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Tanks Take 3/1/04


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Official Accountability

This past Friday in an act of protest NBA Referees turned their shirts inside out in protest of fellow ref Michael Henderson being suspended for 3 games after making a mistake in a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets.

Henderson blew his whistle and called a shot clock violation in the final minute against the Nuggets despite the ball grazing the rim, which should have reset the clock when the Nuggets grabbed the rebound. The refs would huddle and decide to call it a jumpball, which the Lakers won, allowing Kareem Rush to hit the game-winning basket.

Had Michael Henderson not blown the whistle the Nuggets likely would have held on their lead and won the game. His mistake clearly changed the game either way, and if the Nuggets miss the playoffs by one game or the Lakers get home court by 1 game, this mistake could loom large come playoff time.

The NBA should be applauded for its decision to punish Henderson for his mistake. Professional sports are a Million Dollar businesses, and a bad call could cost a team millions if it ends up costing them a playoff spot. Mistakes can and will happen referees are only human, but when the same official keeps making mistakes then its time action be take, and he be held accountable.

This is why all sports leagues should grade and critique every single game by every single official. The grades should be based on the accuracy of the call, consistency, and demeanor towards players and coaches.

The most important job of an official weather it be in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, or in the NCAA is to get the call right. Above all else if the referee can not get the call right, then he should not be working. This is a high paying job and an important ob, and with world class athletes in competition each night the game should never be decided on a mistake.

It hurts everybody when a call is wrong, and the more crucial the game the more important it is to have an official who makes as few mistakes as possible. It could only be one game or one play but it can change everything.

One needs only to look back to the 1985 World Series when 1B Umpire Don Deckinger, blew a call in the 9th Inning calling Jorge Orta of the Kansas City Royals safe despite photos clearly showing he was out by at least a full step. It was only the leadoff hitter in the 9th Inning, but it changed the entire World Series.

Had Orta been out it would have been allot harder for the Royals to have their game winning 2 run rally that forced Game 7. However, the call not only hurt the Cardinals in Game 6 it made winning Game 7 nearly impossible, as Deckinger was working home plate for Game 7, and the call was still fresh in the Cardinals minds as pitchers Joaquin Andujar, and Danny Cox were ejected along with Manager Whitey Herzog, as the Royals won 11-0.

Had Deckinger got the call right its impossible to say the Cardinals would have held on to win Game 6 for sure, but his mistake was so bad it forever tainted the Royals Championship, as it forever cast doubt on should they have won.

Allot of officiating is based on judgment calls, balls and strikes in baseball, holding in football, penalties in hockey, and fouls in basketball are all very subjective, so the key is for consistency. If the umpire is going to have a pitcher friendly strike zone giving an extra inch on the corners and at the knees he better do it for both teams. The same goes for football, hockey, and basketball if they are going to clamp down on fouls, and penalties it is not a problem as long as they call it evenly throughout the game. If an official calls the plays differently in one part of the game then the other then he is doing himself, and the teams a disservice, because it too could change the outcome of the game. If a player goes across the lane looking for a foul that was called in the first quarter and instead gets tackled with no call it can change the winner especially in a close game.

Finally an official must have a thick skin and realize the fans are not at the game to see them blow whistles and antagonize players and coaches. An official should give players and coaches both a little room to vent as long as it don't get out hand they should let them each get their say in before starting to threaten ejection or technical fouls.

At the same time these officials should not invite more trouble they should not hurl an insult back at the players and coaches, and they should try to avoid such situations where they are getting in an argument. Too often now a days baseball umpires come to a game with a chip on their shoulder looking for a fight as if they get some sort of joy by throwing somebody out of the game. When someone is ejected it shifts the entire balance especially if it's important player, or the manager, even though it is just one game, one game can sometimes be the difference between the playoffs and sitting at home.

These officials need to understand that when they are not noticed they are doing a good job. The less the officials are noticed the better the game is. This fact is lost on one particular NBA referee named Bennett Salvatore. This is a ref with a reputation of confrontations with players and coaches, but which is worse its almost as if he gets joy out of it. Last year he was miked up during a game and it was as if he was playing to the home audience with the way he was talking to the players and coaches, and calling the game almost as if he wanted their to be a confrontation. There is no place in sports for that, and if that?s how he always calls the game he should be immediately fired.

Which brings us back to the decision by the NBA to suspend Michael Henderson, no league releases it?s grading on officials, so the public does not know Henderson?s track record. However had this been a one time mistake its hard to imagine such a big punishment, which is why its a decision that should be applauded.

Accountability is the key if there is the possibility of suspension or even termination these officials in all sports will be keener to make the right call, and if there is any level of incompetence, then they should be replaced by a more qualified individual. There is no shortage of people qualified to work as a professional sports official, and thus like players they should be the cream of the crop. If they want job security and less scrutiny then they should go work in the business world, because an official works in a high profile business, in which they should never be noticed in the first place, for when the discussion turns to them they have likely done something wrong.




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