Guest columnist Dan Peters: No, you bleep: Refs have had enough

Dan Peters, center, stands between referees John Ashmore, left, and BJ Guerin at right on the soccer field.

Dan Peters, center, stands between referees John Ashmore, left, and BJ Guerin at right on the soccer field. CONTRIBUTED

By DAN PETERS

Published: 02-08-2024 8:43 PM

Imagine being at your workplace trying to perform your job duties and you hear your boss yell the following comments directed at you:

“That’s terrible!”

“Open up your eyes.”

“You blew that one!”

“Where are your glasses?!?!”

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Can you imagine trying to work at your job being berated like that? I can. It happens daily. I officiate more than 150 games a year across three sports, and unfortunately this happens so frequently that it has now become white noise. Unfortunately, there has been an ongoing belief that lambasting sports officials is acceptable because it’s part of the game.

Just this basketball season alone, I have had to remove spectators on two separate occasions within the first five minutes of a game. On the most recent occasion, two spectators were watching a junior varsity game. They didn’t have a player of theirs in it, but unfortunately their inappropriate behavior caused them to be ejected from the building and also to miss the varsity game. That was the one they came to watch.

Gazette sports reporter Garrett Cote’s brilliant piece on the state of officiating calls out some major issues that are occurring nationwide [“Abuse by fans, low pay cutting into referee ranks,” Bulletin Living, Feb. 2]. As a U.S. Soccer Federation referee since 1991, as well as a member of Franklin County Basketball Official Association and the Hampshire/Franklin County Softball Umpires Association, I have personally encountered many verbal attacks directed toward both myself and my fellow officials. I have needed police escorts to my car because people were waiting for me after games.

Oh, and for those games where police escorts were needed, we were paid around $100 for our services. Translated, that’s the dollar amount my safety was worth at the time so I could make sure the kids could play.

While spectators are spending family time supporting their kids in the bleachers or on the sidelines, officials are sacrificing their time with their own families. While spectators are unleashing inappropriate behavior and verbal abuse directed at officials, the officials are sacrificing their own humility so the kids can play. While spectators are conducting themselves in the manner that we have been so accustomed to, their kids are being taught it is perfectly fine.

Coaches also play a part in the loss of numbers. While almost all coaches treat referees with the mutual respect they are given, the ones that don’t will wear on officials.

Like any other person who would not want to be criticized for every decision they make, people are deciding that it’s not worth the aggravation to listen to the coaches, and leave the profession. Coaches who are teachers are a tremendous help because they bring their expectations of their students in the classroom to the sidelines of the fields and gyms.

It might come as a surprise, but sports officials really are not trying to make mistakes. We want what is best for the players. We hope to get every call right so we are invisible to the outcome; that the focus is on the players and not us. Contrary to what seems like popular belief, we are not perfect and will make mistakes.

While a spectator might be watching a specific play or player, we have to watch the situation as a whole, taking into account events that would have happened before the play occurring, as well as forecasting what might happen next so we can prepare ourselves to make the next call, and that can change in an instant.

Because of these and other reasons, the number of sports officials is dwindling nationwide. While the reasons mentioned here are some, they are not the sole reasons. COVID helped decimate the numbers. People are retiring. The job market allows more alternatives for people because there are more open positions than people willing to work. These reasons all make recruitment incredibly difficult for all sports.

Athletes that have a connection to their respective sports often want to stay a part of them after their playing careers are finished. They want to give back to the sports that provided not only athletic opportunities, but also life lessons gained from them.

Unfortunately, officiating is not a way that is often chosen because those players know how officials are treated. They saw how their own coaches and parents behaved toward officials and wouldn’t want to be treated the same way. This is an unfortunate wasted opportunity for every sport.

Should this type of behavior persist, the number of officials will continue to diminish. Hopefully it will never get to the point where there are none left to officiate the games but if it does, unfortunately the players (who should be the focus of the games) will be the ones who ultimately lose out. And they would not be the ones to blame.

Dan Peters is president of the Western Mass. Soccer Officials Association, a 33-year U.S. Soccer Federation referee, and also a member of the Franklin County Basketball Officials Association and the Hampshire/Franklin Softball Officials Association.