The Referees Stole the Game...

Fletcher W. Long, Editor, Times-Voice

 A common lament of any fan of any team which has ever lost a ballgame…
 
My phone literally rang off the hook. People who know me, know I am somewhat of an aficionado in the world of Kentucky middle and high school football. Before coming to Jackson, Kentucky, I covered football for KPGFootball (www.kentuckyprepgridiron.com) which principally was based in the western-end of the commonwealth. 
 
KPGFootball is still going strong, they just have another writer. I can no long write for them. I now work for you.
 
Anyway, call after call had similar content. “I tell you Long, those referees should be killed! Killed!” “They stole the game from our boys!” “Man, we should have run down there and beat the tar out of those guys!” “Crooks!”
 
These were acquaintances of mine from the Logan County area. They were calling for blood. 
 
The vitriol was both unseemly and completely disproportionate to the described offenses these referees had (in the minds of the callers) perpetrated. The commentary was out of hand.
 
I went on Facebook and saw where the Sports Editor at The Kentucky New Era had gotten into a similar type dispute with some Logan County fans in a post about the game on the social media site. Tyler Dixon, a colleague and a fine guy, handled himself professionally and courteously, in this newsman’s opinion. The people in the social media discourse with him…not so much. 
 
One guy called him a b-word which rhymes with “itch.” That comment came completely out of left-field. It was unprovoked and considerably untoward.
 
That is part of the problem with the dialogue these days. Unfortunately, history teaches us unchecked vitriolic dialogue like this has consequences.
 
Author Shira Springer, who is a staff writer for The Boston Globe’s digital news site, wrote an article entitled Violence against referees and umpires has reached a fever pitch, but there are solutions. She has a regularly appearing article, like mine here, called Out of Bounds.
 
She tells us questioning calls or confronting sports officials is nothing new. John McEnroe used to reach hysterical heights (her words) with his rants. She also pointed out former Yankees’ manager, Billy Martin, was prone to kick dirt on umpires during his stint with the ball club. I am old enough to remember both. She has described it in accord with my recollection.
 
All of that aside, there is nothing to compare with today. Barry Mano, the founder of the National Association of Sports Officials claims Fights between players and officials, coaches and officials, and fans and officials are happening with alarming frequency and increasing brutality, predominantly at amateur games of every kind.
 
There was a game in Newark, NJ. It was a little league baseball game. For his actions, the coach plead guilty to assaulting the umpire. The official assaulted suffered a fractured skull and hearing loss in his left ear. 
 
In a Florida high school football game, players and coaches attacked a referee leaving him with a shoulder fracture together with both back and neck injuries. Three adults and one juvenile were charged with battering an official at a soccer game after a kid was issued a “yellow card.” That official was punched in the head, slipped into a coma, and died.
 
Shira Springer tells the reader, Youth and recreational leagues present a particularly dangerous combination of the least skilled players, the least skilled coaches, the least skilled referees, and the most passionate fans in parents and other relatives. Talk about nailing the description of a situation, nicely done Ms. Springer.
 
So, that brings back full-circle in this article to the morning after a football game in Hopkinsville, Kentucky between two highly ranked and regarded football teams in the 4A classification. The Tigers, from Hopkinsville, won the game 21-6, and the fans from the Logan County High School were ablaze the morning after on social media calling for terminations, crying foul, and exclaiming the game was stolen from their children. 
 
They are calling for heads to roll, we hope just figuratively. Nowadays, who can really be sure?
 
The fervor is mounting to a point a well-respected, Sports Editor of an old, established newspaper, the consummate professional (who isn’t even from Hopkinsville, I might add) is being accused of everything from his being biased to the insinuation he may have been in on the fix. These accusations are replete with name-calling. 
 
Well, it is time for some people to gain some perspective. Referees miss calls. Referees make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they are in on some elaborate fix to arrest victory from your child’s clutches. It generally just means the referee is human. It means he is fallible. You shouldn’t expect differently.
 
Teach your children it is okay to lose if they have given their very best effort. Teach your children it isn’t okay to make excuses for why they failed or to attempt to apportion blame to some third-party who was merely refereeing, and not playing, in the game. 
 
Let’s dial back some of the angry vitriol. If history should teach us anything, we really don’t know who is listening to our calls for the rolling of the referees’ collective heads. 
 
That isn’t all we don’t know. We don’t know how our words will stir the listener and to what the listener may be emboldened to undertake. In today’s world, we don’t know the listener won’t literally undertake our called-for action. Hey, we didn’t mean it…well, he didn’t know that.
 
Remember, in the end, it’s just a game. Let’s all live to play or referee the next one! Take it for what it is worth, but THAT IS THE LONG VERSION!

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