In Support of Activist Officiating

Dave’s post earlier today on referees and judging (linking to a fascinating discussion of “whistleblower” bad-boy Tim Donaghy’s new book, Blowing the Whistle) has got me thinking.

While on a certain level, I’m outraged at the thought that refs do not follow the rules of the game with objectivity and dispassion, I’m not sure that I want officials to just call “balls” and “strikes.”

The reason that I never bought into the Chief Justice’s analogy of judging to umpiring is that sports, for me, are not just about fairness and a level playing field. They’re about fun and entertainment. I want to watch a good game and I don’t care if there is a little “tweak” here or there to ensure an enjoyable match for the spectators.

Although it is dangerous to admit in my new home of Philadelphia, I am a party to an abusive lifelong relationship with the Washington Redskins and Wizards (née Bullets). Hoping to break the cycle of repeated psychological mistreatment, a number of years back I started also following English Premier League soccer (I’m a Liverpool supporter, although I tend to watch whatever pops up on Fox Soccer Channel).

In EPL and other European soccer matches, one of the things that always irks me is when a ref sends off a player on the weaker team in the opening minutes. It really doesn’t matter to me that the official was following the letter of the law in giving the red card. When I sit down, my goal is 90 minutes of pleasure. Dismissing a key player in the fourth minute spoils the proceedings. (Of course, I’m advocating “tweaking” here – I’m not asking a ref to turn a blind eye to a deliberate two-footed, studs-up challenge aimed at an opponent’s head).

Yes, I might feel differently if I was a gambling man or if the Redskins returned to their glory days, but maybe not. I’ll always choose an exciting overtime game to a blow out, even if I’m on the right side of the rout.

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1 Response

  1. Mike Dimino says:

    In hockey, we used to be encouraged to engage in that kind of activism. In the third period of a close game, players could get away with much more than at other times. And a team that was trailing was typically given more freedom than was the team that led. Now we’re supposed to call penalties without using that kind of discretion, and I think it has made for a less enjoyable game.
    I think the analogy to law fails, however, even if one were to agree with me that activist sports officiating is acceptable. The reason, as Adam points out, is that sports is entertainment. Making the game close makes for a more enjoyable experience. In law, however, where one has a right to the proper outcome, favoring the underdog is producing injustice in the name of equality. I don’t care as much about justice in sports; I want to have fun.