Thick skin, cool head required of referees of all sports

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fans, players, and especially crabby sports reporters have been protesting for the last three weeks as the regular NFL officials were locked out of games and inexperienced replacements were left to make the calls. In a few situations, including when the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Green Bay Packers 14-12 on Sept. 24, a questionable call ended up deciding the winner of the game.

Now the league and the referees' union have come to an agreement, increasing the salaries from an average of $149,000 last year to $173,000 in 2013 and rising to $205,000 in 2019. Not bad for a part-time gig, but when compared with the salaries paid to players, coaches, and NFL executives, the increases don't seem like a huge sacrifice. The agreement also worked out pension and retirement disputes between the officials' union and the league.

Considering how pivotal the professional referees' expertise seemed to be to the outcome of the game, and also considering the athleticism, maturity, and extensive knowledge required to make it at the professional level, the position of referee should not be taken for granted. The ability to make split-second decisions and to stand by those decisions under intense criticism is mandatory. A thick skin and a cool head are a few other prerequisites.

While we won't argue that some of the calls during the "replacement era" were questionable, we'd also like to point out that the professional referees sometimes make mistakes also. Technology has given us the ability to freeze and zoom on each frame, thus scrutinizing each call.

While announcers normally focus on the player who made the mistake that drew the yellow flag, it seemed like during the "replacement era" an undue amount of focus went to the referee who made (or missed) the call. We would really like to see some statistics on the number of times an analyst missed a call or misinterpreted the rules in the heat of the play, only to spend the next four or five plays back pedaling his original on-air call.

We also believe that many players and coaches strongly resembled junior high students with a substitute teacher, pushing the limits of what is acceptable and blaming shortcomings in their own game on the substitute.

After the game, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabbed the arm of an official who was heading off the field in the Patriots' Sept. 23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens 31-30. That action cost him $50,000 in fines.

Denver Broncos coach John Fox was fined $30,000 and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had to cough up $25,000 for arguing with replacement officials during their Sept. 21 loss to Atlanta.

Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for giving officials a piece of his mind in the final seconds of the Redskins 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 23.

Those fines assessed by the league will go a long way in paying for the increased wages and retirement benefits for the professional men in black and white.

We won't even attempt to list the verbal assaults that fans, sports writers, commentators, and bloggers have bestowed upon the replacements, regardless of the fact that there wouldn't have been a game at all if those replacements had not been willing to put on the uniform. With the new agreement, we will not have to worry about bad calls or coaches' temper tantrums for another eight years. Yea, right.

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