Category Archives: Sports

Come on Ref!

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.

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Soccer and Morality

I cracked open the LA Times this morning, a not so routine activity for me anymore.  We gave up our home delivery over a year ago and only recently subscribed to the Sunday Times for the coupons (Kelly is a coupon-money saving fiend).  Even so, Sunday is not a great day for my paper perusing so this morning I read the Sunday Times Sports Page.  Being one of the few soccer fans in the USA, I stumbled across an article entitled: “FIFA firmly stuck in the past” (sic, ? no capitals in titles anymore??) written by Grahame L. Jones.

FIFA (the governing body for soccer worldwide) has decided against using technology to assist referees in their decisions.  This post is not about my opinion about that (I have strong opinions about that by the way) rather I was struck by Grahame L. Jones’ perspective as to why FIFA should have allowed it.  In response to “Swiss curmudgeon Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA’s increasingly tiresome president, who turned 74 on Wednesday” Jones had this to say in the article (he first quotes the old “curmudgeon” and then replies):

“The application of modern technologies can be very costly, and therefore not applicable on a global level,” Blatter wrote on FIFA’s website after the rules-makers last weekend rejected the use of any technology now and in the foreseeable future.
“This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. If you are coaching a group of teenagers in any small town around the world, they will be playing with the same rules as the professional players they see on TV.”
Why should youngsters kicking the ball around for fun on a dusty field in, say, El Salvador, need to abide by the same rules that apply to multi-millionaire athletes gliding across manicured lawns in Europe in pursuit of personal glory and silverware?
It makes no sense to demand the same of both. The higher the level of competition, the more there is at stake. The need, therefore, is to take every step to ensure that the sport at the highest level is as free from human error as possible.

“Why should youngsters kicking the ball around for fun on a dusty field in, say, El Salvador, need to abide by the same rules that apply to multi-millionaire athletes…?” Why indeed.  Now I know that this is not a piece on ethics and morality but the ease with which that sentiment was penned and the universal appeal that it makes is a sure sign of the erosion of any sort of belief in absolute morality.

The rules are not the same for the rich and the poor. Our values have moved from being rooted in the revelation of the sacred or even the equality of humanity to what is described here as “personal glory.”  This moral philosophy inevitably leads to the belief that “people who are privileged are more important than people who are not.”  This is what sport has come to not because of something inherent in sport, rather something that is inherent in man.  It is simply reflected here in this bald values statement intended to argue for something unrelated to morality but so revealing about our core values as a society.  It is like the slip of the tongue in a casual context that makes us look deep into our actual beliefs and values. We may not admit this in a formal moral argument, but it rears it’s ugly head as we cry “foul” on behalf of the the privileged in their pursuit of their personal glory which is then so graciously shared with the peons who gather round for a crumb.

I think I might ref some AYSO soccer matches instead of watching the World Cup.

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David Robinson NBA Hall of Fame

David Robinson is all class, from the wonderful words he says to his wife to the way he affirmed his sons.  The speech is a typical acceptance style speech, thanking everyone for all the effort contributed, but his ending is tremendous.  Now many sports figures have given thanks to God, but David Robinson says it here better than anyone I have ever heard.  30 seconds well framed and spoken, giving God thanks and blessing a crowd that has it all and has heard it all.  Excellent.  Video is 7:45 and the tribute to God starts at about 6:41.  Worth watching.

If you happened to see the Hall of Fame show on ESPN then you will also recall that the day was really focused on Michael Jordan.  His acceptance speech is the exact opposite of Robinson’s;  he couldn”t get off of himself.  The “greatest” player of all time spends his time trying to justify why he deserves that title.  I thought it was sad.  In contrast to how Robinson presented himself it was pathetic.

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USA Soccer Impressive in Win

The United States played an impressive 90 minutes to beat the number 1 team in the world and earn a spot in the finals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa. This is a great win for US Soccer against the premier soccer team in international competition. The US will most likely face a formidable Brazil team this Sunday (Brazil plays host South Africa today in the other semifinal). Spain had not lost since 2006.

Landon Donovan and Tim Howard had great games, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey had the goals.  Spain outshot the US squad 29 to 9 and won the corner kick battle 17-3 but the US put the ball in the net and then held on to keep a very talented group without a goal.

More attention should be given to this really remarkable performance, it will do a lot for US soccer worldwide.

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Westmont vs. Azusa Pacific Soccer Match

Westmont College is my alma mater.  I met my wife Kelly there.  My oldest son Timothy graduated in 2007.  My sons Levi (Junior) and Caleb (Freshman) attend presently and my youngest (Joseph) has always wanted to attend and will probably attend.  So it was with anguish and a heightened sense of anxiety that I watched the college burn last Thursday night.  I watched my son’s dorm as it was on fire.  We are still waiting to find out the status of his room and whether his belongings are intact.  We have had some of the displaced Westmont students in our home the last few days.

In the middle of all of the tragedy, the Westmont men’s soccer team was scheduled to play the Golden State Athletic Conference championship game against Azusa Pacific University (APU) on Saturday. APU graciously agreed to postpone the game.  And Monday was a soccer day for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Westmont win, I will leave the cliche’s and hyperbole for the articles listed below.  I simply love to see Westmont beat APU, and especially under these circumstances.  Read about the wonderful relationship between the coaches (they are brothers), the good sportsmanship displayed by APU, and the hospitality and camaraderie that comes from both competition and common faith.  Really heartwarming.

Read a great story before the game on Azusa’s Website about the rivalry and friendship among the teams.  The website ran this story about the game.  Bill Plaschke of the LA Times wrote this really good story as well.

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