By Sue Murphy
I used to say that the worst job in the universe was being a hockey goalie. Besides the unattractive mask and cumbersome knee pads, there was the little matter of being the last defense against rock hard objects being hurled at you at very high speeds. Oh, and it’s very, very cold.
Now, however, I know that I was wrong. Go ahead. Slap shot that puck directly at my frostbitten toes. Just don’t make me decide whether it cleared the goal line.
Sports officials are a hardy group. With very little protection, they hover over or run alongside the players as they punt and pass and shoot and slide and are charged with making split-second decisions. Was it in or out? Fair or foul? Intentional or incidental? Ask the New Orleans Saints. Ask the Auburn basketball team. These decisions (or lack thereof) can make the difference between a chance at a national title, a trip to the Super Bowl or, in the case of poor Maximum Security, millions of dollars in breeding fees.
But, who better to make these decisions? I mean, the officials are right there, the pair of eyes closest to all the action. And you know they didn’t just mosey in off the street. They’ve been trained and tested and over the years have worked their way up to the coveted positions on prime-time TV.
However, with the advent of TV cameras and the Jumbotron, every Regular Joe gets an immediate unofficial view of the official’s territory and, by virtue of his paid ticket or cable package, feels encouraged, nay morally impelled, to scrutinize every call.
Sadly, sometimes it would appear that the official has gotten the call wrong, and the fans become … upset. If the call is reviewable, they hold their breath while the most official of officials peers intently into a screen. Now, if it were me, I’d never come out from under the hood, but these brave souls turn on their microphones, stare right into the camera and, “after further review,” make the last chance, final verdict call. This pronouncement may be greeted with cheers or booing or loud questioning of the official’s eyesight or parentage. At the end of the game or race or match, the official may have to be whisked from the arena with police protection under cover of darkness.
This can’t be fun.
I say kudos to these brave souls for even attempting the job. They rush up and down making decisions on the hoof, getting no recognition at all unless they are wrong. Kind of makes you want to send them a little note of encouragement, a cheery “Hang in there, fellow sports enthusiast. We all know you’re trying!” No? Wow, tough crowd.
I’m not sure what the solution is to this dilemma. AI umpires? Robot referees? Maybe we should turn the job over to a fleet of drones hovering over the field. We could put them in cute little striped shirts, but it wouldn’t be the same. Besides, it wouldn’t be long before someone figured out how to hack into the system and every call would actually be made by the odds wizards in Las Vegas.
I sure hope we solve this soon. I mean, there are one or two other little problems we need to attend to. So please, commissioners and stewards and Grand Poobahs of the sporting world, get together and see if you can figure out a way to ensure game decisions that are fair and flawless, and let the fans turn their attention to making disparaging remarks about their hot dogs.
Just don’t call me. I’m going to focus on less taxing problems, like global warming and world peace.
Officially, I’m out.