Why are refs hated so much?

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Lucas Metzger

On Jan. 20, 2019, the NFL changed. It was the 2018 NFC championship, and the New Orleans Saints were playing the Los Angeles Rams. The score was 20-20 with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter of the game. On 3rd and 10, Saints quarterback Drew Brees lofted a pass to receiver Tommylee Lewis on the right sideline. Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran across the field and body slammed Lewis before the ball even arrived. It looked like an obvious call, pass interference, Saints first down, game. Saints move on to the Super Bowl. 

However, there was no call. The Rams went on to win that game, advancing to the Super Bowl. Fans were incensed. Multiple lawsuits were filed against the NFL by angry Saints fans. The head referee, Bill Vinovich, never lived this moment down. Months later, when he was officiating a college basketball game, he was harassed endlessly by BYU fans whenever he made a call against their team. 

Everyone blamed him for the loss. But in reality, the Saints had all the chances in the world to win, as they were up 13-0 going into halftime. It obviously wasn’t Vinovich’s direct fault, but still, fans made him into the monster. Finding this out led me to ask the question: Why does everyone hate the refs so much?

One of the most common things you will hear in sports is slander of the referees. Some sayings that I personally have heard the most are: “The refs threw the game,” “____ paid off the refs” and “That was the worst officiated game of ____ that I have ever seen.” But in reality, people don’t understand how hard it is to be a ref, and that is why it is so easy for them to insult the refs to this degree. 

They forget that referees are human beings, breathing and living like us. According to Bleacher Report, “People seem to forget that the referee has one view of the incident, in real time and has to make an instant decision. There is no video replay system to help him, he does not have the benefit of 15 camera angles and super slow-motion to aid his decision. Anyone can give an offside decision in the commentary box with freeze-frame replays. To give it instantly and at full speed requires not only a huge level of skill and concentration, but also determination and courage to do it in front of 75,000 screaming supporters.”

Furthermore, aside from the fact that they have to make split-second decisions in front of an angry crowd of fans, they have a dilemma, as whatever decision they make, they will be wrong in the eyes of the team that they decide against. Even if their decision is right, they still have most of the fans in the arena telling them that they’re the reason the team lost. Sometimes these fans even go as far as threatening them and their families with harm and in some cases, even death. 

This just shows how prevalent the blame culture in sports is, as since things like death threats to the refs has become normalized. The reality is, refs are humans, just like us, so people have to remember that next time, when their favorite player gets ejected from the game or their team loses on a no-call, then they should not immediately send a threatening note to the refs’ family. Just let it go, because everyone is human, and we all make mistakes sometimes.