... on the Official's Responsibility to Sportsmanship
In recent years, I have stressed time and again the importance of sportsmanship in athletes, coaches, and fans. I think we also should consider the same from officials as well.
Before I begin this discussion, I think it is imperative that all my readers realize I have been an official for many years (baseball and wrestling). So I am not picking on officials without having been there. I recall two different occurrences involving referees who did not conduct themselves in a professional manner. The first instance involved a professional official who was very rude to a coach at an athletic clinic. He was quite condescending to a high school coach, who just asked some basic questions regarding the sport. And he did so in a very sincere manner. This referee felt he was above such questions from a lowly scholastic coach, and attempted to embarrass the mentor. He was unsportsmanlike, and those in attendance knew it.
The second situation involved a professional competition in which the coach was removed from the premises. Not only did this coach's team win the contest handily, but he also won the 400th game of his career. His comments to the press after the event were that he finally got fed up with the official's "arrogance and cockiness." Coaches deserve respect, too. Officials need to understand their place in sports. Their job is to interpret the rules to the best of our knowledge. And foremost in the minds and hearts of every official should be the health and safety of the participants. They are the protectors of the game's physical enjoyment and statutes, not gods.
I have always tried to be firm as an official. But at the same time, I have demonstrated a respectful attitude toward the coaches and athletes. I believe that any time a coach asks a legitimate question, he deserves a response from the official. As a dedicated mentor, who spends many hours training his proteges, he deserves that courtesy.
One final point. As an official, I have made my share of mistakes. (It's the price we pay for being human.) And I found that honesty is truly the best policy when dealing with coaches. Yes, I freely admit that I have, at times, told coaches that I "blew the call." Every time I did so, the coach responded, "Well, okay, but don't let it happen again." He accepted my admission, but more importantly, the coach respected my integrity.
Yes, officials have a very serious task to perform in athletics. Control of the contest should be high on their priority list, but not at the expense of professional courtesy toward the coaches and athletes. No official or referee should ever become bigger than the game, itself. After all, "sports are for kids."
Updated December 24, 1997