Brad Locke: Officiating is hard, thankless

Brad Locke is senior sports writer for the Daily Journal in Tupelo. His column appeared in the Daily Journal on January 25, 2019 and can be read online here.

By Brad Locke

Brad Locke

I found it funny that on Sunday, the day my stories about basketball officiating ran in the Journal, a non-call in the NFC championship game grabbed everyone’s attention.

It was a horrendous mistake by the officials, and the NFL’s apology did nothing to stem the anger of New Orleans Saints fans. That said, the situation underscores the fact that officiating is a tougher job than most people realize – and it’s totally thankless.

Most fans think they could do a better job of officiating than the trained, experienced officials they criticize. They couldn’t, of course, but fans have a habit of believing they know more than they actually do.

I know this to be the case because every time I go cover a game, there is a constant barrage of invective hurled at officials, especially in basketball. In fact, I would wager that many fans spend more time whining about the officiating than actually cheering for their team, which I thought was the point of attending a game in the first place.

Like sports writers, officials are supposed to have thick skin. They should be able to tune out or at least brush off criticism from fans.

But we’re all human, and it’s no fun to hear someone constantly complaining about how horrible you are at your job. It’s of little comfort that this person has a heavily biased perspective, and in many cases doesn’t even understand some of the basic rules of the game.

Take the backcourt violation, for instance. You’ll sometimes see a player dribble to halfcourt, put one foot or the ball over the line, and then go backwards.

And on cue, you’ll hear a chorus of, “Backcourt violation!”

Except it’s not. It can’t be a backcourt violation until the ball-handler is completely established in the frontcourt, which is accomplished when both of the player’s feet and the ball touch entirely in the frontcourt.

I feel your pain

I’ve always had a soft spot for the men and women tasked with enforcing the rules of the game. Maybe it’s from reading the books of former Major League umpire Ron Luciano, whose humorous anecdoates humanized the guys most fans simply refer to as “blue.”

Another likely reason: I once tried my hand at officiating, and I was awful. I got roped into calling an intramural basketball game in college involving my dorm’s team, and I was so bad that eventually one of my buddies asked me exasperatedly, “When are you going to call a foul?”

All I could offer him was an apologetic shrug.

Brad Locke is senior sports writer for the Daily Journal. Contact him on Twitter @bradlocke or via email at

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