Good grief, it’s tough to be an official

THERE was a recent article on Yahoo.com that reported the average salary of an NBA referee is between $150,000 and $550,000 per year.

Impressive, huh? Yeah, well, they deserve it.

As a sports reporter for the last 15 years, the ignorance and outlandish criticism I’ve heard spewed toward referees has been downright disturbing. I honestly don’t know how officials keep their cool. They are truly the most poised people in sports.

It’s hard to imagine their point of view. I mean, they’re lucky if they have one or two friends in the whole gym (or on the field), and that is usually their fellow referee(s), while the rest of the place has this innate, unjustified hatred for them. Coaches lose their minds on questionable calls. Fans yell and swear from start to finish, and no one does a thing. Somehow, this vile and rude way of treating someone is accepted — at a school, nonetheless.

It’s a thankless job that better pay well for all the abuse they take, and really, the badgering is to a point where something needs to be done. In January, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the governing body for high school athletics, sent out an opinionated article to media throughout Ohio that basically asked fans to “cool it” when it came to berating referees.

The story pointed out how there is an alarming shortage of referees in Ohio. Furthermore, it said that a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials proved that 75 percent of officials quit because of “adult behavior.” There also is not an influx of young referees joining the field. According to the article, there are more officials over the age of 60 than under the age of 30.

As older, more experienced referees retire, there’s no one to take their place. And why would there be? Think about it, would you want their job? No matter what you do, someone is unhappy, and those who are unhappy can basically embarrass you in front of hundreds of people. Although, they’re usually just embarrassing themselves.

Seriously, most of the ref-haters have NO CLUE what they’re talking about. I’m not trying to stoop to that level and make fun of anyone’s lack of understanding for sports, but if you don’t have intricate knowledge of the rules, you’re basically yelling nonsense that isn’t going to have any barring on the ref or the outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, the passion and emotion fans exude is appreciated. I’m a fan too. It drives me crazy when bad calls are made against my beloved Browns, which basically happens every Sunday from September to December, but I bite my tongue. I believe I have “intricate knowledge of the rules,” but what’s the point? Whether I’m in the front row at the game or sitting on my couch, it’s not going to change anything. I just look like an enraged fool, not a passionate fan.

Coaches, you don’t get a pass either. Some of you guys look like infants having a hissy fit on the sideline. It’s hilarious to me. I’m guessing not so much to your spouses and relatives, let alone the official. Honestly, when I take pictures at a game, I always know I can get plenty of good ones by taking a shot of a coach. If there’s a bad call, I immediately focus on the coach, who of course looks like he just saw a Sasquatch run in the gym, body slam their kid, flip off said coach and then run out laughing because he just got away with it. Chill! Get your point across and worry about the next play.

And again, I get it. High school coaches have a right to be upset. Most of them put in countless hours of work for very little pay, and when an official is out of position or misses a call, it can be infuriating. But it happens. You can’t keep acting this way if you want knowledgeable people with experience in the sport to become officials. The behavior of all those around them is what’s driving them away.

Believe it or not, there are still those who have a passion for officiating, and Warren’s own David Walker Jr. is one of them. Now an official in the NBA’s G-League, Walker, 26, said he developed a mindset that helped him understand where fans’ criticism derived.

“First of all, you have to be passionate about it,” said Walker in a recent interview about becoming an official. “This isn’t something you can get involved with if you just casually want to referee a couple games and that be it. If you’re going to stick around it and actually become good at your craft, it’s like any other profession in life. There’s going to be highs and lows. One of the lows is that because people are rightfully, emotionally, financially, physically invested in their teams, they obviously carry some bias when it comes to how they perceive the game is being called. You have to be prepared for that and have your own emotions and responses in check because you understand that they’re not mad at you personally. They’re fighting for their team, fighting for their sons, their daughters who might be playing, or a relative who might be connected with the coach. You have to look deeper than just the surface.”

I hope people don’t take Walker’s insight as him giving fans the right to be rude. He’s simply stating that he understands people are emotional, and sometimes their temper gets the best of them. What I like about what he said is that it took Walker some time and personal reflection to develop that mindset. Fans should do the same. Consider how your actions are going to portray you and your family to others. It isn’t passion when you’re being ignorant — it’s your temper getting the best of you.

If you want your kids to be able to control themselves in heated moments, set the right example.


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