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Striped and Surrounded

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One of the great joys about being a sports writer is being able to tell people what you do for a living. In fact, it may be the greatest joy. You’re at a wedding and someone asks you what you do for a living. When you tell them, they immediately start asking questions.

What do you think about the American League this year?

Is LeBron going to be the next Jordan?

Do you think I should get on steroids?

No, someone actually asked me the last one.

The point is, if you ever want to feel like your opinion matters, become a sports writer. It doesn’t matter that you know you’re full of it half the time (or in my case, 90 percent of the time). It does boost the ego. There is just one thing that happens when you’re a sports writer that some may not be able to accept. When you become media, you are no longer a fan.

Well, at least not at the games you cover.

You don’t cheer, or heckle. You can’t criticize the referees during the game (at least, not loudly) and you are expected to act a certain way. Consider this the first part of the column. Here comes the second part.

I was a fan for 22 years. For the last three, I have been an observer who has a job to do. And what was the first thing I observed? Some fans just don’t get it.

I am talking about a small, small percentage when I say some. In fact, let me clarify further. Most of the fans that I am writing about are the ones at the high school level, the 30-somethings (or older) who yell at high school officials. Look, I have no problem with fans being critical of pro officials. They are the best of the best, and they are expected to take some heat. Big time college officials are probably used to it as well.

And you can even expect a degree of crassness from high school students. Maturity only comes with time, in some cases. But at the high school level, I don’t understand an older guy accusing the official of throwing a game. Then they ridicule officials for missing every call. Interestingly enough, the calls the officials miss always go against their team. “You’ll never get to the NBA,” is a taunt they yell a lot.

Well, duh. Most of these men and women are officials because they love the game, or because it pays their heating bills. Most high school officials are not auditioning for David Stern. And the ones that are usually are just getting started anyway. They don’t start out great, just as most of us don’t when we start at our jobs. Most fans understand of this concept. But there are a few who are not. And usually, they are the loudest ones in the gym or in the stands.

A couple of examples:

* At a soccer match, a fan actually accused the ref (a man in his 20s) of dating some of the (high school) girls on a team, and giving them preferential calls.

* Several times officials have been accused of not understanding the rules (while the fan has the rule book memorized). This example would have made a lot more sense before the playoff game between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

Still, being an official is a thankless job. Officials travel sometimes long distances for not much pay, just to be ridiculed. And there is no one to congratulate them when they do a good job. I write this in the hope that somewhere, some loudmouth is reading. And I hope that the next time he opens his mouth, he’s not sitting behind me.

Oh, and be nice to officials.

For the record, I told the man not to go on steroids.

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About Zach

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    “Officials travel sometimes long distances for not much pay, just to be ridiculed.”

    When I went to the Toledo-East Carolina game, I noticed a short gray-haired Italian referee named Mike Sanzere. One I’ve seen before.

    The next night I noticed he was in Missouri, officiating the Saint Louis-Gonzaga game. Hot Jesuit on Jesuit action, I might add.

    Tack on my job description and I have a new found respect for the road warrior. But I get to settle into a hotel room for a week or two. Those dudes are hopping red-eyes every day.

    When they don’t make the news, they do a damn good job. Just like an airplane flight.