Our View: Instead of berating the refs, try thanking them

December 5, 2018

On Thursday night, the red-hot New Orleans Saints faced the Dallas Cowboys in prime time as a national television audience looked on. The NFL’s top broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman called the game, which also featured the league’s most experienced officiating crew.

And, by all accounts, the refs had an absolutely awful game.

They missed several blatant personal fouls for helmet-to-helmet hits. They spotted the ball improperly. It got so bad that even Aikman and Buck bluntly criticized the crew.

The lesson here? Even seasoned, veteran, full-time professional officials screw up. They are out of position. They look the wrong way at the wrong moment. Things happen quickly in athletic contests, and while refs make the right call the vast majority of the time, sometimes a split-second decision turns out to be wrong.

That’s why we’re asking fans to give the referees a break when they attend youth sports and high school sporting events this winter. Officiating any kind of high school sport requires dedication and a thick skin, but that’s especially true for basketball and hockey.

While football and soccer games are outdoors, with unhappy fans a good distance from the field, the crowds at hockey and basketball games are mere feet from the action — which means there’s no escaping the rude, loud and sometimes very personal criticism voiced by fans.

We’ve seen it and heard it, and if you’ve attended a high school sporting event, you probably have, too. While most fans are generally respectful, too often there is at least one loudmouth — often the parent of a player — who seems to believe that the refs have somehow conspired against one team.

It’s one thing to groan or react immediately after a call, but it’s quite another to berate people who perform a thankless job.

While there’s no way of officially quantifying whether referees are being subjected to worse abuse now than they were 20 years ago, there’s no denying that it’s becoming harder to recruit new officials and to keep them around once they’ve gotten a few games under their belts. In some parts of Minnesota, high school football games are being played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday because there aren’t enough officials cover all the games simultaneously on Friday. In hockey-crazy northern Minnesota, where kids grow up on skates, there’s even a shortage of hockey officials.

If it weren’t for the fact that more women are becoming officials — a very positive development — youth sports at every level would be in truly dire straits.

So why not do your part to ensure the longevity of the officials you see on the court or rink this year? Thank a ref after the game. Cut them some slack when a tight call goes against your team. Don’t use words that 6-year-olds shouldn’t hear. And if your buddy or spouse is the obnoxious loudmouth, ask them to tone it down.

Experience, after all, is the best teacher. Today’s young officials won’t become the veteran, experienced officials of tomorrow if they get disgusted and quit.

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