Amidst the controversy surrounding the US Open Tennis Tournament and the double-standards in the treatment of men and women players, I feel that one thing has been left out.
Is it ever OK to scream at the umpire or referee?
I was once at a kids football (“soccer”) game when I heard a coach berating a young referee about a call midway through the match. The referee penalized the coach’s player for pulling on the shirt of an opponent and impeding his progress towards the goal. “Nobody enforces that rule anymore” the coach bellowed. Clearly, the coach knew a rule had been broken.
With great presence of mind and maturity ahead of her years, the young ref replied to the coach, “Which rules do you want me to use today and which shall I leave out?”
And this is the issue. Referees and umpires are highly trained and receive detailed feedback from their fellow officials during and after the game, from managers and mentors, and from coaches and players. The feedback improves their performance and gets them to the next level of responsibility so they can work games of the highest standard. They are trained in all the rules of their particular sport and they are trained to apply the rules consistently and fairly.
“The trouble with you refs is that you don’t care who wins!” – comment from a spectator
Referees and umpires do make mistake. The introduction of digital technology to improve the accuracy of calls and to be able to replay at a slow speed have improved the quality of officiating immensely. Nonetheless, errors do occur.
What should a player’s response be when these errors occur? Should it be to harass the official and insult their integrity? Or should the player ask, politely for an explanation of the call and if there is any way to appeal the decision?
I once gave a goal against Stanford in a championship field hockey game. The center back came to me and said, “Kevin, no, she kicked it in.” She was calm, she was sure and she was right. After conferring with my colleague, who had a better view of it, we overturned the decision. Watching the game-tape later proved we had made the right call in the end. Moreover, the player had made the right approach and neither player nor umpire ego got bruised.
What is wrong, what is not acceptable, is that coaches, managers, and players, at the highest standard, think it is OK to scream at the officials. They know that the rules specifically prohibit this kind of abuse yet they continue to do it. Clearly, these people are not going to police themselves. So, in one sense, the officials are to blame for allowing this to get out of hand.
Ask yourself in what other walks of life do you feel empowered to castigate, ridicule and insult the people you interact with? When your package is delivered next door do you rage at the FedEx driver? When the store is out of your favorite ice cream, do you harangue the checkout clerk? When your kid comes home with a “C” do you scream to the teacher about their lack of intelligence and integrity?
The Double-Trouble Standards in sports
Serena is right about one thing, her punishment was harsher than that of McEnroe, Nastase, Connors, Becker or Agassi for worse abuses. That’s not ok.
Let the umpires and referees do their job. Applaud them for taking a firm stance, and for punishing bad behavior by every player.
It’s OK to be passionate and root for your team. But next time you’re watching a game and you don’t care who wins, root for the referees. You’ll be surprised how rarely they make a bad call.