We’ve had such great conversation in the comments section over on Part 1 that I thought I would address some of the questions here in a separate post. So thankful for Tim Challies linking to our post and exposing people to this provoking topic!
When is it right to argue with referees/officials? My answer was never. As you can imagine, not everyone agrees. I’m so thankful though for the feedback and response. I think it’s great when people wrestle with these topics.
Below are some reasons I’ve heard regarding appropriate times to argue with referees/officials followed by my response. As always, would love your feedback.
1. It’s the job of a coach to fight for justice…
This by far has been the most popular exception to my “never” rule. It’s also one I’ve heard in the past.
I think most coaches fool themselves when they say it’s about justice. Here’s why: Justice, by definition, has to be blind. It can’t be prejudiced or biased. If a coach really cared about justice, then he/she would not just argue with referees about calls that went against his/her team but also calls then went for his/her team? Make sense?
Say for example that you’re coaching baseball and one of your players is called “safe” at first base when clearly they were out. If you are truly about justice, then you would argue with the umpire about that call. Even at the expense of your own player, and your team’s own performance, you would just as adamantly complain about that call as you would a call that went against you.
I’ve never seen a coach come even remotely close to this. This is why I don’t think most coaches’ motivation is justice. I suppose you could call it selective justice but, again, that’s not really justice. I know from my own heart when I’ve coached that it’s not been about justice for me. It’s about how the call an ref/official/umpire makes impacts me and my chance of winning or performance.
Think about this as well–how much true injustice happens on the field/court? Is a missed call at first base injustice? Perhaps. Think about the type of reactions missed calls often elicit though. For coaches who argue with referees, do you think justice issues like poverty, sex trafficking, or abortion elicit the same reactions? If coaches are honest, I think most would say that the level and passion to which they argue with officials is disproportionate to other issues of injustice in their lives. And, if that’s true, then you would have to admit that there’s more to the issue than just injustice.
Theoretically, could justice be a valid reason to address an official? Absolutely. I don’t think it would require arguing though. And I don’t think the anger and excitement would accompany it like often is the case when coaches argue with officials.
2. Arguing with refs/officials is a part of the game. It’s a strategy to improve your team’s chances of success…
I’ll agree that arguing has very much become a part of sports. It doesn’t mean it’s right. Can arguing with an official improve your team’s chances of winning? Sure. Would cheating improve your team’s chances of winning? Would having your players take steroids improve their chances of winning? The answer is yes on both accounts. As you can see, this is not a good argument.
Arguing may prove to be a good strategy to win the game or even have your team perform better. However, we need to be careful to not let pragmatics drive our coaching. The question shouldn’t be, “does it work?”, but rather, “is it right?” As a Christian, the job of a coach is not to win but to glorify God [this doesn't mean wanting to win is a bad thing, see Winning: A Bad Goal but a Good Desire]
3. Shouldn’t we want the referees to do the best possible job that they can?…
Absolutely, for the glory of God an official should work hard at being the best referee he/she can be. Should arguing be a part of helping an official reach his/her potential? I don’t think so. As I’ve said, I can see a place for a calm and collected conversation with an official about their job performance. I don’t think it requires arguing though. This type of conversation would look and sound far different than arguing.
All too often, I see players/coaches addressing a referee’s job performance after a game, calmly criticizing the calls that were made. Rarely, is it a winning team’s player/coach having this type of conversation. Almost always it is the losing team’s player/coach. This tells you that it’s often not really about the job performance as it is about something else.
See Part 3 of this series when we address other exceptions that I’ve heard…