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Referees Must Take Responsibility for Their Actions

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It’s time for sports officials to take responsibility for their decisions rather than defending every call.

MLS: Sporting KC at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us learn at a young age to take responsibility for our actions. That lesson obviously didn’t resonate with officials of sporting events as most refuse to admit when they were wrong, even when the whole world knows they were.

Orlando City held a one-goal lead over the Columbus Crew Saturday night late in the second half when referee Silviu Petrescu issued a penalty to Columbus for a push by RJ Allen. Replays showed that Allen made little, if any, contact with Patrick Mullins. Petrescu did not look at the video review monitor himself on the play and it has been heavily criticized for being a poor decision. Here was the referee’s response to a pool reporter after the match.

“As the Columbus player was about to head the ball in the Orlando penalty area, the Orlando player charged him from behind. Therefore, a penalty kick was called.”

This is despite the fact that Mullins fell backwards after the contact that, from behind, would’ve sent him forward.

People make mistakes. The fact that the call was wrong is less of a concern than the fact that VAR was not implemented correctly and wrong calls are a consistency among PRO referees. Another issue, and one that is common among officials in various sports, is that most fail to take any responsibility for their actions.

In 2010, Armando Galarraga was pitching a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers when first-base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe on what would’ve been the final out. Replays clearly showed the runner should’ve been out and Galarraga should have completed his perfect game. Joyce immediately took responsibility after seeing the replays stating, “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (expletive) out of it.”

When an official makes a terrible call, fans are quick to jump on him with little to no forgiveness. However, Joyce’s response, along with personally apologizing to Galarraga after the game, encouraged fans to forgive the umpire, remembering that everyone makes mistakes. What saved Joyce the fury of similar instances is that Joyce acknowledged that it was a mistake.

PRO referees, those that officiate American soccer games, have a history of making poor calls. The organization and leagues also have a history of defending those decisions no matter what. Very rarely are those decisions overturned and never are they criticized officially. The penalty call Saturday night was an egregious error but an acknowledgement of the mistake will not be recognized by Petrescu, PRO, or MLS.

When Joyce made his apology in 2010 and was universally applauded and forgiven for how he handled the situation, it should’ve been a lesson for officials in all sports that fans are willing to forgive those that take responsibility for their actions and strive to do better. Unfortunately, that lesson has not been learned by PRO referees as they would rather refuse to admit any mistakes than to be better at their jobs. The result is that the poor refereeing that has plagued American soccer will continue indefinitely.

Like anybody else, sports officials are human and will make mistakes. Some will even make horrible errors such as the penalty call Saturday night. But worse than the mistakes is the urge to defend those decisions rather than taking responsibility. It feeds the perception that the referees don’t care and have no interest in improving. It’s a mindset that must change for the betterment of the officiating, the league, and sports in general.