Officials are the biggest threat to professional sports

By
Updated: February 18, 2013

The quality of officiating needs to be improved across the board to ensure the longterm health of professional sports.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was furious at some of the non-calls in the 2012 playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was furious at some of the non-calls in the 2012 playoffs.

Ever since former Major League Baseball outfielder José Canseco exposed the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball with his 2005 tell-all, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, every major sports league has focused on PEDs as the biggest threat to its existence.

The problem is they’re barking up the wrong tree. The most dangerous threat to professional sports is not illicit drug use; it’s bad officiating.

Hardly a game goes by in which at least at least one obvious mistake is not made, leaving fans to scratch their heads and wonder how on earth the call was missed. Particularly in the NFL and NBA, many referees will call the game one way and then do an abrupt about-face in the final minutes. Or they will call one game closely and remain hands off in another.

Perhaps the most recent examples of this egregious inconsistency came during during the Super Bowl, when Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was not flagged for defensive holding on San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Cary Williams wasn’t even penalized for shoving an official — much to the discomfiture of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

So what gives? Why are officials failing so badly?

Media scrutiny

Referees are under more pressure than ever before to be perfect. With the advent of 24/7 sports coverage through talk radio, television networks, and the internet, fans are better informed than they have ever been, and the media is always looking for someone to blame when things go wrong.

Was Tim Donaghy the only official in professional sports deliberately affecting outcomes of games for his own profit?

Was Tim Donaghy the only official in professional sports deliberately affecting outcomes of games for his own profit?

Fear of failure

Referees are sometimes scared to make the wrong call, so they choose to make no call. Or they don’t have the courage to overrule their fellow officials when an obvious mistake has been made. Even worse, they are inconsistent in how they enforce the rules, sometimes flagging almost every possible infraction, other times “swallowing the whistle.” We saw this in the infamous “Fail Mary” game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks; we saw it in the NFC Championship Game; we saw it again in the Super Bowl.

Lack of accountability

Make no mistake — there are plenty of great officials out there. There is also a lack of accountability when they do make bad calls. Any time they are called out on their errors, they tend to get defensive. Apologists, be it media talking heads or league representatives, come to their aid, assuring us that they are the best in the world. NBA commissioner David Stern will levy heavy fines on players or coaches who complain about officiating mistakes. MLB refuses to adopt instant replay because commissioner Bud Selig insists human error is an integral part of the game.

Even if that major-league officials are the cream of the crop, that is no reason to get complacent; there is always room to improve.

Corruption

It's not clear why MLB umpire did such a poor job in the 1997 National League World Series.

It’s not clear why MLB umpire Eric Gregg did such a poor job in the 1997 National League World Series.

Some officials may be bought off by organized crime syndicates. This may seem like pure speculation, but it seems difficult to believe that NBA referee Tim Donaghy was the only referee in professional sports to have lined his pockets by abusing his authority. Even former mob boss Michael Franzese has said on numerous occasions that the in all four major sports and that Donaghy was only the tip of the iceberg. Why should officials continue to get the benefit of the doubt when they make obvious mistakes that can affect the outcomes of games?

Sports betting is big business, and there is plenty of money to be made. In an era in which everyone seems to be too deeply in debt, what’s to stop an official from adjusting a few calls to ensure the line stays intact? It’s not unheard off: allegations of officials fixing soccer matches have emerged recently. Replacement officials might be particularly susceptible to these kinds of influences, as they are only around temporarily and are less likely to be investigated.

Why it matters

Someone is sure to accuse me of bias because I am an Atlanta sports fan, and we have had our share of heartbreak at the hands of officials over the years.

In the 1991 World Series, Minnesota Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek carried Braves outfielder Ron Gant off the bag — and the umpire Drew Coble ruled Gant out.

In Game 5 of the 1997 National League Championship series, umpire Eric Gregg gave Florida Marlins Liván Hernández an unusually wide strike zone, calling strikes on pitches two feet outside the plate and killing any chance at a Braves rally. It went down as one of the worst officiating jobs in baseball history.

This past October, during the play-in game against the St. Louis Cardinals, umpire Sam Holbrook called an infield fly rule on a ball 70 feet into the outfield, costing the Braves a chance at victory in Chipper Jones’ final game.

And of course, there was that flagrant defensive holding call that wasn’t called in the NFC Championship Game this year.

So yes, this issue does resonate with me. But this isn’t about me. After all, every one of us can tell sad stories of how our favorite teams were burned by the zebras.

No, I just want referees to get the call right. I want the quality of officiating to improve across the board. I want to know that what I am watching is real and not scripted. If something isn’t done about the problems confronting the leagues, our beloved professional sports could degenerate into nothing more than sports entertainment.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Vince McMahon running the NFL.

Poor officiating damages trust in professional sports.

Poor officiating damages trust in professional sports.

About the author

Joe Mixon covers the Atlanta Falcons beat for the Water Cooler Sports Network and also serves as the NFC South Insider for the It's Your Dime radio show. A graduate of Okefenokee Technical College with an associates degreee in Allied Health and Radiology Technology, Joe is a fan of not just the game of football but also its players. He is a fan of the Atlanta Falcons, good southern barbecue, and comedies, as well as a maven of all things pop culture. He wants his readers to have fun and love the game -- win or lose. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or suggestions for future articles at .

404 comments
BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

so Prit the Falcons gonna draft Monte Ball 

Prit
Prit

 In the 4th or 5th?

Prit
Prit like.author.displayName 1 Like

 And I'd rather take the chance on Lattimore if he's still there around then.

Prit
Prit

  This is true.

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

  yea thats true but some RB's cant get in a groove when getting subbed out every other play

Prit
Prit

  Yeah, but with snelling and quizz think we can wait till the later rounds. Have a decent 3 back committee. All we need is some sort of running game, it doesn't have to be "center" of offense, just enough to keep D's honest.

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

  Ball will probably go sooner PY has an article on Ball in the blog and you guys need one

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

this place is getting to deep for me lol

Prit
Prit like.author.displayName 1 Like

 Bucs suck!

Green and Gold
Green and Gold moderator

 

Bucs : 1 Super Bowl

Falcons : 0 Super Bowl

Prit
Prit

   No... Even with a "timeless" ring, yalls franchise has sucked harder thsn us.

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

   maybe but we are still the better franchise 

Prit
Prit

   He's just defending yall because of the old ties....

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

  I didnt have to football fans know whats up

Prit
Prit

  Falcons> Bucs- even Helen Keller can see and hear that...

Prit
Prit

  Yeah, but they still suck...

Prit
Prit

 And I dare ya, to go aaa on me... olo

___pb___
___pb___

Holy shit, Joseph Goebbels' title was Reichsbevollmächtigter für den totalen Kriegseinsatz an der Heimatfront: Reich Plenipotentiary for Total Military Intervention on the Homefront.

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

  

Jesus. I gotta say I'm glad English moved away from all that mashing together words malarky.

___pb___
___pb___ like.author.displayName 1 Like

 Heh, and German is mild compared to, say, Swedish. But yes, we just break into phrases what they put into single words.

Prit
Prit

   Prolly will.

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

    

I think you'll get into this pretty fast if you are into Japanese history and culture.

Prit
Prit

   I'll have to check it out. If I get into it, 1000 pages is what I like 300-500 pages go by so quickly, if I actually get into a book.

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

    

It's fucking awesome. Like 1000 pages long, but a classic samurai epic. I recommend it highly.

Prit
Prit

   Nope.

Prit
Prit

   I'm definitely a nerd in that fact, I love manga's, and the Japanese history.  Which I love most all history, but certain cultures more than others, and there one of em. 

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

    

Both would be cool to know. I think Japanese is a beautiful sounding language.

Prit
Prit like.author.displayName 1 Like

   I wanna learn Japanese and some Irish. 

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

    

Negative, unless you count Spanish as Gaelic, and that would just be weird. And I can't speak that very well.

Prit
Prit

  Can either of yall speak any type Gaelic?

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

   

Are you very familiar with Danish? I feel like I can almost understand what they are saying without knowing a lick of the language, so either it's very closely related to Anglo-Saxon (which, given the geography, I'd not be surprised), or the Danish Vikings had a very strong influence on English when they ruled. Anyhoo...

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

prit your lover is in the nfcs blog

Prit
Prit

 Is he using that id?

Prit
Prit like.author.displayName 1 Like

 You know what, fuck him... Me giving him attention is all he desires. Sad piece of shit...

Preparation_A
Preparation_A like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

   

Yeah this is the place trolls come to die. Well, trolls that bad. We have dipshittery here too, but it tend to fizzle out and be smoothed over. Hell, Drivel (Heart) and I have gotten into it and have no lingering animosity (except for the fact that I will kick him in the neck if I ever see him).

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

  never heard that one awesome 

Prit
Prit like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

 He's been over here, it was funny too. He got it with a spiked bat sideways.

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG like.author.displayName 1 Like

 i think he all ready tried and since flagging has no effect over here he left real quick 

Preparation_A
Preparation_A

Although it could be fun to goad him over here and berate his sorry ass.

BUCS_BONG
BUCS_BONG

  no biga37 something he is saving that for you

Prit
Prit

  I said fuck him... But was answering prep's question on what type of douche he is.

___pb___
___pb___

 This isn't ESPN. no need to bitch about him here. Leave that shit over there.

Prit
Prit like.author.displayName 1 Like

   Dickweed is a term for annoying people, this is a sad ass tool, that's trolled multiple blogs for years, constantly getting outwitted, yet it never slows him from spewing the dumbest shit in the world, and it's not a normal day if he doesn't flag like 50 people... I've personally went through literally like 30 names because of him.