In Defense of Refs

Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

It's extremely difficult to peel away the thick layer of cynicism that coats sports blogs but anything worth doing is hard. So let's take a moment to address something really nice and positive that happened in the NHL last night as referee Marc Joannette worked the Montreal Canadiens-Detroit Red Wings game, the final contest of his 25-year career.

After the final whistle, both teams paid their respects to the veteran with the ol' handshake line. There was plenty of respect to go around.

Why bring this up? Because official-fan relations have never been worse. The only time they appear in stories or conversation seems to be when they screw something up, which is fairly often because they are human. Some people have lost the plot so thoroughly they they advocate for robots to take all the ref or umpire jobs.

But the thing that gets overlooked too often is that, within the confines of an actual sporting event, there exists a collegial relationship between players and those who enforce the rules of the game. There's inherent friction, of course, because there are conflicting goals. That is surely part of it, but it's not all of it.

To me, the push to vilify anyone with a whistle or a clicker is an understandable yet no less disturbing trend. Because relationship-building and nurturing is a major part of sports. An aspect that is better embraced than run away from.

Don't get it confused. This isn't meant to be a holier-than-thou piece of moralizing. There's a real argument to be made that players and coaches can earn more favorable officiating with honey than vinegar. That collaboration can be more beneficial than insisting on being adversaries.

Like it or not — and sure, many of you really do not like it — officials are a major part of the sporitng fabric. Even if they must be painted as a necessary evil, they are necessary.

Hockey prides itself on its sportsmanship and may be an outlier. Even still, seeing the genuine exchanges in the video above should be a small data point for the public to study if they want to understand how officials fit into the games they love.

And it's not as simple or reductive as ZEBRAS BAD.