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If Bishops Wore Stripes

Or Why You Should Respect Sports Officials

Heckling the officials. It’s as synonymous with sports as popcorn; as inevitable as a game’s final score. For some fans, it’s almost a hobby.

As you begin reading this post, stop and think for a second: are you the sort of person who, when attending a sporting event, will heckle the officials over the calls he or she makes or doesn’t make?

Really think about it.

If you never say anything to the refs, great! Stop reflecting. Maybe you consider yourself the person who might yell about outrageously bad calls, but nothing else. Or maybe you engage in some “friendly bantering” during the course of a game. Maybe you throw out the relatively harmless “get your eyes checked” line or something similar. However, if you’re the person who yells at the refs about every little thing, well, I’m sure there’s a confession time near you.

SLR SJH CBC MSHSAA CLASS 5 05Now, imagine if the next time you went to a Blues game you saw Archbishop Carlson down on the ice outfitted in a pair of skates, a striped shirt, and a whistle. Would that change your behavior? Imagine the next time you were down at Busch Stadium and saw your pastor dressed in black – not in his black clerics, but in the black uniform of an umpire. How would you respond after the inevitable missed call on strike three? Would it be any different?

Luckily, these are hypothetical situations and you don’t have to worry about transgressing against Canon 1373 at your next sporting event. This is not to say that sports officials are on the same level as a priest or bishop, but there is a lesson to be learned.

As Catholics, we have a duty to respect legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:

“The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.” (1900)

To be clear, the context of this section is in reference to civil authorities. Yet, the case could be made that an sports official has similar duties as a civil authority with respect to the particular game being played by enforcing the rules of game, ensuring fair play, etc. In a sense, “the game” with its rules and regulations becomes its own little “state,” the players, coaches, and fans are the “citizens,” and the officials, umpires, and referees act as the “government.”

Unfortunately, it seems that many people don’t respect sports officials like they do competent civil authority, or any other sorts of authority. Can you imagine parents yelling at their child’s teacher about bad grades in the same way they yell at officials for a bad call? (Hmmm… setting a good example and charity in sports… sounds like future blog post ideas.)

I would know. In addition to playing organized basketball from 5th grade through college, I’ve been reffing basketball since 2006. Just since the beginning of January 2015, I have officiated approximately 175 youth basketball games. While I don’t keep precise track, I know that a game without vocal complaints from parents or coaches is the exception, not the rule.

There are many reasons for the lack of respect, but let’s mention three:

  1. A game is just a game after all. A foul or a strike called by an official is not nearly the same as a citation from a police officer and you probably won’t complain to the cop the same way you complain to an official. That wouldn’t end well.
  2. Officials are human. Despite the training, education, and experience, we do make mistakes. Plus, a game requires lots of calls. The more calls, the more chances of error.
  3. Yes, it’s true – some officials are just bad. They might be inexperienced, not familiar with the sport, or have a personality incongruous with the activity. I’ve seen games get out of hand simply because an official does not have enough patience or backbone.

However, none of these reasons justify some of the poor behavior exhibited by many fans, parents, coaches, and players towards the officials at sporting events. This is especially true in youth sports.

The next time you attend a sporting event, imagine the man in stripes is a man of the cloth and respect him as such, even if he’s not very good. The refs are a legitimate authority, despite their poor eyesight. And after all, it is just a game.