Steve Brownlee column: Think before you speak

My colleague in sports, Craig Remsburg, addressed the criticism and pressure put on local high school coaches in a recent column.

Today I’d like to put in a good word for the referees, officials and umpires who officiate our youth sports.

A recent incident – tragedy, really – in Utah put the spotlight back on the maltreatment of officials.

A 17-year-old player in a community soccer league in Salt Lake City punched a referee on April 27 because he didn’t like a call he made. A week later on May 4, Ricardo Portillo, 46, succumbed to his injuries and died after falling into a coma.

Notwithstanding some criticism I gave NFL replacement officials at the end of last summer, I generally believe the refs have an almost totally thankless job. The less notice they receive, the better the job they’re doing.

I’m just glad all these officials, referees and umpires are willing to do the job. I did a little baseball and softball umpiring in my hometown of Saginaw close to 30 years ago, and even though I didn’t have to answer to anybody for my calls – I usually filled in for leagues where I was in charge of scheduling the teams – what I remember most was all the complaining by teams and fans.

Nothing back then, however, even rose close to being a physical threat. I’ve seen stories in the press, some coming from downstate, of a parent or coach taking a bat to or running down refs and pushing or punching them.

Now I could stand on my reporter’s soapbox and say that we should learn to get along; that the officials are only human and make mistakes; or we should think about the example it sets for our kids when we bicker, catcall and complain.

So I will. Quit it, you imbeciles!

But realistically, if you’re a fan of a team, especially one with your child or grandchild involved, many of you – us, if I include the time when my nephews played Little League or youth soccer downstate – can’t help ourselves.

But a little measure of decorum goes a long way, especially when you feel that your fuse has just been lit.

It may simply be the call was at a critical time of a game, or that it was so obviously incorrect.

Or it could come from the stress you feel at home due to money, health or relationship problems; because a loved one recently died; or just because your idiot boss was acting like a nincompoop for the 40th time this month.

Whatever the reason, stop – please! – and take a moment before spouting venomous bile that only a liver should ever come in contact with.

There’s a huge difference between shouting, “C’mon, ref! What was that?!” and “C’mon, you … forsaken idiot. You’re going to be a dead man if you make another call like that!” Those dots take the place of all-too-common swear words that describe bodily functions or desecrate religion.

From the officials I’ve talked to over the years, the former is expected and part of the job.

The latter – well, let’s just say if you shouted that in a crowd when the President of the United States was in town, you’d get slammed to the ground and charged with some sort of terrorist threat.

Words by themselves don’t do any harm. But at least to me, I see an easy leap from rabid spouting to the next level of behavior – the physical stuff.

And it wouldn’t be personal harm at first, maybe intimidation or the destruction of physical property, for instance, before it escalates to the level of punching someone so hard it renders them unconscious and eventually dead.

I’m thankful that everywhere I’ve lived and traveled in the Upper Peninsula over the past 25 years, I’ve never witnessed the physical stuff and only rarely the rabid verbal barbs.

But it would be nice to keep it that way.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.