I am a sports fan.
In the last few weeks I have been to 1 high school basketball game, 1 high school soccer match, and 2 college basketball games. I play softball on Monday nights. I volunteer as a soccer referee for our local AYSO. In these contexts, especially the last one and most likely because of the last one, I am sensitive about fan abuse of the referee/umpire. It has unfortunately become acceptable for non-participants to behave as if they were participants.
Most recently I attended a college basketball game.. Here are some of the comments directed at refs:
The generic “come on, ref!”
This phrase occurs most often. Screamed by young and old, male and female – it serves as a generalized complaint that things aren’t going well for my side. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what I want him to do – just do something!! Come on, REF!!!
The more specific: “What game are you watching?”
This is the “clever” comment. A little more sophisticated than “come on ref!”
“Call it both ways, REF!”
Here is maybe the most “poignant” invective as it acknowledges and addresses the essence of refereeing, that is, impartiality. This one especially stings when heard by the ref, as it questions his very integrity. It is especially effective as it immediately reigns the referee back to his mission and calling as a ref. I encourage this. UGH. This is the equivalent of the non-sequitur coaching encouragement “you got to want it!” I cannot think of a more inane comment to make to a referee.
“REF, You suck!”
This stands for the ad-hominem bleck that eventually begins when a crowd gets out of hand and their team begins to fall behind to the “out of reach”stage. At the soccer match, the woman sitting next to me actually screamed some invective about the referee being too old to ref the game. As a soccer referee myself I felt that the ref had actually done a great job, and I think he was my age. He had a strong gray head of hair that prompted the hate speech toward the elderly.
“Hey ref, I found your cell phone, you have 8 missed calls!”
This is the comedian ref heckler. He thinks he is funny. Typically he isn’t.
No comment here, just picture the fan mimicking the referee signal that wasn’t used by the referee, like the “traveling” hands twirl.
This the technician, the fan who knows the rules as well or better than the referee and feels the need to instruct him. It is always helpful to have the technician in the stands because he teaches all of us the rules.
Last night’s game was particularly pathetic in my opinion. It was a playoff game and unfortunately the gate was controlled by the conference and they charged the students $6 for the game which they normally get into for free. As a result there were very few students. I usually sit with the “adults”, but in this case it was hard to tell. Both sides, mine included, were merciless and vocal with regard to the referees. Now, I can “understand” when the students get a little “boisterous” and it feels like it is part of the experience. But when 50 and 60-somethings pop veins emotionally at a “game,” it is disconcerting.
Is there any place where the sport is pure? I am slowly moving away from watching professional sports because so many things frost me about the professional milieu. I love the college game context, especially the small college context. I also love the high school context. What I want to walk away with is the more noble parts of the game standing out. Maybe I should just stop sitting with the parents and adults.
Recently at a soccer match I refereed, U19 AYSO, a player challenged me to meet him in the parking lot after the game because I issued him a red card. Don’t think he knew that assaulting a referee at a youth sports event is a felony. Kids learn this behavior because it has become in vogue to challenge referees for every single call. I have been at soccer matches where fans, coaches and players were yelling at me when I made calls in their favor. You read that right. I made the right call, they still complained. The complaining has become the mission. It is part of the strategy: we are running a 4-4-2 and yelling at the ref every time he blows the whistle and every time he doesn’t.
At our church league softball games we pray before AND after the games. I have become so fed up with the whining at the umpire in this pseudo-humble spiritual context that when I get the opportunity to pray before the game, I pray this simple prayer: “Help us submit to the umpire.” No “keep us safe,” “thanks for letting us play this kids game” nonsense – just a cut to the chase prayer that reflects what we really need help with.
Next time you go to a sporting match leave your animus toward umpires and referees at home, control yourselves and enjoy the game.