You are not going to read much about sports in this column. Sports is fantastic. I love reading about it and watching it. However, I’ve never been much of a sports writer and had little success on any field of competition as a youth.
But when I think of sports and what I like, it always has been the true nature of it all. Two or more players putting it all on the line — and even more — to come out ahead of an opponent. Officials are needed in all regulated sports to ensure people play by the rules. But those officials should be in the background only. Fans shouldn’t even have to give the officials any consideration unless they make a call. And once made, the official’s call should be considered sacrosanct.
Well, that’s how it should be because that’s how it was; but it will never be that way again.
A good example is a story we ran on Thursday titled “NCAA: Replay official can overturn close targeting calls.” First, just a little bit about targeting. Targeting is illegal hits to football players above the shoulders, whether the player doing the hitting targeted the other player or not.
In the story, the replay official, viewing the video through a projector, would be required to either confirm or overturn the targeting call of the field. The replay official has the ultimate power to decide such penalties, with punitive results for the offending players: removal from the game and a one-game suspension if players are caught targeting three times in a season.
OK, for those of you who believe football is a dangerous sport and more has to be done to protect the players from concussions, the NCAA is doing just that with its targeting policy. And although I believe in the purity of football and its officiating, I agree with this replay review of targeting. But I got to tell you, that’s where I draw the line.
Technology, we were promised by the likes of those in the Clinton administration when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, will enhance and improve our lives. We were promised life would be a bit easier for us all.
That was fantasy.
Just ask people, like me, who believe that the official on the field of any game should have the final word. Life has not gotten any easier for the fans. Referees and umpires have lost control of controlling the game. Referees and umpires using technology also become as recognizable as players on the field and given equal star power. So much for officiating behind the scenes.
In football, for instance, coaches can challenge an official’s call. The challenge requires that the umpire review the play on a video projector. All eyes in the stands and watching on TV fixate on the umpire, many of whom seem to wear makeup as they know they will be under the limelight. In many cases, the video technology captures the play in many angles and provides viewpoints that none of the referees could have possibly captured with their naked eyes. If the coach wins the challenge, an award is given with reversing the call, otherwise eliminating the need for the referee.
I wonder what the likes of Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne, the Bears’ George Hallas and the Packers’ Vince Lombardi would have said about such nonsense. I can confidently say that those three men had some harsh words for a referee or two. But, I also couldn’t imagine any of those three throwing a challenge flag, even if immediate video had been available 50 to 100 years ago. Back in the day it was let the players play, and the refs officiate. It needs to be that way again.
This weekend brought along a whole new crop of NFL players the annual draft of college recruits. I do not doubt that these new professionals will play hard, and I will pray that players do not get injured or concussed. But I also will hope, which I am beginning to see as futile, that officials be allowed to call the game without technology and that players be allowed to play.