Treating Referees with Respect

Recently I was playing a FIFA soccer video game with my son and he had a couple of off sides penalties go against his team. He also picked up a red card for slide tackling (which was well deserved by the way). After the series of calls that went against him, my son blurted out, “This is the worst referee ever!”

Now my initial thought was, seriously, he’s got to be kidding. We’re playing a video game and the referee is a computer! How in the world could the computer be the worst referee ever? The computer doesn’t even take sides. If anything, the computer referee is incredibly consistent!

After my son pretty much demolished me in spite of the calls that went against his team, I started thinking about what he said. What made him so quick to blame the referee when the game wasn’t going his way?

What is it about me as a dad that says it’s ok to criticize the referees? How could I ever get mad at my son? He’s just blurting out what he’s seen me do over and over again whenever my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are losing. I mean the Steelers are obviously the greatest football team on the planet. If they’re losing, there’s no possible way it could be their fault, right? I have to find someone to blame. Usually the referee is an easy target.

In all seriousness, my son’s comment really made me think about how we treat the referees and what that says about our character. Especially as Christians, what message are we sending to others when we blame the officials when our favorite team loses?

It’s a fact of life that referees, umpires, officials, etc. are all going to make mistakes. It’s part of being human. And the officials at the lower levels (high school, youth sports, and recreational sports) do not have the luxury of instant replay. In all my years of playing sports, I cannot remember even one time where an official was intentionally showing favoritism and making bad calls. Yet sometimes that is exactly how we act. We act as if the referees are our enemies and we need to yell and scream at them the entire game to make sure they know everything the other team is doing wrong.

I’ve heard all the arguments that go for criticizing the referees too. They usually start out like, ‘That referee is getting paid good money so he or she should be making the right calls.’ Well, it’s true that the referees should know and enforce the rules, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes.

Who of us has never made a mistake at our job even though we are getting paid? In John 8:7, Jesus said to the crowd gathered around the woman who was caught in adultery, “Let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone.” Yes, I understand the circumstances are different but the same principle applies. We’ve all fallen short, made mistakes, blown the big call and are in desperate need of God’s grace. The Bible says in Romans 3:23 that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet God extends grace to us in the midst of our sinfulness. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s incredible!

Is it possible for us to extend just a small portion of the grace that God extends to us back to others? How is the world ever going to see Christ in us if we are constantly slandering or criticizing the officials?
Please don’t misunderstand me because I’ve been there. Countless times I’ve acted like the entire game was the referee’s fault. I seem to hold the referee to a different standard of perfection that I cannot even meet in my own life. In fact, when my son said, ‘This is the worst referee ever,’ he was just repeating what I had modeled for him.

With that said, I’m writing this article from the point of view of having been there and having realized how foolish and embarrassing it is to criticize the officials. My purpose in writing this article to Christians is to help make us think about the impact our words and actions can have on others. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves what is more important, seeing people come into a saving relationship with Jesus or whether our team wins the big game. Every time we criticize or condemn the officials, we are actually undermining the authority figure on the playing field. And more than that it sends the message to others that it’s ok as well. We have to ask ourselves how we can point others to Jesus when we’re constantly undermining the authority figures on the sports fields.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all costs, and when necessary use words.” As Christians, it’s important to realize that the choices we make and the actions we choose sends a message to the world around us. Let us make choices and choose words that build others up and points others to the grace and mercy that is found in God alone.

So the next time you are at a game and think about criticizing the official, stop and think about the message you are sending. Proverbs 21:23 says, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” Remember the referees aren’t perfect, but give them the benefit of the doubt. They are doing their best. Chances are if they’ve made a bad call, they already know it anyway. They don’t need us there to remind them every time. 🙂