Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You touch a ref, you get ejected?

So I think this comes down to referees having to get some thicker skin and less "rabbit ears."

This post was inspired by the incident involving Chris Cook of the Minnesota Vikings against their match against da Bears on Sunday December 1st.

An excellent video of the "contact" is here from Bleacher Report.

I think this is a crap call personally ... for a few reasons:
  • Consistent punishment.
Take a look at this article from SB Nation. It has a number of recent events where a player intentionally contacted a referee. When you roll over each .gif take note that only Cook was ejected.

So you mean to tell me Tramon Williams contacted the referee by accident (as he offered). That one was the worst of all when the back judge(?) was pushed out of anger and frustration. Yeah it got a flag, but no ejection there?

We can just get absurd too when Cordarrelle Patterson as part of a touchdown celebration, high fived a referee (again a back judge?). Clearly intentional, and not even a flag. Why was this contact OK, but other were not?
  • "Zero Tolerance" approach
Like I have said many times, I don't like zero tolerance anything because it gives zero latitude for a governing body and eventually requires odd twists in logic to rationalize the actions of punishing one, but not another in a "zero tolerance environment."
  • Referees need to buck up and recognize it is a contact sport
This may be more controversial that most want to hear, but a good bump can be a great wake up call for a referee. Now don't get me wrong a referee is not a pincushion for abuse and should not take any contact that is threatening or puts anyone is real danger. But honestly, a nudge, pull, tug, bump ... give me a break. Yes it is a form of dissent, and as I have said before based on the sport it can be interpreted differently ... but there is some latitude in there.

By way of a personal story:

My very first game as a MLS referee was in San Jose, the Earthquake was playing Colorado. So on either side of the ball I had guys like Eric Wynalda along with Marcel Balboa. Welcome to MLS Pete.

So about 30m in, it was a bit ... tense ... and the teams new I was green, green, green, and took advantage. In one particular spot near midfield, when going for a ball, I got in a passing lane, and Marcel flattened me ... ran right through.

He could have avoided me ... he didn't ... and he knew it. He was sending a message, and I got it.

PK Before his first MLS Match
It would have been insane for me to send him off. Not just because of the fact he was the reason why folks were there, paying to see, but because he wan't trying to do anything more than communicate.

It was a fabulous entrance into MLS honestly. He was saying "If you want to stay, you have to toughen up."

He was right.

I went on to make a few more mistakes in that match and by all rights should have failed the assessment for failing to send a player off for a nasty tackle in front of the benches. 

I did not, but can assure you it was a very long flight home from San Jose.

Now, I have had the displeasure of being assaulted many times, and knocked around a fair amount, and frankly understood it was part of the deal. These touches are not that type of communication. They are a visceral way of saying "come on ref" and not much more.

Now, there is an argument to be made that this small stuff leads to bigger stuff later, and there is truth to that. But the league, any league has to understand that they can legislate all actions of emotional beings and expect an entertaining result. I think allow players, and yes, referees to emote in this way is a good thing.

It can of course get out of hand as it did below:

Then again, you don't even need physical contact for something to get out of control.
Viewer warning of explicit language. Note, not a hand was placed on this umpire by the manager.

You want to referee in the bigs boys and girls ... you have to be able to take a little grab now and then.
Deal with it without resorting to throwing a piece of brightly cloth, or showing a piece of plastic.


  1. As usual, you are flat wrong. Permitting any amount of contact with an official opens the door to *any amount of contact*, and it is something that does not belong in the game. Governing bodies can decide how best to deploy this. However, "sending a message" to a referee by flattening him is unacceptable. And you're wrong to accept it, because you endanger your colleagues when you permit this to happen. It doesn't make you less tough or less masculine if you can't handle a little contact. Physical contact between players and officials - both ways - is and should be prohibited.

    1. Thanks for your readership Frank. I appreciate it.

      Not sure I understand your "as usual" comment as I don't think you have commented before, but appreciate that you did now.

      I take your point, but disagree.

      In my own case, had I send Marcel off, it would have been the end of my refereeing career in MLS. I offer that not as an excuse, but more to demonstrate your point of how leagues will deal with it differently.

      Here is another example:

      Last week in the NEOTH Division 1 final (mens amateur), a player spit on an opponent in the 4'. As soon as they did, a teammate of the player who did the spitting hugged the referee in an effort to stop the referee from sending off the player. This referee in perfect fashion stood there for a second, and slowly freed himself from the players embrace, and sent off the offender.

      Why send of the hugger? It was a plea to the referee to not send off his teammate ... no more.
      To put a team down 2 players there would be unjust.

      NFL is all over the place on this. They say (I am at a loss to cite a rule), if you touch a referee, you will get ejected. Yet, they have yet to enforce this in all but one case from the earlier article.

      NHL ... heck you can get cold cocked by a player, even by accident, and not sit for the act (of hitting a referee). Springfield MA native Kevin Collins saw this one first hand.

      MLB is more of a "no touch" sport as a bump will get you sent.

      I also don't agree that it puts others in jeopardy. Please take note of the type I assented to ... pushes, shoves, grabs, getting knocked over ... not someone taking a swing or threatening to. The type of contact make a difference too ... I recognize we disagree here.

      What about a referee pulling a player away form another who is going to strike? Still no contact? Just let them do it to the detriment of the game?

      A pat on the back after a match? Not allowed?

      How about shaking hands? A straight send off?

      Of course not.

      It's not about masculine, it's not about abuse, it's about communication and management. My point being, it's a tool you have to use ... and it may get used on you too. A referee has the ability to send someone if they want ... I just don't think they will go too far in their career if they do. Again, I hang the "sport specific" exception on that one.

      There are lines though ... for example ... anything, ANYTHING toward a referee who is a youth should be dealt with swift and severe. Please note, not a referee in a youth match. I recall a U-17 US v. Morocco match I did where players were bumping me to separate me from a player who committed a foul. Youth players can be very advanced.

      Another example may be something like collegiate play who enforce this far more rigidly. Some referees do well in that environment where slight dissent is cautioned, and disobedience is not tolerated.

      You don't see good referees at a very high level acting that way.

      Finally, my torts professor always said "... you have to deal with a friction filled world ... ." Professional sports is no exception, and like it or not, that's the way it is.