Tuesday, February 3, 2015

So if I did Tequila Shots with Ed Hochuli...

What is the most thankless job in sports? Roger Goodell's job is not the answer considering what his salary is. Neither is being a New England Patriots ball boy, for the record. The most thankless job in sports is being a referee, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Most people don't know your name, but they spend many of their drunken rages wishing you would die in some spectacular way because you botched a penalty call or threw a phantom pass interference flag. And if the public does somehow know a ref's name, it's because he screwed up in an unusually spectacular way (say hello Phil Luckett). Whether by crook or by hook, the sports leagues try their best to keep the zebras out of the spotlight, and out of the best of intentions.

But with the supposed suspension of NHL official Tim Peel because he was pictured with a writer who had almost made a career out of slagging him off doing tequila shots (which may or may not have something to do with one of the comments he made about how games are officiated now), is a bad sign for those interested in more transparency from officials. It should be second nature for fans to understand why calls are made, and why certain calls are made more often than others, but since these leagues are often hyper-protective of officials, the average fan can barely tell the difference between any given 2 refs, which means they're almost dehumanized.

It was a breath of fresh air to see Greg Wyshynski with a man he gets thousands of page-clicks making fun of looking like a regular guy in a New York bar on an off night. But the fact that Peel was taken off the following night's scheduled Penguins/Devils assignment at all is so shortsighted and myopic that it re-enforces a tradition in sports leagues around the world that needs to be killed off with haste; The idea that officials need to be hidden from public view and scrutiny.

Whether the fact that the Peel "indefinite suspension" came from a French language sports radio station in Montreal blowing the situation out of proportion and getting the facts wrong is rather beside the point now. It's that Peel was suspended at all for being seen by someone as human!

One of the major points of contention around any sport now is the lack of transparency when it comes to officiating, and mandates to officials about how games should be called. It's perfectly understandable as to why leagues want the spotlights off officials, especially when they make mistakes, but when large swathes of fans call for robots instead of many referee's, they may almost be overlooking a large point; officials are so hidden from public view that so many see them as robots already.

Wouldn't it have been great to hear Phil Luckett talk about what he heard during that infamous coin flip on Thanksgiving Day 1998 at the Silverdome? There are many US National Soccer team fans who wish they could have heard an explanation Maurice Edu's goal against Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup was disallowed by Koman Coulibaly, and are still searching for one. And on down the list that could stretch around the world 3 or 4 times over of bad calls that needed an explanation but never got one from officials, because God forbid the media even get a glimpse of them off the field.

Ed Hochuli is known because of his muscles, but little else. This is because of what the average fan sees when he turns on a game Hochuli is in charge, and because he knows nothing about Hochuli's back story that brought him to for instance Levi' Stadium on a random October Sunday. Maybe the average 49er fan would gladly accept a mea culpa from Hochuli if he botched an important call if Hochuli was even allowed to give one.

That holds true in every sport. As a Maryland fan, I'd love to hear the explanation behind some of the many ways Karl Hess screwed the Terps over in ACC games over the years, I'd love to hear for example Anthony Taylor explain to me why for instance Yaya Toure was given a red card in a hypothetical game between City and Chelsea, but instead all the fans are left with are more questions than answers.

It makes the situation no clearer when leaks appear about "mandates" from up high about how games should be called, and the thought process behind those mandates are all but shrouded completely from outside the board room where it was handed down. Those "points of emphasis" are nice, but the individual interpretation of those "points of emphasis" are what every fan wants to hear about. Sure having "officiating experts" on NFL and soccer broadcasts has helped clearer the murk away somewhat, but there is still far too much fog that could easily be cut through if officials were allowed to speak to the media.

Which is why it is so frustrating that when any official is spotted outside the rink/field/court, etc. that they can be immediately dinged for even appearing human for a split second. Robotic officials are a pipe dream, and since the real refs appear robotic anyway, it's almost not even worth making the joke anymore.

A tiny bit of candor could do a world of good for understanding why calls are made and helping fans better understand the games they watch and love, instead of praying officials don't get sent death threats through the mail because that charge call cost their team a game.

If I saw Ed Hochuli in a bar and asked him about his job, what good would it do the NFL to suspend him just because he talked to me? Better officiating starts with those officials being seen as humans instead of robots.

And yes, seeing those officials down Cuervo with writers will help that.

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