Evaluating Officiating in Black & White

I’ll get to the point:

Sports officiating is one of the most fulfilling activities I’ve ever participated in.  It’s fun, exciting and challenging.  The fun and exciting part is because of my love for sports and the even deeper love I have for the mostly young people who play in the contest.  Outside of men’s league basketball, 99% of the 4 sports I officiate are middle or high school age.  Young people are special in my eyes.  I respect those who participate as well as the coaches who spend time molding them into better people through organized sports.  Facilitating a contest so that the rules and spirit of fair play are enforced is vital to the games.  While there are rules, there is also game administration.  In other words it’s not just about calling violations, it’s also understanding what not to call.  There is a certain feel to the game officials have to understand.  Show me an official who administers 100% by the book, and I’ll show you an official that no coach, player or fan wants.  And this is  the focus of this blog… coaches and fans.  Namely my coaches and fans of African descent.

In officiating, conflict among players and coaches is something that goes with the job.  We expect it.  Where there is competition, there is often intensity as a group of individuals collectively fight for pieces of real estate on the floor or field of play.  Resolving conflict and fostering an environment where communication is open and respectful is one of the responsibilities officials have which have nothing to do with the rules.  It’s a give and take.  When lines are crossed, its up to officials to be the arbiter of what is no longer acceptable.

I’ve noticed over the years that there is a general difference in the kind of flack I get from White folks vs. Black when it comes to youth sports.   Again generally, if a white person doesn’t like my calls, he/she criticizes my performance, my aptitude, my judgement.  They may say something like, “That was a horrible call!  What are you looking at?”  Or one of my favorites, “Hey! There’s a game going on out there.  You may want to try watching it!”  These are par for the course.  Any official worth his whistle won’t take these things to heart unless things go overboard.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some white coaches that I know going into a game are going to be jerks for the sake of being a jerk.  For me, the tone is much more important than the words.

But then there are my brothers and sisters.  African-Americans; Black folk.  When things aren’t going their way, the phrase that far too many of us go to without nuance or consideration is, “YA”LL CHEATING!”

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Listen, to a certain degree, I get it.  Black folk are marginalized in society.  The history and legacy of White supremacy is a prevailing reality that affects most every area of our lives.  When it comes sports, its one of the few areas modern day where we have been able to successfully and compete with the masses consistently.  Many African-American parents see sports as one of their child’s avenues to gain success where there is no subtle or flagrant bias; understanding the bias most black people will face as they get older.  Then there is the passion that just goes along with being a fan.  Fan is short for ‘fanatic.”  Therefore, by definition there is a certain expectation of a lack of logic when it comes to observing athletic competition.  I can be as hyped as anybody yelling at my television when the Lakers or Steelers are on.  Sometimes that includes yelling at the referees.  So again, I get it.  Unfortunately there are those among us who take the ‘cheating,’ accusation (a premise that is often flawed) to a disgraceful level.

I officiated a football game a while back.  The teams consisted of a mostly black populated school vs a majority white populated school.  In my position as back judge,  I threw penalty flags on 3 long touchdown scoring plays back against the mostly white team as a result of ‘holding’.  That team’s White coach wasn’t too happy with me.  He yelled a few things at my direction as football coaches do.  The fans were also disappointed and expressed their displeasure in the forms of “Ohhhh” and “Arrrrrrggghhhhs”  Later on, I called the same type of holding penalty against the mostly black team.  Not only did the fans and assistant go ballistic, the fans started accusing me and our crew of cheating.  I don’t mean ‘cheating’ as hyperbole.  They were actually serious!  All of a sudden every move I made was heavily scrutinized.  When I explained my call to the coach, they mocked and scorned my words to the coach if I were addressing them.  As for the rest of the game, every subsequent penalty against their team was in some way an attempt to take something away from them.  As a matter of fact, even as their team won the game, instead of celebrating the victory of the players, they taunted the officials that we were not able to ‘cheat’ them out of victory.

This isn’t the only time.  I’ve been in basketball games, where it was an all white team playing an all black team; the white teams are winning, and the black coaches and fans are screaming at two black officials accusing of of cheating.  How ridiculous is that?  Often the reality is that the other team is shooting, passing, rebounding, and defending better than the other.  Sometimes the black kids are imitating  Lebron James and Kobe Bryant with their moves, but haven’t put in the work and developed the skill-set to succeed like their hoop heros.  Sometimes it’s as simple as the coaching is suspect.  Regardless of the sport, I can normally tell within the first few minutes how good a team is, whether they are well coached, and their level of potential competitive success in a given situation.  I can say for sure, that the officiating generally has so little to do with an outcome of a game, you’d have to be Tim Donaghy to notice discrepancies.

That being said, there are crappy officials.   I know more than a few who do it just for the money.  I hate working with them.  There are also officials who have biases.  There are even situations where black teams from certain communities have a harder time succeeding in other communities when they compete.  Equally true, is that no player or team has calls that they will always agree with. Officials, like players and coaches make mistakes.  We miss the mark.  Still, the vast majority of us really care about doing a great service to the game and the young people who play them.  We attend training camps, study, test, watch film, critique ourselves and one another every day.  When I am with some of my good friends who are officials we openly discuss our blunders.  We use these our mistakes to help one another better.  We seldom ever talk about ‘that great game’ we called the other night.  That’s the truth!

So to my people, you know who you are, please stop!  We aren’t out here trying to take nothing away from your kid.  Accusing us of cheating, especially within ear shot of the youth who are playing, gives them a false sense of victim-hood that is in no way true, nor will it prepare them to differentiate and navigate the real bias they face now or will face later.  Winning games are about talent, strategy and execution.  In most cases, these decide the outcomes of games even if the officiating is suspect.  The cream always rises to the top.  I don’t give a damn about who wins or loses a game; unless you are the Lakers or the Steelers.  And honestly if I officiate those teams, because I care about my craft so much, I wouldn’t give Kobe or Big Ben a damn thing they didn’t earn. So stop thinking its my job to compensate for your child’s lack of athletic achievement?

By all means continue to critique us on performance if you see fit.  Engaged and KNOWLEDGEABLE fans keep officials on our toes.  In my profession, we are expected to be perfect and we strive for perfection. Unfortunately, most of you don’t understand the rules like you think you do and couldn’t referee yourselves out of a paper bag if it came down to it.   Screaming obscenities and accusing us of cheating makes YOU look bad.  And sometimes YA’LL embarrass me!  I’m throwing a proverbial flag for unsportsmanlike conduct and feeding black youth misinformation.  STOP IT!

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The Great Stadium Caper… What Brady Haters and St. Louisans Have In Common

I’ll just start with this meme I saw on social media after Judge Berman slammed Roger Goodell’s pathetic case presented to the federal court in Manhattan.

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This was posted by one of my social media connections, who happens to be a St. Louisan.  Now we Mid Westerners have had beef with New England since 2002.  The Rams lost to the Patriots 20-17 in the Super Bowl.  The world found out later that the Patriots were secretly taping the Rams practices.  (Spygate) Personally, I will never believe that was the determining factor of the game.  Mike Martz’s refusal to give the ball to Marshall Faulk cost the Rams a second Super Bowl.  Martz bought into his ‘genius’ accolades, and had Kurt Warner throwing the ball 44 times leading to 2 interceptions  (Brady only threw 27 times for a conservative 145 yards, 1TD, 0 Int)  Look, Antowain Smith carried the balls more times (18) than Faulk (17).  But giving the ball to the 3 time MVP and 2001 Offensive Player of the Year would have taken the shine off of coach’s ego.

This doesn’t mean the Patriots didn’t cheat.  They cheated so bad the league destroyed the evidence before anyone else could see it.  The Patriots got off with a slap on the hand.  With that reputation St. Louisian’s weren’t the only ones to remember how the league favored The Golden Boy (Brady) and influential owner Bob Kraft.  I say favored because when other issues such as Bountygate came up, The New Orleans Saints were basically given the NFL’s version of the death penalty.  The league suspended the head coach, (1Year) the GM, (8 Games) an assistant coach (6 Games) and gave an indefinite suspension to another assistant coach.  The NFL is an anything but precarious industry.  It’s America’s favorite sport to watch, analyze, and gamble on.  Fantasy football is as fundamental to Americans as Christmas.  For 49 years the league had enjoyed tax-exempt status as a not for profit organization.  It’s 32 owners are billionaires in an exclusive club that money alone can’t buy into.  Their salary for Commissioner Goodell was $45 million last year.  This atmosphere creates a breeding ground for arrogance.  Being a billionaire doesn’t exclude one from being petty.  This is why the other owners we so hell bent on getting Tom Brady to sit for 4 games.  They have grown tired of seeing Kraft, the Taylor Swift of owners, enjoy so much team success, even through sometimes dubious circumstances.

But often pettiness breeds sloppiness.  The league has bungled and lost their last 5 court battles with player discipline because of a total lack of jurisprudence discipline of their own.  This latest debacle with  Deflategate was no different, if not worst.

Was Brady in charge of having balls deflated?  Of course!  No NFL quarterback, especially one of Brady’s caliber not have say about the state of his money maker.  Brady and Peyton Manning led a charge years ago to have more control of ball conditions including ball pressure.  The Patriots said the team did nothing wrong, but fired the equipment managers in charge of balls.  Brady himself refused to turn over cell phone text to Special Investigator Ted Wells relating to communication with said equipment managers. He eventually destroyed said telephone before showing up to federal court.  Initially he said he cooperated fully with the Wells investigation.  In court, not only did he admit that he lied and didn’t fully cooperate, he was willing to take a suspension for not fully cooperating.  And finally, you wonder why the equipment managers, McNally and Yastremski haven’t been on CNN or Good Morning America?  I mean they’re fired, right?  They aren’t under legal obligation to keep silent.  It’s because they are not worried about bills and their next meal.  Think about it.

But no.  That was not good enough for the league.  In spite of the circumstantial evidence of a massive Patriots cover-up, Goodell’s Kangaroo Court didn’t have the smoking deflate needle it needed to secure total victory.  Instead, they orchestrated a system in which defense could not cross examine key league witnesses against Brady, including the man interpreting the official Wells report. Instead of settling for a compromise on the failure to cooperate, and letting public opinion decide whether Brady by definition had reason to not cooperate, namely guilt, they forged ahead into Judge Richard Berman’s dance floor and got served.  And rightfully so. You know why? Because PROCESS MATTERS!  This means we can’t adjudicate issues and decide fates merely on charges, whether true or not, with insufficient evidence.  Berman never said the footballs were not being deflated.  He dismissed the NFL’s PROCESS.  Those of us who believe in the ideas of process understand, even if we believe fully that Brady cheated.  Those of us who are not, care little about the process, only getting what they want out of it.  This describes the meme above.  It’s so illogical and simple minded as often memes are.  First of all, Rose never cheated, he gambled.  Second, he didn’t admit to cheating till over a decade after he was found out.  Third, Brady won because the NFL’s process was wrong, not merely because he denied it.  I liken it to the OJ Simpson trial.  Most Americans believe he’s a murderer.  But we are not supposed to put people in jail because of something we believe.  The LAPD bungled the evidence, lied on the stand, and the DA got beasted by some of the best defense attorney’s in the world.

This brings me to the publicly funded stadium being proposed in St. Louis.  Rams owner Stan Kroenke, wants the citizens of St. Louis to build him a stadium for his team to the tune of half a billion publicly funded dollars.  He claims that unless we build it for him, he will move team to Los Angeles and build his own stadium with his own money.  *Imagine that.  We’ve been here before. We built a domed stadium downtown with the hopes of getting an NFL team after Bill Bidwell moved the Cardinals to Phoenix in 1987.  It was sold as a jobs program and a key to revitalize a decaying downtown.  It worked.  We convinced Georgia Frontiere to bring her team here with a promise of a windfall for personal seat licences, season ticket profits and a sweetheart deal of a lease.  She also gave Kroenke 40% of the team.  Now the majority owner, Kroenke wants to cash in on St. Louis once again.  It’s par for the course and personally I don’t have a problem with it. He’s doing what billionaires do; looking to expand his wealth and power as much as he can he can and using other people’s money to do it.  What is disappointing however, is the many locals who want to give him the desires of his greedy heart without so much as a whimper, critique, or push-back.

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In 2002 the City of St. Louis enacted an ordinance that mandated a public vote for any new stadium funding projects.  The motivation was in large part because of the continuous cost the city is burdened with from the aforementioned dome.  This didn’t mean that residents would not approve new stadium funding.  It merely put the burden on an NFL owner and marketing department to sell it to us; convince us that it makes fiscal sense.  Further, the state law that allows for public funding for stadiums says that the structure has to be adjacent to a convention center.  But instead of having to having to sell this idea, Kroenke is holding a gun to the city’s head threatening to move the club if his demands aren’t met.  Public officials have helped him in his crusade by circumventing the voting process.  They got a judge to defy the voting ordinance, and give an entire new definition the word adjacent.  In other words, though I live 35 miles west of the downtown convention center, a new stadium could be built in my neighborhood and still be considered ‘adjacent.’  Sounds like something Goodell would make up doesn’t it?

Unfortunately many STL football don’t give a damn about the process.  They just want an NFL team in the area regardless of the cost.  It’s a classic buy now, pay later/devil may care attitude.  I expect this from local sports writers and broadcasters.  Having an NFL team equates to job security and supporting the stadium means team favor and access.  But for the general fan, (short for fanatic) to think so little of the process, being willing to bend over for the sake of having NFL status is mystifying.  Their excuses are equally as lame.  They range from downtown revitalization, tax revenue and jobs.  Well, we’ve had the Rams for 20 years.  They got a new stadium initially and if downtown wasn’t revitalized then how will it be by building a new structure?  The tax revenue while good, will not pay for the tax spending on the building itself, just as it hasn’t for the Dome the Rams are playing in now.  The jobs are mostly minimum wage, and seasonal at that.  Truth be told, most Rams season ticket holders, like the baseball Cardinals season ticket holders don’t hang out downtown anyway.  They come to the game and afterwards jam Highway 40 to West County.

I’ve had this debate with several of the Kroenke sycophants.  After these points are made, it all comes down to the fact that they just want a team.  They talk echo Joe Buck’s ridiculous assertions about Cincinnati and Indianapolis passing St. Louis as some sort of Midwest powerhouse.  This is both a sad and pathetic argument.  For one, every city has it’s strengths and weaknesses.  Indy has a football and an NBA franchise, but no baseball team.  St. Louis has the premier baseball franchise in Major League Baseball.  I’ve been to Cincinnati a few times.  No shade, but that city isn’t something to brag about.  It’s actually St. Louis East to me.  Their downtown have similar political, crime and racial issues.  Besides this, what great city makes it’s mark by comparing itself to another?  While I give Buck credit for taking Kroenke to task, he’s still willing to bypass the process and give the Rams cart blanch tax payer welfare.  So what difference does it make? Stan Kroenke is a business man.  He doesn’t owe St. Louis anything.

Lastly, if there is a new stadium, what is supposed to fill the Dome that we are still paying for?  The sycophants talk of  ‘conventions,’ but seriously, there aren’t that many damn conventions and events in the dome now.  It’s huge and expensive.  There just aren’t that many organizations in need of a 50,000 plus seat stadium. Explaining this to the Kroenke sycophants doesn’t register however.  It’s not that they disagree in theory.  It’s just that their ravenous desire to have the Rams here renders them unable to think past the moment.  It’s a mentality that says in effect, “Just give me the pu##y.  Protection?  Naw.  Pregnancy, HIV, hell we’ll deal with that later.  It’s as illogical and inaccurate as the meme above.  Truth be told, I believe the Rams are leaving regardless.  I also believe local and state government know it too.  They want to build the stadium regardless.  The Rams threats is a way to sway the public and get it done.

Middle class Americans can be just as arrogant as billionaire owners.  We claim to be a nation of ideas and democracy.  We brag about it to other countries.  That is unless it serves our own purpose to be oligarchs.

It’s just a damn shame that Judge Berman doesn’t hold court in St. Louis.