Saturday, July 16, 2011

Media "Pinhead" Silver Medal

As I did the other day with Media Pinhead Bronze Medal: Michael Smith of ESPN, the next (2) posts I am going to call out some folks in the media that I believe are pinheads. This distinction may be for a variety of reasons, or a single event. In all cases these are my personal opinions about their professional conduct or work product. I don't know these people personally, so I can not comment, nor will I comment on them personally.

This one for me was based not in a pinpoint stupid comment as with Michael Smith, but with a continued and consistent lack of regard for referees and their art, or alternatively, a continued lack of understanding and gap filling with opinion.

This particular article is in regard to L. E. Eisenmenger (Examiner) and Paul Gardner (Soccer America).

I will say that both of these folks are very accomplished and very good journalists ... a whole lot better than me frankly. LE's profile can be found here, and some info on Paul here.

My reason for the "award" is the regularity that these folks pin the woes of the (soccer) world onto the referee's back.

I have taken particular note of this from very early this season. Back in the beginning of April, Paul Gardner wrote a couple of pieces lambasting MLS referees only a week into the season. That piece,
A walk in the Garden(er), made sweeping generalizations about referees such as:
It evidently takes a good deal of time for officials to alter their mindset. We saw the same thing after the 1997 alteration to the offside rule ... . It took nearly a decade for that new thinking to sink in.
It almost looks as if referees, as a body, decide to ignore any changes, but that of course, is ridiculous -- not least because referees have never been known to act in concert. The reason for their intransigence is evidently that, quite simply, they do find it difficult to adjust their way of doing things.
Another "expert" heard from.

Yet, I think Paul makes me look silly in his recent piece, Fingering MLS referees as the villains misses point, where he criticizes Alexi Lalas to make the general point:
... does it really make any sense to finger the referees as the villains? It does not -- and, in this particular game, I do not believe that it was justified. ...
I do find it ironic though as it showed a fundamental shift from his earlier position that referees are not stern enough, or they are intractable in their thinking ... so much so that it took a decade in some cases to change.

Which is it Paul? If a referee was allowed the inconsistency shown here, they would be hung out to dry by the whole press core.

Now, while Paul provides a somewhat balanced, yet hopelessly tainted view of refereeing, LE does little to hide her bias, or in an alternate construction, her naivete about higher level refereeing. I leave it to the individual reader to decide.

Now there was the eye grabbing headline, Slack MLS referees lead to Javier Morales' broken leg: Commentary and photos, where LE spewed how bad MLS refereeing was ("MLS officiating hurting the League") but other than a seriously injured player, failed to connect any dots as to why a referee was to blame.

The equally flawed follow up, Mondaini suspended 4 games for Morales tackle, but MLS referees are to blame, again failed to factually make a connection between how the referee was to blame for this tragic incident. Here "best" point seems to be:
There have been four season-ending injuries caused by bad tackles to four of Major League Soccer's top players just eight weeks into the season.
The conclusory nature of  those comments does little to convince that the referees are the blame for the thuggish, or reckless behavior. This part was funny:
Despite that MLS clubs brought in more talented players this year, the quality has declined due to the inability of most MLS referees to manage games.
Again drawing a conclusion without any facts in evidence to support the conclusion. Further, professionally she is not trained as one who could make that connection, even if the facts were there.

I applaud the passion, and at times I believe she is really on to something, either because she is developing the understanding, genuinely knows, or via the "tipsy coachman" theory.

Sealing the silver for me was her article, Zakuani's broken leg vs. MLS referee directive to 'manage with personality', where LE feebly tries to paint a 1::1 correlation between a brutal tackle that occurs in the 3rd minute of a match, and one of several directives that a referee is given, specifically to manage with personallity. In this particular case I genuinely believe LE was intellectually dishonest, as this was just a hit piece.

That brutal incident is here:

Lets look at some facts in this case.

1. The tackle was was brutal and there is no place for it.
2. The Incident occurred very early, at 2:53 of the match.
3. Mullen was send off straight away for the misconduct.
4. Mullen received a 10 game suspension for the incident.

With that as a backdrop, what does managing with personality have to do with anything? The whole article is a red herring to again beat up on referees. This particular referee was exactly correct in their decision. A brutal foul, and a send off, period. What else is there? What else does she want? A referee to predetermine, or PREJUDICE their view on an incident or player before something happens?

Now, in reading that article you again may get the sense she knows of what she speaks because she quotes refereeing legend Angelo Bratsis, as well as yours truly on the topic. Guess what folks, as with many things, she places them out of context. No one in the refereeing ranks condones such reckless behavior, it is what we are trained to stop. Also, I have never known a referee to try to talk their way out of something like this. It was reckless, brutal, and unnecessary. Managing with personality is one arrow in the quiver of tools a referee needs to manage a match at the high level, not a one size fits all remedy to match control. As always the "prime directive" as it were, is to protect THE game and its participants.

By way of an analogy, remember game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs? It had this brutal hit:

Not completely dissimilar. Horton is a skilled player for the Bruins, Rome is a thug for the Canucks. Lets look at some facts:

1. The hit was was brutal and there is no place for it.
2. The Incident occurred early, at 14:53 of the match.
3. Rome was send off straight away for the misconduct.
4. Rome received a 4 game suspension for the incident.

Amazingly similar fact pattern. Except for one thing, the media reaction.

Look at, Gray area or not, Rome's punishment for Horton hit appropriate. Do you know how many times the word referee was used in that article ... zero. Take a look at some others for the time, and you will see similar results.


Well in these cases I believe the American media has (2) "baked in" biases. 

First is the one against referees of all sports, not just soccer. We are a natural target, the folks wearing the "black hat" who rarely get it right, or even if they do, no one is happy. Silence is praise for a referee. It is easy to be against referees as at least 50% of the participants in any given time generally are. There is no risk in writing such a piece.

Second,  lets face it folks, refereeing at the MLS or international level is hard. It is an amazing balancing of social, economic, athletic, religious, governmental, and personal elements to try and manage a group that inherently don't want to be managed. We asked for the job though, so its ours to rise or fall, succeed or fail. BUT, armchair media (or really anyone) just don't have the patience to understand what goes into the art, and at these levels how subtle the craft is that we spend a lifetime developing. Watching a match for 90 minutes and making a decision about how a referee did based on a result without understanding more is not doing anyone a service. Most don't spend the time to understand and have the gift to articulate it. What's that life lesson, "Seek first to understand, then be understood?"

I would the opine the media don't understand, and many don't even try to. Some are just open about their anti-referee bias.

Also, and frankly, blaming the referee in either case does not even pass the "sniff test." NHL writers saw the act by Rome as independent from any referees conduct, LE apparently does not make that break and implies the referee was the cause of Zakuini's injury through his conduct of match management, for nearly 3 minutes.

Like I said to start, both these authors are very good and very accomplished. I read them both regularly. They provide insight into THE game and have at times really provoked my thinking about some matters.

Never with the art of refereeing however.

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