**** I submitted this article to my football official's newsletter that came out in December 2010. Some of it may go right over your head since it can be a little specific in terms of football rules but there's a principle here that I wanted to get across.
Hey rookies, let me tell you a story (some of the facts have changed to protect the participants from their own douchbag-arie). It was my first year in the MFOA and although it’s true that I’ve always been a wonderful thing to behold in general, I had a difficult time on the field. I was terrible. Really terrible. You may be thinking, “you’re still terrible Ian” but in truth I’m just less terrible now. Seriously, I haven’t seen ANYONE in the seasons since who struggled so very much with the learning curve that is the first season in the MFOA, at least I’ve seen nobody who struggled and then stuck it out since that time. I got an award after my second season for being so improved but that’s only because of how bad my first season was. Are you getting a picture for just how bad I was? I don’t think you are but out of self preservation I’m moving on.
I was the Line Judge at a High School playoff game. I think it was a quarter-final but I only say that because I can’t imagine that I got assigned to any big game whatsoever that season. I was on the wide side on a punt, so of course I had to hold the LS. It made me feel a bit less nervous because I didn’t have to worry about the no yards cushion (5 yrds up and 8 out), the no yards call, or the block ... or so I thought. The punt was shanked and landed 3 yards beyond the LS and 8 yards in front of me, soon thereafter it had a Team A player lying on top of the ball. I don’t know why I didn’t think about the No Yards call, but I didn’t. The whistle blew and all I remember is my white hat coming running out and screaming “THERE HAS TO BE A FLAG ON THAT BALL!” Was he right? Absolutely he was right. Was I pissed at the situation? You bet I was. I was pissed that I had completely screwed the pooch but also because I had just been torn a new one in front of hundreds of fans and both teams.
I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the seasons since. I’ve thought about it because I’ve seen guys decide to walk away from the association rather than deal with the grief and embarrassment of those sorts of moments. I’ve had to bite my tongue a couple times this season because I’ve been the white hat. I don’t want to be the guy who loses it on someone else and I certainly don’t want to be on the other end of that “conversation” ever again. When I’m the white hat I think about the fact that I’m going to need that rook for the rest of this game, the rest of this season and for many seasons to come so I can’t rip him a new one, even if I believe that he’s just made the worst call in the world. I find it’s much better to ask myself first: Was he out of position? Did he report to me properly what it was that he saw? Are there any unanswered questions? Do I trust this guy to do a competent job? As I review those questions in my mind I realize, yes he was in position, he saw what he saw, we can deal with any application together and I definitely need to be in his corner here. If you have a memory of me this season doing otherwise then I want to sincerely apologize for any offense.
I’m a social worker, in fact I’m a welfare worker. I know a little bit about trying to motivate people, even the unmotivated. I also believe in community, in belonging, in a certain fraternity that our association needs to be. It is my belief that those who are encouraged to learn, sometimes the hard way, really do become part of a fraternity as they receive the support they need to receive on the field. The difference between a special interest group and a community is found in the depth of relationship. I have found that community develops when we relate to one another. If we are to be a true association we need to worry about issues of support, issues of relationship. If we are to work together we need to learn to be cohesive. For me, matters of relationship trump matters of rule. I’m not saying that you ignore a rule on the field so that you preserve a relationship with a fellow zebra. I’m saying you have to trust that the guy across from you can and will do his job so that the entire crew is effective. You have to trust that you’re not going to see everything and your crew can add as much to a game as they do their jobs in a competent way. When the mistakes happen, and they will happen, then you have to find a way to be respectful and learn together at the same time. That’s going to mean that we need to carry the new guys, especially the terrible ones. It means we have to carry the slow guys, even the good ones. It means we need to respectfully discuss what we see and sometimes disagree with one another so that at the end of the day we can raise a glass without raising a voice against each other.
Let me rewind. In my story I think I would’ve appreciated if my white hat had remembered that I was a rook who had shown over the course of a season that he was just plain terrible. I would’ve liked for my white hat to come running up stating (or perhaps forcefully saying) “Ian, throw your flag”. It turns out the Team A player on the ball was the punter, so he was onside, but how could my white hat declare him onside if I didn’t flag the No Yards?
Over the years since that incident the two of us have chatted and I’m pleased to say that he has noted that I’ve improved considerably and I no longer think he’s a complete asshat. I’ve gone for beers with this guy since, we’re ok, honest. The relationship is cool and we have an understanding. We’ll be respectful of each other and if he ever makes a mistake I’ll just laugh and call him a greenhorn or something. Some people are just terrible that way.