Those that know me, and those that read me are not surprised to know I am not afraid to confront so called controversial issues. This includes the most sensitive topics concerning politics, race and religion. Those who are closest to me know that I am just as active, aware and nuanced in my living.
When I first started officiating I had long dreadlocks. And as a new official, many of the places I reffed were far away from home. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to travel 40-60 miles away from home for 1 or 2 Jr. high school games. Some games would be in small towns in Southern Illinois or Southeast Missouri. In many cases, I was the only person of color I would see until I was close to home again. Most of those experiences were positive. There were plenty of times I got funny looks. Curious looks perhaps. But I always focused on two things. #1) Doing my job. #2) Being myself. Part of my personality is to have fun with young people. Anytime there is an opportunity for a little laugh, or even a moment to insert some humor, I would do it. It put kids at ease, some who may have not ever had any interactions with a black male. It also made many of the parents, family and fans comfortable too. Often many would walk up to me on the way out and say something like, “Hey ref, I really like how you teach the kids.” Or, “It’s so cool how you interact with them. Thank you.” Those words always encouraged me. This is because I always felt that when it comes to meeting new people, or people who have different backgrounds and experiences, there is an opportunity to connect. As a black man, I always believed it is my duty to be a part of the solution when it comes to race. I know that if I am the one in a few people of color some white people come across, they could never say they didn’t witness a black man of grace and class… and dreadlocks.
Those that know me know that I tend to practice what I preach. I don’t embrace sacred cows. I can praise and support a person 100% in one area, and criticize a behavior of the same person in the next breath. Mostly we are not the sum of one act or two mistakes. There are many opportunities for nuance. We all need to make improvements. And then there are times when right is right and wrong is wrong.
Saturday, while officiating some youth basketball, a group of women walked into the gym and assembled along some bleachers underneath one of the baskets. (They happened to be black) Soon it became obvious which 6th grade child on which team belonged to them. One woman in particular really got into ‘coaching,’ shouting instructions for all to hear. My partner, who was white, (a man I had never met before) called a foul on her preferred team. She shouted to the penalized player that he did nothing wrong and that the official made a bad call. We ignored her.
At halftime he and I discussed the sideline ‘coach,’ and he told the tournament supervisor and myself that on the previous night, the same woman called him a ‘cracker ref.’ We both noticed the smell of marijuana around the entire family where they sat. If I wasn’t going back and forth, I would surely have caught a contact. I told my partner, “She can coach all she wants. No worries there. But if she calls you anything like that this game, she’s going to leave today. And let me tell you up front, you won’t have to say a word. I will take care of it myself.”
We got to the second half of the game and 5 minutes didn’t go by before this woman stood up, and while talking at the kids on the court said, “I don’t give a fuck!” I paused for a moment, a bit surprised at what just flew from her pie hole. I blew my whistle and told the sister she had to go. She started to make a scene stepping towards me. I told her that she was not allowed to stay in the gym while lobbing F bombs in the presence of these children. The supervisor then came over and asked me what was going on. After hearing me he concurred and instructed her to leave. This is when things got really incredible. The woman, in addition to saying that she didn’t have to go anywhere walks up to me and goes on a tirade.
You a punk ass bitch! Yea that’s right I said it. Whats up? *Walking towards me. (I smiled at her but held my ground.) That’s right you and your momma a punk ass bitch. You can suck my dick you bitch ass motherfucker! (I smiled more waving my hand as she walked slowly backwards to the exit) You and your momma can suck my dick! Bitchass! You too! (talking to the supervisor) I’ll be back motherfuckers!
*** And here I was thinking that weed made you more lax, not psycho! She must have been smoking that spice or something!
After all the madness we finished the game. Many parents came up to me and thanked me for ridding her from the premises. It’s as if they were waiting for someone to step in and remove this cancer of presence. They said she disrupts the games every weekend. The coach of the team she favored asked to speak with me privately. He thanked me profusely. Said it embarrasses him as a coach as well as her son who has to put up with it in front of his teammates.
The supervisor of the gym (who happens to be white,) and who happens to be a friend, felt comfortable enough to say to me, “And people wonder why there are problems sometimes between blacks and whites.” Though the fan could have been any color, I knew what he meant. She exemplified every single negative stereotype known to man about black people. What I told him was this however, “This is the bigger point. As I told my partner, he wasn’t going to have to deal with her if she acted a fool. I would. This is all I ever ask of white people. When they see their own acting out a certain way, handle it! Don’t leave me out there by myself. I’ll stick up for you when you are right. She wasn’t going to be able to say, “the white cracker ref” did anything to her. I need that same support. So stick up for me when I’m right even if others who look like you may think you’re wrong!” (Cause her entire family mother-fucked me on the way out the door.)
I’m glad my supervisor and friend had my back this day.