Column: Have you hugged a zebra today?
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 11:09
They say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone. I’d say that “they” happen to be hard to argue with. For starters, try waving good-bye to toilet paper, legroom and your dignity and let me know how that goes.
Now at this time, with two complete and bizarre weeks of the NFL season in the books, it’s time to add one more to that list: professional referees. And I’m happy to tell you how that’s been going.
The first eighth of the NFL season looks like its been officiated by men who are working with one eighth of their marbles. At the start of plays, footballs are placed not just feet away from their correct spots, but yards. Blatant penalties are missed with others made up on the fly. Other instances are the kind of outright buffoonery you just can’t make up.
There was no better example than three nights ago when it looked like a traveling circus interrupted the Falcons win over the Broncos on Monday Night football. In the first quarter, Denver running back Knowshon Moreno fumbled, incurring your typical pig pile to recover the loose ball. This lasted for about a minute and swallowed a nearby referee in the process.
Then, the greater problem proved to be that the officials ruling it was Atlanta ball after a member of the Broncos came out holding the pigskin.
Adding onto that, a scrum simultaneously ensued with players from both sidelines emptying out onto the field. The pig pile quickly morphed into a fight with no semblance of order in the court of the Georgia Dome. All of this over six chaotic minutes.
Now, this is not a knock entirely on the zebras. These replacements do not hail from any level of competition that comes remotely close to that of the NFL, rendering them wildly unprepared on Sundays. Of course, that’s not their fault. However, the fact doesn’t change that the newly hired referees are not adept, qualified or experienced enough to call these kind of games.
Their mistakes are affecting the integrity of the games and competition. This will naturally get worse as the season continues and the gravity of each game increases.
Now, this piece is also not a knock on the ‘carefree’ front office men of the league. Those locked out are asking for enormous retirement, benefit and salary packages when considering they work no more than 16 times a year. They also refused a $1 million increase less than two weeks ago.
You see, at the core of this replacement referee story is a labor issue. And from the gridiron to the picket fence protest on the eleven o’clock news, labor issues are always tricky. Always.
So, the point here is the underlying, unsaid part of the common sense idiom we started with. Treasure who and what you have, before they’re gone. Don’t take things for granted and count your blessings.
Blind, idiotic, biased, stripe-wearing morons included.
Cherish the men and women who take their time to play the thankless roles no one else wants to. Appreciate the efforts they make that are as essential to putting on games as any acting player, coach or administrator.
Come to understand that those who officiate the NCAA, MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL are elite—just like the competitors they oversee. They are the best of the best, who have put in years of mental and physical training to perfect their performance. Take for example the MLB umpires who, through recent technological advances, have been determined to call a strike zone with better than 85% accuracy. After of course, 20 years in the minors.
Or try the NFL and NHL referees who keep eyes on double-digit players at all times. The same guys men flying around intent on taking each other's head off. Or the basketball whistleblowrs, sprinting up and down the court for 48 minutes on end; often working back to back nights, pacing arguably the greatest athletes in the world.
In my mind, t is without a doubt that referees are the most unheralded, underappreciated figures in any sport. Even those who are lucky enough to get paid for what they do, earn pennies relative to the professionals they officiate. Those who don’t pick up a paycheck choose to devote their personal time anyways solely for the benefit of others. But, all who don a neutral jersey get crap from all fans and thus receive pats on the back every moon landing.
So, for the moment, try and send some love their way. And for those of you who’d prefer to keep shouting every Sunday saying that you could ref better, the past two weeks shows exactly what you would look like out there.
Except, only worse. Much, much worse. You’d have better luck finding "50 Shades of Grey" on Mother Teresa’s nightstand than officiating at a high level. It’s too damn difficult and simply not going to happen. You, nor I, are as trained or capable as the guys out there– even the replacements. If you truly are, go out and give it a try.
So in a couple months, when a Big East zebra calls a crystal clear blocking foul as a charge that goes against the men’s basketball team, pause for a second. You don’t have to blow him a kiss instead of requesting that the ref get off his knees because he’s blowing the game. Shout and yell whatever you want.
Just know that that official is out there because he, like the Huskies you root for, is pretty darned good at what he does. Everyone makes mistakes, but as professionals, they truly make the least out of anyone.
And if he were one day gone, you’d miss him. You just don’t know it yet. And right now, NFL fans everywhere can tell you exactly how harboring the feeling of waving good-bye to him would go: