I have always wondered about it, but never written about it: How is it that referees and officials in every professional sport are "untouchable" -- so to speak -- by those they govern over, and whose futures, due to the far-reaching consequences of their decisions, they often have a hand in influencing?
Think about it for a second. It makes no difference if it is the CFL, NFL, NBA, or NHL. If you are a player, coach, manager, owner, or CEO, and you make a disparaging public remark about the officiating in any given game in your league, no matter how error-prone it was or how it may have impacted your ball club, you are going to be fined anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars for your comments.
Yet pick up any newspaper these days, and all you see is players criticizing other players about hitting each other low, and multitudes of opinions as to whether someone like Jason Jimenez should be suspended. You have coaches putting in their two cents about which teams and players they feel are terrible, and two players from the same team getting into a fight which may or may not have broken someone's jaw.
In addition, you have an almost daily feed of disciplinarian notes issued from the league offices shared with the press as to which players are being fined or suspended due to the league's interpretation of the contravention of their rules.
Players, coaches, executives and owners undergo public evaluations and criticisms from the media and one another on a daily basis. It's part of the highly competitive business we sign up for and after only a short time in the pros not only do we get used to it, we expect it. When you win and are part of a winning team you can do no wrong. When you lose or are found culpable for failing and for mistakes on the field, there is no end to the public criticisms you will endure from all areas as you are held accountable for your mistakes.
Everyone is exposed to this treatment in the business except, that is, of course, referees and league officials. No matter how bad the mistake or judgment error, no matter how disastrous the implications are for the team that suffered as a result of their error, if you are in the inner circle and publicly condemn or criticize the work of someone of this stature in the immediate emotional moments after a game, it is going to cost you your hard-earned cash. So why are referees afforded this protection in an arena where no one else is, save for the commissioner?
I suppose it's because officials are an extension of the league you play in, and the league does not like to be critiqued by its own employees -- though its OK for them to publicly slap wrists as they see fit. I suppose it is a mark on the credibility and professionalism of any league if its officials are being condemned and called out by those of whom they are paid to ensure a fair playing field for.
I admire a number of referees in both of the professional leagues I have played in and understand that their jobs are difficult and near impossible to perform without making the occasional mistake. So it's not like I have issue with referees in general, in spite of the fact that the last time an offensive lineman was flagged for holding me was seemingly back in 1998.
I just want to know why, in an environment of accountability where errors cost people their jobs on a daily basis, can't those in the industry express their outrage at mistakes with far-reaching consequences?
Though all leagues have their own internal evaluation processes for their own officials, I still fail to see how it is expected or reasonable when the most grievous of errors are committed, that those in the industry are supposed to bite their tongues and mince words when asked how they feel about it immediately afterwards.
Speaking of which, the fine notices will most likely be arriving today from the CFL for our team's outbursts after the Montreal game. I'm guess-timating at least three if not four players will be fined, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $300 to $500 each. As unfortunate as that is, especially in the CFL where salaries are far from exorbitant, sometimes you have to be willing to incur a penalty to make your point or express your distaste with a sequence of events.
In the end game, how much does it cost the players and a franchise if a mistake is made that affects their futures because others did not do their job up to the standard that is expected of us?
Sometimes being told that evaluations and repercussions will be handled internally and that mistakes are bound to happen just doesn't sit right in a world where excuses are not tolerated and errors have immediate consequences.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.
IN THE HUDDLE C6