New England Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones was given a red card in last night’s MLS Playoff match after making contact with an official in protest of a missed penalty. Jones lost his cool and surely deserved the red card he got, even though the point of his protest was correct. What I don’t understand though, is why the world of soccer continues to let players approach, I dare say bully, referees in this manner without serious repercussions.
Being an official is a very difficult job. You’re expected to be perfect, be everywhere and keep a cool head at all times. Yet, soccer players around the world consistently threaten referees on the pitch. Think about it, how many times have you seen a disputed call followed by several members of the aggrieved team crowding around the official to argue?
If you are on the street, and four or five guys surround you and start yelling I dare say you wouldn’t feel too comfortable. This is exactly the situation we expect referees to withstand with infinite patience though. On the street, our fight or flight response would be cranked up to the highest levels. Officials can only respond by pulling brightly colored cards out of their pockets. Seems a bit of a disproportionate response.
It’s clearly not a safe situation. You have multiple athletes surrounding the (typically) smallest guy on the pitch and yelling in his face. At school we call this bullying. How we let our children see this behavior on the pitch week-in and week-out is beyond me.
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Aside from the safety issue, it also endangers the integrity of the match. We cannot expect an official who is surrounded by one team in an effort to intimidate him to remain entirely neutral for the remainder of the match. Even the most patient among us, would be hard pressed not to let some sort of bias seep into our future calls. Unless the official is Gandhi or Jesus Christ, they are going to subconsciously favor the non-surrounding team. Again, the official could try their best to avoid doing so, but human nature would still take over.
So why don’t we do something to fix this issue? If professional leagues wanted to stop such bullying behavior they could do so with ease. Look at what the NBA did to players who leave the bench during altercations as an example. If an NBA player so much as takes one step on the floor they receive an automatic suspension. Why not dole out some sort of punishment to any player who surrounds an official?
Jermaine Jones got the red card he deserved last night, but his teammates escaped unscathed. I could see an allowance made for captain’s and the aggrieved party to be near the official, but no other teammates should be permitted to encircle the official. Maybe they shouldn’t automatically be suspended, but why not give a yellow card for the first offense? Then you could give escalating penalties for repeat offenders.
We go to great lengths to teach our youth that bullying is wrong. Let’s stop allowing it on a soccer field as an awful example to our children. Professional leagues need to step up and stop their players from intimidating officials on the pitch.