SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
I have a soft spot in my heart for officials. It comes honestly since I’m in my 31st year of officiating basketball.

After finishing my 30th year last season, my dad said, “I didn’t know you were that old.”

I immediately replied, “I’m not. I started young.”

Was becoming an official a good decision? I can honestly say, yes. I’ve made a lot of friends. I’ve watched a lot of highly skilled athletes play. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know a lot of coaches.

If you ask me if becoming an official was a smart decision, though, the answer is more complex.

As an official, I’ve taken a lot of verbal abuse from fans; listened to occasional cheap verbal shots from coaches; been second-guessed by coaches, players and fans; spent a lot of time driving to and from games; and perhaps spent too many nights away from home.

I’ve also spent a few nights replaying a game in my head while trying to fall asleep, second-guessing myself and wishing for a second look or a chance to change a call.

The National Association of Sports Officials conducted a survey and asked participants to complete the following: “The single most important quality an official can possess is _________.”

Thirty-four percent answered confidence; 24 percent said impartiality; 18 percent said composure; 13 percent answered wisdom; 10 percent said courage; and 1 percent said empathy.

I don’t disagree, although I’m surprised that some didn’t say common sense. I’m even more surprised that some didn’t respond by saying a sense of humor.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that officials need a good sense of humor. Officials need to take the game seriously, but they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously.

Speaking of not being too serious, are you aware of the tremendous public service provided by officials? Who knows how many marriages have been saved thanks to officials? The way I see it, rather than verbally abuse their spouses, fans and coaches can vent their frustration and heap verbal abuse on officials.

On a more serious note, it’s almost universally accepted that officials serve a practical purpose. They are expected to call a game as fairly and consistently as humanly possible.

With the possible exception of Olympics gymnastics and figure skating judges, officials are far and away the most objective people at any sporting event.

If I had the time and energy, I think it would be fun to write a book called “Hey, Ref … Don’t Quit Your Day Job!” The book would be a compilation of funny officiating stories and experiences, and some self-deprecating humor.

It would be fun to have one chapter with some of the great one-liners that fans and coaches have yelled at officials.

Here are some examples:

“Can I pet your seeing eye dog after the game?”

“Have they stopped printing the rulebooks in Braille?”

“Don’t donate your eyes to science. They don’t want them.”

“Does your wife let you make decisions at home?”

“I thought only horses slept standing up.”

“You can open your eyes now.”

“LensCrafters called. Your new glasses will be ready in 30 minutes.”

“When your dog barks twice, it’s a goal.”

“Do you get any better than this, or is this it?”

“Do you travel with this team?”

“Leave the gift giving to Santa.”

“Come on, MCI doesn’t make that many bad calls.”

“I’ve seen potatoes with better eyes.”

“You couldn’t make the right call if you had a phone book.”

“You’re getting better; you almost made the right call that time.”

“Hey ref, how can you sleep with all these lights on?”

“If you had one more eye you’d be a Cyclops.”

“Foot Locker called. They want their shirt back.”

There’s not enough space in this column to share everything, which is why I should write a book.

As an official, I’ve learned that the Bible is a source of hope. After all, in the New Testament, the gospel writers talk about how Jesus helped the blind to see.

Need I say more?

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