By Joseph Carroll ‘19
In professional sports, referees play a bigger role than most people care to realize. They are in charge of making sure the game runs smoothly according to the rules, and oftentimes crucial late-game calls are placed into their hands. In these situations, it is expected that referees will give their best and totally unbiased judgment.
However, referees sometimes make clear and unforgivable mistakes that can send a team home unfairly. When this happens, speculation almost always follows, with some people wondering if the officiating was as impartial as it should be.
Now, referee scandals are nothing new, but with the growth of social media and the internet as a whole, it is easier than ever to expose corruption. Sports are no exception.
One of the most infamous scandals in professional sports took place in the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals.
In the 2002 WCF, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings 4 games to 3. However, many fans questioned the officiating, notably in Game 6. With the Kings up 3 games to 2, the Lakers desperately needed a win, no matter the cost.
Many believe the cost was blatant referee bias to secure a Game 7.
In Game 6, the Lakers would shoot 40 free throws compared to the Kings’ 25, with an astonishing 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. After what appeared to be bailout after bailout, the Lakers would win Game 7 and go on to win the 2002 NBA Championship.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy claimed that the 2002 WCF was rigged. “The referees/league didn’t allow the better team to win,” he said. He even took it to court, claiming that the NBA would tell officials to manipulate certain games through fouls and let more popular teams win to boost revenue.
Even the 2019 NFC championship game on Jan. 20 is in the middle of a scandal. After a suspicious no-call late in the game to give the Los Angeles Rams a chance to win, it was revealed that four of the officials who called the game actually live in Southern California, and all four of them were near the controversial play when it happened.
My dad is in disbelief at how incompetent referees can seem at times. “If you are a referee on such a big stage, you need to be alert and make the right calls. It’s hard to believe that they can make such easy mistakes on accident,” he said.
While professional sports are a great and fun way to support your sport and/or team, they are a business first, and the many scandals show how the business side tries to influence games and series. This article was not meant to be an attack on sports, but to raise awareness that these referee scandals do happen.