Almost every spectator at a sports game is familiar with the uproar within a crowd when they think a referee or umpire makes a bad call. Many athletes tend to go home after a loss, making statements about how they think the referees calls were unfair. What constitutes a bad call, should be considered when evaluating referee bias on the sports field. Although it is true that referees may sometimes hold bias for particular teams, this should not become the focus of a sporting event.
In general, much of the bias that referees hold is not apparent at the beginning of the games; rather, it develops as the game progresses. Numerous times on the soccer field, I’ve watched the rowdiness of a particular crowd or team alter the behavior of the referee. Additionally, when a coach or team member starts to argue with a referee for a particular call that they make, they become more likely to notice more penalties of that team specifically as the game goes on.
In the past, I’ve watched referees start to yell out advice at other teams out of pity when they start losing, yelling out commands to random team players. The problem, then, becomes one of misunderstanding of intent.
It is important to remember that all referees are human and are not likely to be purposefully showing bias at all times. In high school, there is virtually no benefit that comes with altering the outcomes of a game to pursuit one more than the other. Referees may tend to favor a certain team more if they are familiar with the team.
At a high school sporting event, officials have no economic gain when changing outcomes of games. Additionally, the Virginia High School League holds very specific restrictions stating that referees are not allowed to be assigned to schools they have graduated from or hold strong connections with.
Such rules do not exist at a professional or college level, and thus, there have been several scandals in the past concerning legitimate favoritism, whether it be general, sexist or racial bias by referees within sports leagues such as the NBA.
Regardless of how valid the claims are that referees are biased may seem on certain occasions, it is important to recall that high school referees do not make a ton of money to start with, and thus, are not as likely to be holding such strong bias for any personal gain.
Receiving unwanted calls by referees is never fun, but attributing a loss to an official is not the correct response. Athletes should attempt to learn from such calls no matter how unfair they seem and try to improve for the next game.