have a differing opinion.
The only other situation I think comes close to this kind of irrational behavior is on the road, where strangers will become blind with road rage.
In our world, we have a type of sports rage.
Most team sports that CHSAA sanctions has a database where officials file game reports, sometimes after each competition, but also if there’s some kind of foul that needs reporting, such as a yellow card in soccer, or an ejection. This means that the office sees a report on just about every incident that happens in a game because it hits the inbox of the administrator who oversees the sport.
Not everything is horrible. Sometimes they’re funny. (One baseball report: “[The coach] said, ‘Go ahead, please eject me.’ I obliged his request, immediately.”) And there are also many, many comments commending teams, players and coaches for their sportsmanship, even the way they handle participants who are out of control.
But a recent game report simply stuck with me, and I’ll share it here. It’s a perfect example of what’s driving officials away.
This was a boys soccer game, but I’ve removed anything that would identify the teams or players. (Warning: The language used here is at times obscene and inappropriate, but I feel it’s necessary to show the full picture of what transpired.)
[Home team Player 1] was cautioned in the 53rd minute for Persistent Infringement after illegally challenging the [away team] goalkeeper for possession of the ball by running into the GK while the GK had the ball in his hands. This was the fourth time a [home team] player had run into the GK in such a manner.
[Home team Player 2] was cautioned in the 58th minute for Unsporting Conduct after committing a reckless tackle for possession of the ball where he recklessly and forcefully pushed his opponent to the ground off the field of play after the ball had been played up the field for an advantage for [away team].
[Away team Player 1] was cautioned in the 64th minute for Delaying the Restart of play by first refusing to give the ball to his opponent and then throwing the ball away.
[Home team Player 3] was cautioned in the 64th minute for pushing his opponent in the chest with both hands while the ball was not in play, after his opponent refused to give him the ball for his team’s restart.
[Home team Player 2] was cautioned for Dissent and then ejected for Receiving a Second Yellow Card in the 73rd minute after telling the referee he was ridiculous. His team mate had been called for a pushing foul which [Player 2] disagreed with by forcefully bouncing the ball in a disgusted gesture, causing the referee to stop the clock and address his behavior. After being told to collect himself and play the game is when he made his “ridiculous” remark.
[Home team Player 4] was ejected in the 79th minute for Foul or Abusive Language directed at his opponent; he shouted “fuck you” repeatedly at his opponent.
[Home team Player 5] was ejected in the 79th minute for Foul or Abusive Language directed at his opponent; he shouted “fuck you” at his opponent after his teammate had been ejected from the game and before play could be restarted.
At this point someone in the [home team] side of the crowd shouted “Hey ref, we called your wife; we told her you were fucking us!” I walked over to the [home team] bench to discuss it with [the head coach]. This is when [an assistant coach] was cautioned for Dissent for loudly disagreeing with a list of things that the referee had apparently done.
After the completion of the game while I was waiting for [another referee] to join me for the quick exit from the field, [Home team Player 3] was shown the red card for Foul or Abusive language directed at his opponent after repeatedly yelling “fuck you” at a [visiting team] player. When I displayed the red card to him, he loudly told me “Go ahead, show me the fucking red card! I don’t give a shit!”
That is horrific. Why would anyone who endured this ever want to officiate ever again? Most of the officials in the state are involved because they really enjoy the sport. It’s not as though they’re making thousands upon thousands of dollars. It’s a side job for most, or even a hobby.
There are countless of instances in these game reports of players, coaches and fans cursing at officials, or flipping them off.
Here’s an example from a football report:
[Home assistant coach] was very animated and screaming obscenities about the play. At that time [an official] threw a flag for [unsportsmanlike conduct] and then a second where numerous players and coaches were screaming that we the officials were a “fucking piece of shit,” along with many other things.
[Home head coach], after finding out that we were not going to change the ruling, and after explaining what the [back judge] saw, went into an obscenity-laced tirade, to which another [unsportsmanlike] was called. Then [home assistant] ran onto the field and contacted [an official], going face-to-face and screaming obscenities, in [the official’s] face, to which he was flagged and ejected.
At the conclusion of the game, there were two photographers that came after us asking us our names. When I informed them that that was not our policy, they became somewhat angry that we would not give them the information and that the game administration knew who we were if they needed the information. Police escorted us off the field.
Parents were on the track screaming at the officials. What I heard were the following quotes from parents:
“You guys have been fucking terrible all game.”
“Fuck you, way to screw the kids.”
“You guys fucking suck.”
“That’s fucking terrible, how can you miss that fucking call.”
“That’s bullshit, you can’t miss that call. Bullshit.”
There are many other instances of participants charging officials as if to fight. Check this out from a basketball report:
We had to be escorted to our cars by police since [a player’s father] was waiting for us after the game.
Or from a baseball report:
After the games, [another umpire] and I were approached by a male adult fan (and assumed wife). He verbally harassed us about our calls. I told him to “move on” several times. He demanded our names. [The other umpire] threatened to call the police. After a few more insults, they drove off.
Why do people think this is OK?
If you’re in a grocery store, and someone puts the apples under a “delicious” label, are you going to go find the store manager and flip them off because you disagree?
Perhaps a better analogy: If your daughter’s teacher gives her a B+ on a paper you think she deserved an A on, are you going to wait for the teacher after school and verbally berate them? Or threaten to fight them?
No, because that’s irrational. It’s inappropriate. It’s unacceptable by any measure.
Besides, from a purely logical perspective: Do you think the level of officiating is going to improve if you drive all of the experienced officials away?
Listen, this isn’t a complete across-the-board defense of officials. They are obviously flawed at times, and yes, there are some who take their power too far. But that’s not the point. In no situation is it ever OK to take this kind of abusive approach towards another person who happens to be officiating the game you’re involved in.
The reality is that Colorado’s heading toward a crisis when it comes to officiating numbers. Out-of-control fans, coaches and players in situations such as these are only exacerbating the problem.
There’s data to back that up. The CHSAA office conducted a survey of 1,359 officials from all sports who opted to not re-register from 2015 to 2016, and asked why. Of those who responded, 21.41 percent said it was because of poor sportsmanship by either coaches and players, or spectators.
One respondent wrote that “many coaches and players are disrespectful and intimidating.” Another said that it “gets worse and worse every year and nobody is willing to do anything about it.”
Finally: “I was followed to my car after a few games. This takes the enjoyment out of officiating. I decided not to do anything I don’t enjoy, not enough money to take the risk.”
I recently heard of an organization that keeps dozens of extra striped officiating jerseys on hand at youth games. If there’s a parent who is constantly berating officials, someone from the organization simply walks up, hands them a striped jersey and nods toward the field: “You’re up.”
The parent never takes the jersey.
Perhaps they should. Shoot, we may soon need the bodies.