Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has a discussion with NFL officials during team practice on Monday, July 29, 2019, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: compton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Either officiating’s getting worse, or I’m getting grumpier - maybe both

Seeing how there is no honor in sports and that we’ll never be able to get to that utopic place where players call their own fouls, officials always will be a necessary intrusion.

Theirs is a hard and thankless job, guaranteed to alienate everyone, like enforcing parking meters or putting on a hair net to serve bologna boats at the elementary school cafeteria.     

There, that disclaimer’s out of the way.

Now on to the business at hand. I worry that the nation’s referees are badly slipping, their judgment as murky as cowboy coffee, their eyesight bat-cave dim. Increasingly, they’re mucking up games. And I have proof – that being the recent uptick in times that I’ve yelled at the TV and threatened to perform an invasive procedure concerning an official and his whistle.

A certain amount of deterioration was to be expected once the replay became such an ever-present tool. I always thought that having the fallback of the monitor would make refs less focused, less committed, less confident in the moment. I just didn’t know it would turn them into puddles of bad judgment.  

In a recent ESPN.com story, retired NFL ref John Parry said, “To me, the big game-changing errors have increased. I see that from watching every game on Sunday. I’ve used the term that officials at times to me seem paralyzed in making a decision. And inside there, it starts with mechanics, being in the right position to make the right call.”

Here we’ll offer a more personal definition of bad officiating: when a series of calls directly affects your enjoyment of the game.

This being playoff time in the NFL, officiating takes on a higher profile. The disruptive bad call becomes vastly more important. The fact that a disproportionate number of these bad calls seem to affect the New Orleans Saints, while amusing, is not reason enough to ignore them.

Pass interference has always been a tricky call, but now the league has wrapped that in an added layer of confusion with a review process that doesn’t seem to review anything. It’s likely that the Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph interfered during his game-winning catch against the Saints last weekend, but that was neither called at the time nor seriously reviewed. Perhaps they should just go back to real-time guesswork and leave it at that. At least then, there’s an excuse for getting it wrong.

Last week, the Seahawks’ Jadeveon Clowney laid an unnecessarily violent hit on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (uncalled). And Buffalo was awarded a touchdown after the Houston kick returner obviously opted not to return a kick and tossed the ball toward a neighboring ref (obvious to everyone but the ref). The call was reversed, but not before a burlesque of conferencing broke out on the field.

You’d never want one of these game officials to treat your kid’s ear infection, but there is one thing they should have in common with physicians – the Hippocratic premise of first, do no harm. But they are harming games far too often.  

Gee, what adventures in on-field jurisprudence are in store for this weekend? 

It’s not just the NFL that gets it so wrong, of course.

As I watched Denver’s Nikola Jokic plow through various Hawks on Monday night, nobody allowed to hold their ground, whistled for fouls as they were bounced hither and yon, I felt actual sympathy for Hawks defenders. Something new, because usually the dominant emotion watching that team on defense is dismay. 

Little wonder that in one poll of NBA players last spring, nearly 30 percent of them identified officiating as the biggest problem facing the league. 

And then there were the phantom calls during Tuesday’s Georgia-Kentucky basketball game, apparitions that not even the most dedicated ghost hunter could find. (Former Kentucky forward P.J. Washington, now of the Charlotte Hornets, must have agreed, tweeting that night, “College refs are terrible.”)  

Yes, it’s a hard job. Yes, mistakes happen, and still they get the vast majority of calls right. No, there can’t be universal agreement around a task as subjective as this. 

But sometimes a person just needs to vent.

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.
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