Rant: Berating referees is bad practice

By Jeff Praught | Dugout Chatter

I see and hear about what goes on in sports recreational leagues. No different than anywhere else in the country, San Diego has some feisty athletes. I have seen players on teams verbally abuse officials in flag football, softball, tennis, basketball, and yes, even billiards.

Just about every time I witness such a spectacle, I wonder just what, exactly, that player or coach thinks they can achieve by going nuclear on an official.

I have been coaching teams in various sports since high school. I have seen every bad call out there in every sport. You think recreational league officials are bad? Check out what kind of talent collegiate intramural sports leagues are throwing out there.

But poor calls are not what make officials deserving targets of abuse, nor the “bad ref” or “bad official” labels. Those reputations have a habit of not only sticking around for a long time, but are often impossible to shake even if the official improves with experience.

In my judgment, the only time an official should be open to reasonable and potentially loud criticism is when they have not performed their duty with technical accuracy. That is to say, if an umpire makes a bad call but was in the correct position to at least make the call, I chalk it up to human error.

In my judgment, arguing with officials should be the end result of a pro-and-con list that determines what you can actually achieve by doing so. How often does berating an umpire result in them changing their call? The answer may not be zero but it is about as close to zero as zero can be.

The one time I ever raised my voice strongly at an umpire came after he made a terrible call, but the call was not my biggest complaint. My issue was that he never left his position from behind home plate and called an out on the base paths, which required him to move. The out nullified the tying run of the game and eliminated us from a tournament. I had nothing to lose from arguing because we were done.

(l to r) ASA umpires Sandi Diaz and Neill Kovrig take a break during America's Finest City Softball League games. (Courtesy Neill Kovrig)

(l to r) ASA umpires Sandi Diaz and Neill Kovrig take a break during America’s Finest City Softball League games. (Courtesy Neill Kovrig)

Being a smart ass, I yelled at him to ask for help — this tournament game was played with only one umpire — and when he looked at me, baffled and wondered why I would ask such an asinine question, I replied: “Because I am sure the ‘blues’ on those other fields got a better look at that play than you did!”

For the record, that particular umpire is one of the best that America’s Finest City Softball League (AFCSL) has ever employed in my 13 years with the league. Even the best ones screw up.

I often also see opposing managers talk garbage about umpires behind their backs. I see them lose their cool on the field. Maybe they think they are sticking up for their team in some sort of machismo act. I usually see it as a team looking for leadership from their manager and instead getting an emotional drama-bomb.

Softball is not even the biggest culprit. I am undecided as to whether that honor goes to flag football or basketball players. In SD Hoops, it seems to always be the refs’ fault when a team loses. Never mind that it is impossible for two refs to see every bit of contact in a game. Yeah, bad calls are made. But refs are not the ones shooting 40 percent from the free throw line, which teams seem to do every season.

Instead of blaming the refs for apparent inequalities of foul calls, maybe the winning strategy is to not go 5-for-16 from the free throw line. And if you were a referee, would you suddenly start changing your foul calls if a player started berating you?

If you are a coach, would you be happy having a referee who would? No way.

In flag football, especially in this city, there seems to be an enormous amount of unspent testosterone just waiting to erupt at any minute. The bigger the ego, the worse the refs are, because no way could a team that is practicing three times a week possibly make enough mistakes to lose a game themselves. It is seemingly always on the refs for calling phantom holds, not calling pass interference, etc.

To me, a leader and the superior athletes on any team are those who can keep their emotions in check and NOT berate an official when something goes wrong, even if the call was atrocious. Leaders and stars forget the play and move on to what they can control, which is the next play.

There are those who complain and say that referees should be better because they are getting paid. First of all, they are getting paid peanuts, really. Second, while they do attend preseason clinics, officiating is not a full-time job. It is something they do once a week. Think it’s so easy? Try it yourself sometime.

If you were coaching a team — especially a beginning team — and your player was out there trying his butt off but screwing up, would you berate him, or encourage him? Very few people improve from getting talked down to.

So take my humble advice and lay off the refs and take some responsibility for how you or your team left the game’s outcome close enough to be decided by a bad call. They are trying their best, so go easy on them, even if they miss an obvious trap call or a center getting clocked in the head under the rim. Unless, of course you think it will gain your team an advantage to rant and rave.

You would be the first.

—Jeff Praught is actively involved in the LGBT sports community. He can be reached at

One Comments

  1. Billy Bahmboozal says:

    From a local 5 sport high school official’s perspective, great article. But real justified ranting should be aimed at pro sport officials. How can a superbowl ref like Ed Hockuli cost the Chargers a game with an inadvertent whistle? This is inexcusable for a top tier pro official and it happens all the time. Thank God instant replay has come to pro baseball and hockey. Poor officials should be sent to the minor leagues like players when their batting average falls below the Mendoza line. But no! Officials unions prohibit that. I started officiating high school football to see how the best NFL football officials could be so inept.It is now obvious to me. The top attributes of an official should be judgement, vision and speed of foot. But no officials association I have been involved with has ever checked me for those 3 . Their main concern is mechanics, appearance and rules knowledge. So a well groomed over weight near sighted ex con with years of studying a rule book in jail will be promoted over an ex pro athelete with a wrinkled shirt. That is most of the problem.

Leave a Comment