There are many ways an officials association can help itself before an issue arises. It just takes a little forethought, effort and common sense.
They include basics such as the following:
- Having an online presence, be it a Facebook account or someone savvy in the use of Twitter (also a plus in recruitment).
- Making sure you have a set policy for your officials concerning the use of social media (guidelines can be found at the NASO.org site under the resources tab).
- Establishing a media contact person, because as noted in this day and age, the old policy of “no comment” can often be a recipe for speculation and misunderstanding.
- Keeping the lines of communication open with the local media. That might be as simple as emailing or calling them to let them know you exist, letting them know you’re running a recruitment drive or even potentially serving as a background source for them (not to be quoted) on some rule interpretation issue.
- Having an association board that can quickly respond to a high-level situation either through a quick but thorough email “conversation” or by text message or cell phone. Making sure that there is video of the event is a huge plus in those situations. There again, knowing someone on the inside of local media could be helpful.
“I just tried to be honest,” said South Gulf (Fla.) Football Officials Association President Gil Whitmore in a recent issue of NASO’s Advisor about speaking to the media after a particular incident. “They’re (the media) not necessarily interested in a cut-and-dried answer. They’re looking for something they can string along. So, I was very measured in the response that I provided.
“I tried not to give them something they could take out of context. You read and hear horror stories about things being taken out of context. It’s hard to defend your comments when you don’t have a record of the entire conversation.”
- For lower-level events not likely to make the media, it’s good to have an assigner or association rep who will handle complaints in a rational, honest manner, demanding a logical, written letter or email with evidence. These people can help defuse potentially “significant” situations. Only rule applications should be considered and judgment calls should be strictly excluded.
- Having a good assigner or assistant who can review game reports and offer guidance to officials on what to include and what to leave out of such reports is also a huge plus. The “Goldilocks” principle of getting such things “just right” is helpful in avoiding confusion and makes life simpler for officials.
General report guidelines include being specific and avoiding speculation, sarcasm or bringing up past incidents with any coach, player or team you are talking about.
- Also, being on good terms with the schools or teams you work with can go far in preventing things from blowing up. Establishing the fact that you’re going to be fair with them and listen to their issues (up to a certain point) and then following through on those promises will build a solid base of goodwill that you can tap into when something “interesting” happens in a game, which it almost always will.
- And above all, especially for liability situations, make sure your association is covered by NASO’s Sports Officials Security (SOS) Program, plus Game Call and assigners’ coverage. Enrolling in the assault protection program is also recommended.
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