Late last night, an announcement was made that the NFL had reached an agreement with its locked-out referees. This marks the first time that officials in a sport have received louder cheers from the fans than they give for the players. It’s likely that no one would have really noticed that the NFL’s official officials were off the job, had their replacements not screwed up as frequently and as obviously as they did.
Yet I hold a tiny bit of empathy for the replacement refs. If nothing else, they demonstrated just how hard the job of officiating a game actually is; and that got me thinking. There’s no chance I could ever play a professional sport…but could I officiate one?
When considering the four major American sport leagues, my options are narrowed down pretty quickly. I can’t skate, so there goes hockey. I don’t know enough about basketball to call anything more than traveling or a three-second violation. Plus, I’d probably get winded real fast moving up and down the court. I think officiating basketball would be like doing the world’s longest shuttle run, and that would make me loathe to suit up and don my whistle. Football has a thicker rule book than the Securities and Exchange Commission does, and the corresponding sign language would stymy even Helen Keller. Plus, there’s entirely too much to keep track of on the field at any given moment. So that leaves baseball.
Should Major League Baseball ever find itself in a situation where they needed me to be an umpire, I think they’d be in good hands. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I could lead the crew and call balls and strikes from behind home plate. For one thing, I doubt I could accurately judge the placement of a baseball as it came towards me in excess of 80 miles per hour. For another, home plate umpires take the most shit. Sure, you can toss a guy from the game if he’s giving you too much lip, but truthfully, if I had someone like Brett Lawrie or Ozzie Guillen screaming in my face, I’d probably just collapse into the fetal position outside the batter’s box.
I couldn’t be the first base umpire. Too many close calls there, which could also lead to confrontation. Second base umpire doesn’t seem as stressful, but you constantly have to be getting out of the way of the action. It wouldn’t be too long before I got clocked with a line drive or tripped up Chase Utley on his way to throw the double play to first. So that leaves me at third. Third base seems like a good fit. You stand in foul territory, so you can’t really louse up a play. Statistically, there are far fewer close calls to be made on that side of the ballpark. Your only real moments of judiciary supremacy come from a checked swing. And depending on your schedule, you’d be guaranteed at least a few nights standing next to these handsome fellas.
But what about the other popular sports in America? Could I earn my zebra stripes as a ref in one of those? Soccer’s out. If I couldn’t handle running the hardwood at an NBA game, I’d be hard pressed to keep up on a playing field as massive as soccer’s. Golf doesn’t have referees, thank God. Can you imagine? That’d be just about the only way to make golf more boring. There are no refs in NASCAR because there are no rules in NASCAR–and at the risk of losing my redneck readership, it isn’t a sport anyway. I’m entirely too squeamish to call a boxing or MMA match. So that leaves me with one other alternative.
Yes, tennis. And I wouldn’t be one of the line judges in the back court. No, sir. I’d be the chair umpire. Why? You get to sit in a giant lifeguard’s chair, which is not only shaded but full of hiding places for snacks and beverages. You get a ridiculously large microphone. You govern not only the behavior of the players, but of the crowd , as well. And you’re in an excellent position to throw things at those poor orphans the ATP uses to scurry after balls when they’re hit into the net.
(I’m kidding about the orphan thing. Maybe.)
Even if it would be fun to umpire in baseball or tennis, I think I’ll leave it to the professionals for now. Besides, there are plenty of things I already excel at judging: musicals, cake, and, generally, people. Why would I leave all that behind?