Taking Better Care of Us
Six years ago in this very space, I wrote a column giving a thumbnail rendering of our officiating environment. I had a tough time with that Memo. As I have now reread it, I felt a need to bring it forward this month. As it turns out, regrettably, very little editing was necessary.
As I rock back in my chair and ponder the past 47 years, it seems to me that on net, our working environment isn’t better than it was, and it would not be unreasonable to make the case it is worse. These words are still painful to write. In my role, certainly the expectation would be that I, more than most others, would be offering positive words here.
Yes, I have witnessed several positive changes in officiating. But I have also been forcibly immersed into the troubling waters of officiating today: the incessant questioning of our competency; the lack of incidentrelated visible support from governing authorities and assigning agencies; the personal attacks and physical violence, including death threats, by fanatics that reach far beyond the athletic milieu; the emphasis to turn sports into spectacle, with the attendant impact on us; the deification of technology; and finally, the crushing shortage of sports officials that has yet to abate.
I ask myself: What can I say to give us a vision to hope for, a strategy to strive for and a tactical plan to work at? Allow me the following.
First, I think we need to agree we will be unable to change the expectations of those who use our services. We need to accept what they expect. It ain’t fair, it ain’t especially reasonable and it ain’t going to change. Let’s get over it. With this as the down payment, we then need to invest in ourselves to manage those expectations and the inevitability of their scurrilous and patently unfair impacts. What should be the form of that investment? How do we take better care of us?
Let’s start with a six-word memoir from Jerry Markbreit: “All my best friends are officials.” Yeah, we make close and long-lasting friends as officials. We count on each other during a contest, and often we come to rely on each other well beyond that field of battle. We build a sense of community. We have a sense of pride not really understood by non-practitioners. There is the huge online community of sites, message boards and posts for us to visit, to recharge our batteries and get uplift. It has never been easier to connect with each other.
Another way of taking care of us is to “circle of the wagons” when fate intrudes. This magazine publishes so many of those stories – of officials getting support from other officials during a tough time, be it officiatingrelated or just personal. And how about we make extra effort to support the local associations that mean so much to our industry?
Our investment portfolio needs to include a “mutual fund” made up of “stocks” that celebrate officiating. We do not do enough of this. We need to better enjoy each other’s successes. We know what that success smells and looks like. Others don’t. When we see it, we need to say it and say it loud: I am a referee, and I am proud.
Now, to a bit of battle-ready advice: If we intend to be effective and to also enjoy this business, as sports turns loud, unforgiving and vindictive, we need to double-down on a few things. Toughen up. Officiating isn’t for the faint of heart. We need mental toughness and an iron will. The assignments won’t get any easier later. We need to keep our heads down but our antennas up. We need to better understand when to talk and when to shut up. When in doubt, choose the latter.
What we are facing is daunting. Relying on others to make our world better is hope, but that isn’t a strategy. We can take care of most of our needs ourselves. Let’s get on with it.
Referee Magazine Publisher, Barry Mano’s latest Publisher’s Memo. Found in the March, 2023 issue of Referee magazine. For more information or to subscribe to Referee magazine, visit https://www.referee.com.
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