Nothing ruins a big time game like extremely poor officiating.
Sadly, that has become more and more true throughout the sporting world with every passing day, and the Gold Cup Final last night sent me over my breaking point. Now, that was not the reason the USMNT lost which is a different story for a different day.
What really set me off was the lack of calls by the referee from very dirty play by Mexico. The first incident that stood out was when Hector Moreno jumped onto the back of Jozy Altidore, who was lying on his stomach from the foul that had just occurred. Not only is that a foul in it’s own right, he could have easily injured Altidore, and especially a hit to the spine is not okay. No call from the ref. After that had happened Weston McKennie ran over and yanked Moreno off of Altidore, and Mexico captain Andres Guardado put his hand around McKennie’s neck in a choke, right in front of the referee mind you, and got no call. These were standout moments amongst other sly tricks from Mexico that went unpunished, and there could have definitely been some red cards given to El Tri for these incidents.
But like I said, this is a problem in all of sport. Football, soccer, basketball, even motorsport have had calls that made no sense, and some that have clearly been influenced. Officials are meant to call a sporting event down the middle, and when they can’t do that it’s repulsive.
Easily one of the worst culprits of this are the NFL. When I think of poor officiating, the first thing that comes to mind is the Week 14 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys last season. On the opening kickoff, the Cowboys fumbled the ball, and the Eagles clearly recovered the ball. After the play was reviewed, the head official said “we do not have a clear recovery from the kicking team.” and the Cowboys retained possession.
That same year against the Minnesota Vikings, quarterback Kirk Cousins simply tripped over Eagles defensive linemen Michael Bennett, and Bennett was called for roughing the passer. The entirety of Lincoln Financial Field was in an uproar for the rest of the half, jeering every single thing.
The last example from my Eagles is the 2017 Thursday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers. While the Eagles went on to win that game, they were penalized 10 times for 126 yards, while the Panthers were only flagged once for one yard. The first time in NFL history a team was penalized for over 120 yards while the other had less than 10. The head official of that game, Pete Morelli, had flagged the Eagles 40 times for 396 yards in his last four games involving the Eagles, while the opponents have been penalized only eight times for 74 yards. That kind of disparity is something the NFL should have known about and not selected Morelli and his crew to officiate that game.
Aside from the Eagles, there is the infamous missed defensive pass interference in last season’s NFC Championship Game, where Los Angeles Rams defender Nickell Robey-Coleman clearly hit New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis as he was trying to make a play on the ball. There was no flag on the play, and the officials came out after the game and said it should have been called for defensive pass interference. If they agreed that it was a penalty after the game, why don’t you call it?
The last example I have is from the 2017 matchup between the aforementioned Saints and Chicago Bears. Bears tight end Zach Miller caught a pass in the endzone before gruesomely injuring his leg and ending his career. Everything about the catch was a clean, indisputable touchdown. However, the play was never ruled a touchdown because the officials claimed that Miller dropped the ball on his way down, despite having control all the way to the ground. Under the current NFL catch rules, Miller’s grab would have been a touchdown, to add salt to the wound.
Along with things like the infamous Tuck Rule game between the Raiders and Patriots, the NFL have long been culprits of poor officiating. And to make it more alarming, all 5 examples I’ve gone into detail about here have happened in the last two years. Inexcusable.
Soccer is another big culprit of poor officiating. Not only does match fixing run rampant in lower leagues, but there are so many questionable calls those referees have to make on a game to game basis. You would think adding VAR (Video Assistant Referee) would fix those missed calls, right? Well I point you to the second leg of the 2019 UEFA Champions League Quarter Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
Tottenham striker Marcos Llorente scored a goal to put Tottenham ahead as they would eventually go on to win the tie. However, even after VAR, it wasn’t seen that the ball clearly hit the Spaniard’s arm as it went in, which should not count. While handball itself is still another issue entirely, even the addition of video review hasn’t helped this issue in the beautiful game.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy has to be one of the most infamous cases of biased officiating in the leagues’ history. Donaghy, who was an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007, pleaded guilty to allegations that he bet on games that he was officiating in his last two seasons as an official. In the NBA today however, big stars like James Harden, Lebron James, and Russel Westbrook have all avoided calls, especially traveling, on clear offenses.
Not even motorsport is safe from poor officiating. At the 2019 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel locked up his tires and went off track, and was given a five second time penalty for a “dangerous re-entry” onto the track ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Evidence shows Vettel trying to wrestle back control of his car after going through the grass, but the appeal to the penalty was denied. Then at the next race in Austria, the FIA did not give a penalty for an overtake for the lead of the race between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen which actually had contact between the two drivers. I don’t think that either of them should have been penalties, but the FIA need to be consistent in their rulings. If the Vettel incident is a penalty, the Verstappen one needs to be as well.
Again, I know that officials aren’t perfect, and it’s not good for viewership if play is stopped to review a play, but in the interest of fairness something needs to change. It will take a while to strike a balance and find a way for all parties to be satisfied, but it could be a great change for the future.
I know there will be people that may not like it, I think that a system where leagues review their officials on a regular basis may be a good start. At the end of a season or two, they look at officials, and fine or fire officials that have many outstanding missed calls. It’s not perfect, but it’s just a thought, who knows. But we can no longer live in a world where players get fined for speaking out against injustice from the people who are supposed to ensure that the games are fair and the rules are followed. It is unacceptable, and could ruin the sports we all love.