Friday, November 13, 2009

Ref, You Suck

Chatham Daily News Post

Instant Replay – By Ian Kennedy

American Hockey League referee Dean Morron - Rick Dikeman Photo

In the sporting world, we often want to yell three powerful words. Words that no coach or player can utter without fear of suspension. Words, however, that fans can say with freedom: Ref, You Suck.

Being one of the blind mice on the ice or field is never an easy job. I’m sure every referee has heard their fair share of taunts and insults. I myself was once suspended three games while coaching for a few choice words with a referee. For the record, that ref really did suck.

Sometimes, fans will terrorize referees just for calling a good game, other times; the booing and name calling is well deserved. Remember Phil Luckett? No, well he’s the ref that couldn’t tell “heads” from “tails” in a coin flip during a Thanksgiving Day NFL game.

How about that goal Brett Hull scored while in the crease to win the Stanley Cup? The entire city of Buffalo let out one long profanity after that obviously missed call. Some referee’s really must be blind to make (or miss) the calls they do.

Remember when the New York Yankees’ Chuck Knoblauch supposedly tagged Boston Red Sox runner Jose Offerman in the 1999 ALCS? Wow. I think every 80-old-grandmother in the last row of Fenway Park knew Offerman was safe.

My list could go on of infamous blown calls. Being a referee in sports is one of the toughest jobs on the planets. These men and women are forced to make split second decisions and live with the consequences. That doesn’t however; give them a free pass to make the wrong call.

Fans, media, and league officials should be vocal when a call is wrong. In minor sports, when the referee is often only a teenager, we need to cut them some slack. In professional sports though, when this is your role, your employment, and your profession, there needs to be consequences for making bad calls.

Referees and umpires should be fined, suspended, or flat out fired for consistently bad calls. Crowds can be merciless and rightfully so. If I pay good money to watch a professional game, I’m going to yell and scream when some bozo can’t get a coin flip right or can’t follow the rules they’re paid to enforce.

Fans should be allowed to make their feelings known (within reason). Recently, some faithful Anaheim Ducks fans held a referee protest. Why? They felt that their experience was cheapened by the bad calls during the Ducks vs. Toronto Maple Leafs game the week before. They had had enough of bad calls, in this case, bad calls that cost the Ducks the game and helped the Maple Leafs to their first win of the season.

What was the response? The Honda Center banned the group of protesters, all wearing “Ref You Suck” t-shirts, from the arena; most of whom were season’s tickets holders. In fact, entire websites, such as the one they purchased their shirts from, have popped up devoted to this topic. According to the arena, it wasn’t the fact they protested, but the fact they were wearing “Ref you suck” t-shirts that caused the ban. Check out the shirts at They’re neither crude, nor offensive in any way. Unless you take offense to the word “suck.” And if you do, you’re probably rather offended by this column.

I’m not telling everyone to start a protest, I’m not saying to curse or throw things onto the ice or field. I’m saying, without fans, there would be no professional sports. Just as players are penalized for not following the rules, referees should face similar penalties when they fail to enforce the rules. It’s about integrity in the game, and upholding that integrity for the fans.

As paying spectators, it’s our right to boo, or yell during a game. It’s definitely our right to wear a t-shirt to a game that says “Ref you suck;” because frankly, quite often, a referee does stink up the place. No umpire or referee will ever make all the right calls, but when they mess up, there needs to be consequences.

Until then, feel free to scream at the TV and from the stands. Not that the referees will hear you. Remember, they often can’t hear buzzers, rational explanations, or their own whistles.

Let the games begin.

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