It only takes a split second for a call to change the entire game. The home team’s runner contacts the base — or does he? The umpire puts his fist up to signal he’s calling the player out, and the player jogs back to the dugout. And then the fan, who is likely more than 20 feet away from the base at any given time — at the very least, significantly further away from the play than the umpire — loses their mind at the call.
As sports editor for The Alestle, I’ve been to enough games to know that this doesn’t just happen at baseball, either. After watching baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball and club football, I’ve seen that fans love to take out their anger at the one person who has dedicated their time trying to keep the game fair and safe for all players — the referee.
It’s not even enough for many of these fans to express their feelings that they think the ref made the wrong call. Some fans take it to the next level to really dig into the referee — they will call refs idiots, say the ref is an embarrassment to the sport or any hurl any other offensive language at them they can think of.
I overheard one fan say at a recent game, after his wife shushed him, that refs ask for that type of verbal abuse when they take the job. I don’t think that’s the case.
This behavior begs the question of how many of these fans have refereed a sport before. In Quidditch, I have, and experiencing first-hand the amount of activity referees have to keep their eyes on, it is impossible not to miss something.
Referees are only human, and it’s a difficult call to know if a runner’s toe tapped the base before or after the baseman’s. Telling if someone’s action appeared intentional or accidental without the power of an instant replay is a different challenge. The referee isn’t bad at their job just because they made a call that might negatively affect the home team.
Furthermore, youth and high school sports are facing extreme referee shortages — in part due to the harassment referees face on the field from parents, coaches and fans. The aging referee population isn’t helping much, either, as retiring referees are not being replaced with enough dedicated young refs.
We need referees to make sports run. Without them, adolescents won’t be able to take part in travel soccer to eventually make it to the big leagues where fans can enjoy their favorite athletes on TV.
Some people will say it’s part of sports culture and that I should just get over it. However, I am always for people being treated with an open mind and with respect, and the harassment referees face is frustrating to me.
My hope is that sports fans reconsider their language when they’re frustrated with a call. The fact of the matter is that the ref’s questionable call didn’t lose the hometown favorite the game — maybe their opponents were just better.