The Thick Skin of an Adult League Referee – Championship Edition.
I don’t mean for this to come out venomous – forgive me, my sponsors, my person, or anyone I offend or am about to. I have the spirit of someone that cares with spirits filled in me, and I’m not sure if I’m closer on the edge of rambling or if I’m coherent enough to write this. I’m not a biter, but a writer; this too shall pass, I’ll get through.
Last Sunday came and went. Officiating is partially open, and the only thing steady, at this point, is Flag Football. In a pandemic, it’s the reffing Alpha, and Omega, especially when you ain’t in the League or Division 1. I’m a friend of both, member of none.
Even though I’m a layman when it comes to the upper echelons, I’m still the king of Eisenhower Park, at least on this day, Sunday. On the same day as my wife-of-10-years celebrated another birthday, I had a championship game that featured a team called Venom and another called Bogarts.
Presently, I’ve had an illustrious past with both teams, for different reasons. For one, I played on Bogarts nearly a decade ago; I filled in for a late regular-season game before I found my calling in officiating. That’s when I met the Hall of Fame likes of Dale, Lupa, and Mr. Bogarts himself, Matt Prince.
Venom was a team that was ubiquitous; Eddie its fateful quarterback to me, faithful to him in a select few, is known for complaining of anything and everything, big and small; last week Sunday was no different. Yet, they have altruistic fellows on the team, including Waqas, who is a man of Islamic faith, and a family man that I have nothing bad to say about. Also, Wayne, who would crisscross the field successfully a time or two. Another cool cat down with a bad litter box.
It was the championship game with the aforementioned teams, and before the contest, I saw Lupa turn the corner. There was a song by Boy George that could aptly describe my experience with him in the mental and physical.
He was wearing his Dawgs shirt, a team that transformed to a nationally- ranked contending team that would dominate the Long Island scene for many years; but he snitched on himself, playing an 8-man game, and still exerting his loyalty with Bogarts, a team that he’s played with for many years, many championships, including when I did. Check the website. His picture is up there, albeit pixelated, just to show how long his run has been. Forgive the redirected site; your boy got nothing to do with it.
Oh yea, Sofia was there.
It was a short 14 months, a pandemic ago, that I met her. I’m writing inside my car on a MacBook Pro; I fondly remember when I met her typing on hers while we were on the field as I reffed. Her a spectator, her sights not on the field, but from the glare of the 13″ screen, something that I would never do. She had the balls to do it, even though she doesn’t have any in the physical sense, yet we ain’t worried about that – we working on the mental, and today was a University grade education on this here officiating sh*t.
I got big plans for Sofia – she’s learning to unlearn, and the slog will be logged, day in and day out, of the work that needs to be put in, to get the most out. She has the potential to be a Division 1 Referee, and today was to mark the start of that. Until Eddie interrupted what we were speaking on as we walked on the field I had a break from an hour before.
He glanced at Lupa. “He can’t play,” he said to me. There was no hello. I never say bye to him, so this is the only time I speak to him, under and over duress. “Why can’t he play?” I asked as it flashed in my mind that one day that I was on Bogarts, and Lupa was on the team, and that time when I reffed them, and that time when Hall-of-Fame Mike Lupa had multiple touchdowns all thrown by the Prince.
Eddie replied – “He wasn’t on the team the last time I played.”
Now, that is a loaded statement. There can be a multitude of reasons, at no fault to Mike or Bogarts. Lupa plays 2 types of Flag games, one 8 Man, a championship game he already won as he walked to the field, and a 5-Man game that was to be determined, his status in both variations are cemented through the graininess of the Long Island Flag Football Website. But Sunday’s are the only options, and oftentimes, the league doesn’t make accommodations for a multi-sport athlete, a man who plays on more than one team, to be at two places at one time. Therein lies a conflict, one that Lupa has to choose between the former or latter. He chose the former, over and over, and the latter is now in question. “You can’t base the time you played against him that he can’t play this time,” I said to Eddie.
He scoffed at me. “Call the Commissioner.”
I knew it.
This was the last resort, but Eddie, his first and only plan all along, a phone call that I begrudgingly made, as I knew what the answer was. After 20 seconds of explaining the situation, it was determined that Mike Lupa, after playing with Bogarts since he was in his 20’s, has more championships than the number of seasons Venom has played in the league, didn’t play. Eddie got his way.
“Be kind to unkind people; they need it the most!” – Buddhism
Before the game, I told Sofia that I have beef with Venom – she could already tell how laconic in anger I was. They make it hot before we start, they find trouble when there isn’t. That set the tableau for the whole game.
As an official, the pet that peeves me the most is when my integrity in reffing is questioned. Time was waning in the first half, and Eddie threw an errant pass that sailed out of bounds, yet was caught by one of his receivers who wasn’t completely inbounds. Muckley, one of Eddie’s receivers, takes on the energy that Eddie often outputs to the rest of the team, at least during the game. As Frank, the other official called out of bounds, Muckley was out of pocket in saying that Frank made the wrong call – that he was terrible. I don’t take those comments lightly – in fact, with a heavy heart, I get offended when I hear that.
That was a terrible call. You are friends with Bogarts. Among other asinine quotations.
The game continued.
Although Venom was from the beginning up until that point, they wanted, no, needed to have an edge, at all costs. Officials are often the casualty of this type of vitriol. There was nothing that I could say to make this right – and so, I write.
“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
– Marcus Aurelius
There were other tense moments, as Bogarts towards the end clawed back to get the score down to 7. One of Eddie’s new teammates, who also may who had the bite of 1998 DMX, the look of 1998 ?uestLove, but the maturity of a boy in 2020, started voicing expletives to the idle Lupa, and his teammates, as they were in command of the game, the whole time. I gave him a warning when he told me that they were doing the same too. That’s not accountability – that’s redirection, as I asked him if that was an ample justification for his behavior. It wasn’t, and he knew it.
Then there was another of his teammates when the one that was talking endless sh*t – wouldn’t end. A 15-yard penalty turned into 30. 30 turned into 45. 45 turned into an ejection, and on the precipice of a forfeit if he didn’t leave the premise of the field. His other teammate tried to level with me, on an uneven field, saying that I was getting too emotional. He said he didn’t want to hear me – he was a ref before, and I wasn’t doing my job. In fact, he said that I’m not allowed to call a 45-yard penalty because of my emotions. His emotions lead to my emotions. His teammate’s emotion led to his ejection. And then there was Eddie.
It’s been almost a decade that I’ve been dealing with him. Oftentimes, he bullies other refs to submission when he rants about his arm getting hit when he throws, or when he’s about to get hurt. Make no mistake, I don’t want him to get hurt. There have been so many times that he has perceived to be hit like this or wronged like that, and he doesn’t yell at the person that shot him. He yells at the cop that didn’t do anything. I think he’s a cop too.
I hope he knows it’s just hard to help someone, who bullies, Degrades, HUMILIATES, AND QUESTIONS the integrity of a referee, a tactic that adult league players like him love to do. Eddie is just an archetype of someone who is never satisfied, who has no joy when he plays. I think to myself – why does he even play? Is it even fun?
Lord knows how he would have reacted, after all of this, if he lost. There was no joy in his actions, in fact, a lot of his teammates apologized to me after the game. Suffice to say he won the game.
But did Eddie really win?
It’s good fodder for a lowly website like this. I’ll never forget as the game was winding down when he didn’t get a call that he wanted. He stared at me with death on his shoulder. I stared back with my better angels on mine. He asked, “Who do you think you are?” I couldn’t answer – I needed time to think – reflect – write.
After I’ve had time, I can answer like this: I don’t know who I think I am, I do know I’m the ref on the game. And Eddie, I hope you stare at the screen when you read this, and find out, I’m a writer, too.
Congrats on your championship!
“One does evil enough when one does nothing good.” – German Proverb