Official Accountability

When watching sports, I do my best to not blame results of games on the officials.  I believe in human error, officials can make mistakes just like every player does on the playing field.  Scott Norwood can push a field goal wide right, Bill Buckner can let a ball slip through his legs, Chris Webber can call a time out despite being out of them.  We accept this as part of sports, and I have incredible respect for the athletes who sit down at a press conference and face the firing squad of reporters peppering them about the mistake with class.  While watching the USA-Brazil Women’s World Cup match today, I again found myself wishing there was more official accountability in sports.  Umpires, Referees, and officials are not required to face the press in any sport I am aware of.  Last season we witnessed Jim Joyce make a poor call that cost Armando Gallaraga a perfect game.  We all respect Jim Joyce rather than rip him because he sought out reporters and publicly apologized for his mistake.  In the NFL, if a referee screws up, the play can be challenged and when deemed to be incorrect, the referee must announce the overturned call over a loud speaker to all of the stadium and the millions at home watching.  There has been plenty of questionable calls recently in Major League Baseball, and people are calling for umpires to be fired.  I don’t believe that should be the case, but demotions should certainly be a part of the umpire by-laws.  If Rick Ankiel develops the yips and shows a consistent inability to throw a strike, he is sent to AAA.   If CB Bucknor shows a consistent inability to have a consistent strikezone, he gets to sit behind the plate for a playoff series.  At the time I am writing this, the first half of extra time is just finishing up in the USA-Brazil match.  There have been an incredible amount of questionable, if not just plain pitiful, calls.  Poor officiating is a part of sports, but sports are always evolving, and we cannot get perfect officiating, but why not make the officials available for questioning after the match?  Why not make the umpires available after a baseball game?  Allow the officials to face the media, maybe then the public can gain a better appreciation for the human element of the game and understand where the officials are coming from.  If the official in today’s World Cup match says she saw a midfielder come forward early and Hope Solo got the card for arguing and the offside on Marta’s goal was just plain missed, it becomes easier to swallow.  But the fact that no officials are ever required to explain what they saw or why they made the call they made hurts sports.  Bill Buckner misses the ball but faces the media in time becomes a sympathetic figure.  Don Denckinger blows the call at first in a nearly identical situation, and Denkinger is still ripped because did not have to face the media until years later.  If the officials in sporting events are held publicly accountable, it can help add closure to mismanaged events and humanize the enemy that is the official.  If we get to know the officials, get to know why they made the poor calls they did, maybe, just maybe, we can lessen the hostility most fans hold toward the anonymous people officiating the game.

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