Of Straying Referees and Roaming Umpires

Of late, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has been indulging in a rediscovered pleasure, dating back to time, a couple tens of years ago, spent living in a country that its citizens humbly called “Godzone“.

Australian rules football.

Which a certain US fourletter network has been making available, on one of its many websites, to amoebae with moths in their wallets where the dollar bills should be. I’d tell you which network, but it hasn’t offered to replace any of those moths with coin of the realm, and if Quilly isn’t advertising anybody’s wares for free these days, I don’t see why I should be.

One of the great joys of watching Aussie Rules football on your telly or computer screen is that you actually get to watch football, instead of a string of commercials through which a ball flies on occasion. I am convinced that if any media executive tried to impose the “television timeout” on Aussie rules telecasts, of the sort that We the People have allowed to ruin gridiron, basketball, ice hockey, and even volleyball, for crying out loud, the citizenry would go out on strike and shut down the country.

(I read that TV times out [sic; not timeouts, for God’s sake] do occur in Aussie rules after a goal is scored, but these occur during a natural break in the game, whereas American TV stoppages often take place where interruptions were never meant to be.)

A second remarkable thing about the Aussie rules football telecasts. The head umpire (officials are called “umpires” as in cricket and baseball, rather than “referees”) wears a microphone as he roams across a ground that’s about twice the size of a gridiron field following play, and that microphone is “live” throughout the telecast. Treating the viewer to a constant stream of the most powerful, devastating, shocking language imaginable.

Please. And, Thank you.

No. Seriously.

Sam’s got a free kick, Trevor, stand five metres clear, please. Thanks, mate.

That’s the conversation that the microphone records, practically nonstop through more than 80 minutes of on-field action. Sure, there’s probably a sound technician somewhere who is zapping all the F-bombs, but still. There can’t be a lot of them to zap, else there’d be too many conspicuous gaps in the patter.

Can you imagine such a line coming out of the mouth of a Major League Baseball umpire, or a National Basketball Association referee, in the heat of the moment during a game? It would likely break the jaw of the official trying to say it, and the shock of hearing it would probably drop any ball player within earshot and get him hauled out of the arena on a stretcher.

Mind you, the lines that do come out of the mouths of referees, and players, during the course of games in America explain how come these folks are not equipped with microphones, or, if they are, they aren’t turned on very often. The kind of mutual trust and respect that allows an Aussie rules umpire to broadcast his management of a match to the world is rather in short supply when it comes to American game officials.

As the National Basketball Association referees are finding out. In case you haven’t heard, the NBA is preparing to lock out its whistleblowers in a contract dispute, and replace them with scabs.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba worries about this. If the Big Business that is professional sports in America gets away with trashing the wages and working conditions of such a high-profile group of employees, doesn’t that send a signal to the rest of Big Business? As if they need it. Doesn’t that say to, for example, Ph.D.s in the sciences, “You’re next, buddy. Minimum wage or you’re fired.” Isn’t this, like, a big-time red alert? For all of us?

Apparently not. For most of those of We the People who follow basketball – at least, those of Us whose comments are getting published – are saying to the referees, “Off with your heads!” You’d think we were reenacting 1981, with the NBA refs in the role of the air traffic controllers union, and David Stern of the NBA starring as President Ronald Reagan.

The NBA has pinned the labels of “too rich, too fat” on its referees – just like the “Great Communicator” did to the air traffic controllers. Furthermore, thanks to Tim Donaghy, the NBA can add the tag “too crooked”. And We the People, in callous disregard for our own safety, are buying it.

Those folk who think that the scabs will magically do a better job controlling the roid-raging illiterate megagazillionaires on the NBA’s courts than the incumbents need to recall the consequences of Reagan’s 1981 strikebreaking. The scabs in that instance somehow managed not to turn America’s skies into a demolition derby, but only by sharply reducing the volume of air traffic that those skies could handle for the (from memory) two years that it took for the replacements to come up to speed. It was the worst air traffic tangle in American history until September 2001, when the professionals showed us how to snarl things up for real.

I just hope that the officials who work the Aussie rules games are paying attention to the current roilings of the NBA and its referees, and, in response, maintain their integrity and comportment on the field of play, so that fans and players will stand with them, not against them, when their Big Business comes calling with the wage hatchet.

I don’t wish to read about the decline and fall of the roaming umpires.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

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