Saturday, March 31, 2012

When "violent" is not "brutal"

As a soccer referee, you sometimes see things on the pitch that are bad behavior, and you are given the tools in the Laws of the Game to deal with them.  For example, we are advised that striking should normally be considered misconduct -- violent conduct or serious foul play -- "of the gravest sort requiring a send-off and display of the red card."

But such characterizations have to be viewed in the context that this is a game.  When they are splayed in the media and the same or similar words are used, there is a danger of overstatement.

I want to provide an example that is getting a lot of publicity.  At a high school game in South Carolina, a player tripped an opponent.  The opponent immediately got up and starting striking the other player.  Her response was clearly beyond reason.  The referee properly ejected her from the game.

But now let's view the press coverage. The reporters have ginned up the incident to the point that you would think a crime may have been committed.  The television station calls it an "attack".  They note that "Sheriff county deputies have been called in."  The mother of the other girl wants her prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

I was surprised, too, that the referee allowed himself to be interviewed by the television station.  His job is to file a report with the league, where any required follow-on investigation would take place.  It is not right for him to comment publicly on what happened.  It would more appropriate for him to say something like, "I am not permitted to comment on this incident.  I will file a full report with the league, as I would with any ejection."  Even then, you do this in writing and not in front of a camera.  You don't go further than that because you never know how your comments will be edited by the media.  You are also still emotionally involved in the play, and there is always a danger of misstatement.

I hate to say it this way, but people -- even referees -- say things in front of a television camera in a different manner than they might in the calm privacy of their home or during an investigation.  You get egged on by an aggressive reporter, and the next thing you know, you use a word or phrase that they edit to appeal to the television audience.  Here, for example, the referee uses the word "pummeling" on television.  Maybe that's the right word, and maybe it is not.  Clearly the girl had acted improperly, but my point is that the presence of a television camera in the face of an inexperienced interviewee often results in something that supports the "drama" that the television station wants to present.

Why this story about a teenage girl should be on television at all is problematic.  She made a mistake on the playing field, and now her image has gone viral worldwide.  Cameron Smith, over at Yahoo! Prep Rally, actually goes so far as to say that the incident was "brutal."  He compares the case to that of New Mexico defender Elizabeth Lambert, a college level player, "whose hair pulling and general dirty play in a game against BYU received massive Internet attention and eventually landed her a lengthy suspension. One could argue that Lambert's fouls may have been worse because she was more level-headed when committing them, but they certainly weren't as violent as McCullough's attack."

What tripe.  Oh, please.  The South Carolina girl made a mistake during a game.  Let her parents and coach deal with the offense and help her and the other girls learn from it.


Unknown said...

Hi Paul, I don't quite agree with your comments. I consider myself to be quite level headed and a seasoned soccer watcher and I was shocked by the sustained nature of her attack. I suppose one does not know whether the other girl had been needling her throughout the match and whether she just snapped. Nonetheless she certainly needs to control her temper. Whether the cops should be involved or not will depend on whether the aggrieved girl wants to press charges. The fact that any public act can end up on TV or internet & be seen by millions is part of modern day life I suppose. A punch up on the soccerfield between pros was in the news on this side of the pond this week.

Brian Greenberg said...

Paul, I completely agree with your perspective regarding the coaching of young people and the attitudes that the (supposed) adults need to maintain, both in this article, and in general. I also enjoy reading your blog. However, might your expectations of youth league referees be somewhat unrealistic? I am guessing that most of these referees are not professional referees, and also do not have the background that you do in running large corporations that have a public image that need to be carefully controlled. Thinking about the media portrayal of their officiating is probably not a daily occurrence for them. They have not had the PR experience or training that you have been able to acquire through your professional life. That being said, I do not agree with the way the media sensationalizing non-event. Cut the guy some slack.

John said...


I agree with everything you say.

If you focus on the referee on the raw video on Yahoo, he appears to bored and uninterested when he is seen a couple of seconds prior to the incident. The ball is moving upfield quickly and he is walking looking the other way. He should have been running his diagonal and moving with the ball. Did his management of the game and apparent lack of interest have anything to do with the incident? Interestingly, both ARs arrive at the incident before the referee and the referee is not seen in the video until he is giving the player a red card to her back as she is being led away by an AR. By the way, the referee who is seen on the TV report was one of the ARs not the center.

I remember Paul reporting on some research about how long it tends to take women to retaliate. Boys and men are usually instantaneous. Girls and women, the research showed, usually take much longer, even months. Could this have been a reaction to something that happened last season? The contact itself certainly didn't justify the response.

Anonymous said...

I noted the state that this took place in, and couldn't help but wonder if there were racial undertones going on here.
what if both girls involved were caucasian? would the charges of Battery still be made?