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Officials need to own up to mistakes



There is no worse feeling for a football official than when they blow a call.  An official would rather be knocked over by Brian Urlacher at full speed than miss a call.  And in officiating, the worst call one can make is to blow an inadvertent whistle. 

An inadvertent whistle (IW) is so egregious because the official’s whistle stops the action right in the middle of a live ball and it is sure to harm the team who is winning the down.  When an official sounds an IW he immediately wants to disappear.  The whistle draws attention to himself and broadcasts to the entire stadium, teams, and television viewers that he was not concentrating, got confused, or didn’t follow proper mechanics. 

So, what should an official do when they blow an IW or make some other egregious error?  They need to take their medicine.  They need to own their mistake.  I know from experience.  Early in my officiating career, I was back with a receiver on a punt play.  The kick was in the air and the receiver gave a fair catch signal.  The ball landed in the receiver’s hands and in my eagerness to protect him from harm, I blew my whistle.  As the first tweet started to warble out of my whistle, the ball bounced off of the receiver’s hands making it a live ball.  I immediately faced a dilemma.  Should I pretend I didn’t blow the whistle?  Should I plead ignorance as to where that whistle came from?  Should I let the play go, disregard the whistle, and rule on the play?  Well, the second I tweeted my whistle I knew I made a mistake and there was nothing I could do about it.  I thought to myself, “Well, you blew it.  Now, own it and face the music.”  So, while the players were piling up and the kicking team was excited that they had recovered ball, I was blowing my whistle and killing the play.  I immediately ran to the referee (who was not pleased with what happened) and told him I have an IW.  We properly brought the teams back to replay the down.  I had one more thing to do before play resumed.  I jogged over to the kicking team’s coach and said, “I blew an inadvertent whistle.  I made a mistake.”  The coach protested but immediately returned to coaching his team.  As we were running off the field after the game, I apologized to the coach for my mistake.  He said, “I respect you for admitting it and owning up to it.”  Contrast that with what happened in the Redskins and Panthers game in Week 9.

Sometimes officiating mistakes directly and immediately harm one of the teams on the field.  You might not believe it, but no one in the stadium or watching on TV feels worse than the official.  The solution to the blown call does not lie with trying to wiggle out of it or vacating the rules to make good on the error.  Officials must be honest with themselves, their crew, and the offended team in admitting that they blew the call.  It is a very unpleasant aspect to officiating, but it is something that all officials must face at some point in their career.  Officials must be people of honesty and good character to face, endure, and learn from those mistakes.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"